VDS Voices

Exploring library archives

by Jonathan Redding, PhD Candidate’17
Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel

In the spring 2016, the students studying Hebrew Bible from the Vanderbilt University Graduate Department of Religion visited Princeton, New Jersey to explore the Princeton Theological Seminary library archives. Below are pictures of some beautiful old bibles, along with the Bible Dietrich Bonhoeffer used when teaching in secret to avoid Nazi imprisonment. It was a wonderful trip, and we look forward to sharing more about our program in the future!

The trip went exceptionally well, and the Hebrew Bible cohort consulted a variety of texts and academic tools. Work completed on this trip will contribute to future projects for these Vanderbilt students, both in and out of the classroom. We are working to continue the active and vibrant tradition of biblical scholarship Vanderbilt has long been known for; we look forward to sharing what comes next!

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on June 29, 2016 in Feature, , , , , , , , , ,


Kudos: VDS alumni/ae newly published and in the news

Our Alumni/ae Tuesday posts on the VDS Voices blog hightlights Vanderbilt Divintiy School and Graduate School of Religion 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.
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In the News:

Andrew William Smith, MTS’15, quoted in The Presbyterian Outlook article, Marks of Faith: Tattoos as testimony

 

 

Eric Brown, MTS’10, MA’13, shares his story of being asked to be a member of the Nashville Pride board in the Tennessean Op-Ed, Fitting into humanity when you don’t seem to fit in

 

 

For nearly 20 years, Becca Stevens, MDiv’90, has dedicated her life to helping women escape prostitution, addiction and trafficking — and providing a place for them to heal. CNN honored Rev. Stevens as the Hero of the week!

 

Publications:

* On May 27th, Parnassus Books welcomed Damien Durr, MDiv’11, for a discussion and signing of his new book,  “Journey Towards Greatness”.

For years, Damien Durr has believed in the power of prayer, serenity, reflection, and the imagination. As a result of his personal, professional, and spiritual journey with others, he has identified areas that aid in increasing clarity regarding one’s purpose in life. His journey has connected him with students in the Metro Nashville Public School System, the Children’s Defense Fund, and faith based institutions across the country.   He has helped facilitate various initiatives and discussions surrounding childhood education, justice, and the prison industrial complex.

Presently he serves as the Youth and Young Adult Pastor at the Temple Church, Consultant for the Children’s Defense Fund, and President & CEO of DCD Empowerment.
Share your journey on Facebook.

* Yung Suk Kim, PhD’06, has published the new book, “Messiah in Weakness: A Portrait of Jesus from the Perspective of the Dispossessed”.

The book raises a host of questions about weakness and Jesus: What is weakness (astheneia)? Was Jesus weak? Or did he simply identity with the weak? How did Jesus see God and the world? How can we explain Jesus’ death in view of this lens of weakness? Can we see God and world from the perspective of weakness? Can we also read biblical characters through this lens of weakness? How should we see ourselves?

Publisher
Yung Suk Kim web site

Rev. Carol “Anandi” Richardson, MDiv’93, M.P.H. published “Mornings with the Masters: Mystical Journeys in a Postmodern World”

On one level, Mornings with the Masters reveals the inner transformation of Richardson as a rationally religious Christian and scientific skeptic, who, through daily meditation becomes an interfaith mystic and connects with God, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Paramahansa Yogananda, Mother Mary, and other Ascended Masters. On another level, Mornings with the Masters reveals the truths that the various Ascended Masters teach her. Primary among these truths are: first, “We Are One;” and second, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Mary, Master Lao Tzu, Lady Kwan Yin, Paramahansa Yogananda and other Ascended Masters are working together to raise people’s consciousness to an Enlightened state through meditation. Mornings with the Masters is for truth seekers, for those who would like to know how to experience Divine Presence, for those who seek peace through inner transformation, for those who would like to know what to do to seek union with God, and for those who are serious in their quest for Self-Realization.

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on June 21, 2016 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday – Keith Caldwell

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.
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While enrolled at Vanderbilt University Divinity School it became apparent to me that the instruction about religion that was being provided through a rigorous academic analysis of Biblical texts needed to be placed in dialectic with the devotional religious instruction that had formed my faith.

I became a member at Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church, located in North Nashville, and within the first year of school I was selected to become a Strengthening the Black Church for the Twenty-First Century (SBC-21) Intern. The program is designed to help predominately black United Methodist Churches become more effective in mission and ministry.

My then pastor, Reverend Dr. Vance P. Ross, was working on his dissertation and had called a group of a half-dozen men together in order to make room for them to be in conversation about issues that were directly affecting their lives, issues that were not being addressed by the Church. The group began as a support group that agreed to name explicitly the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth as the spiritual framework from which they interpreted their reality. We named ourselves Brother’s Keeper because we realized the importance of both holding each other up, and holding each other accountable. Our numbers went from roughly just over a dozen men in the first three months to over thirty-five men at every Wednesday night gathering.

Many of the men have experienced profound social and political marginalization. The group understands itself as, “Coming to the Church through the back door.” Some of the men have served out felony convictions and are working to be re-integrated into society; some of the men have battled chemical addiction and are actively in rehab programs; some have simply not been able to make sense of how systems of violence, like racial profiling, has criminalized their very embodiment.

Over the past year the group has witnessed extraordinary healing. Men have secured meaningful employment and have been restored to familial relationships that they had fractured; they have been restored to healthy community.

This past November, Mayor Megan Barry came to Pearl-Cohn High School and asked the community to help respond to the spike in violence that primarily occurred in North Nashville, the economically poorest area in the city. The men rose to the occasion and showed up in numbers for the community gathering. They have been in conversation with youth who have been identified as “at risk” by making plain where desperate decisions will cause them to land. We are currently working with over thirty youth who are being given a re-orientation of who they are; they are gaining the understanding that they are made in the Image of God.

The group also has become keenly aware that even though they are being held accountable for their personal responsibility that unjust systems remain in place that continue to subordinate their lives. They ask if the Church will provide the prophetic witness that was commanded at its commissioning.

Keith Caldwell, MDiv’15

 

 

 

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on May 10, 2016 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , ,


READ THIS BOOK – May 2016

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 Choon-Leong Seow, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible.

Professor Seow recommends Volume 12 of the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception.

 

 

 

Volume 12 of the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (EBR) has just been published by de Gruyter press of Berlin, Germany. Part of a massive thirty-volume project involving an international team of editors, EBR treats all topics pertaining to the Bible, from its background to its interpretation and reception in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, as well as other religions, in scholarly works, literature, the visual arts, music, dance, and film.

EBR is not like any other reference works on the Bible, for it goes far beyond the Bible, even for biblical topics. Thus, the entry on Idols, Idolatry does not simply treat the topic in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament, it also discusses idols in the Ancient Near East as revealed through texts and archaeology (statues, depictions on wall-paintings, and divine symbols and attributes), perspectives on idols and idolatry in Judaism and Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Taoist traditions, but also literature (including Dante, Milton, and Kierkegaard), and film (such as Cecil B. DeMille’s various movies, Denys Archand’s Jésus of Montréal, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Stanly Kubrick’s Dr. Strangle Love). The related topic of Image of God includes the visual arts (including Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo), music (e.g. in Bach’s cantatas and Haydn’s oratorio), and film (e.g., the recent movies The Prince of Egypt and Noah). Humor and Wit treats in the Ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, Judaism (including in the modern period, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen), Christianity (including Christopher Moore’s The Bible According to Biff, movies like The Life of Brian, and Madonna’s use of the Cross as a prop), literature, and film.

Equally broad ranging are entries like Holocaust (Judaism, Christianity, literature, visual arts, music, and film), Human Rights and the Bible (Judaism, Christianity, film), and Hymns (including the ancient Near East, literature, classical music, and film). There are articles on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim exegetes, artists, poets, novelists, and musicians from antiquity to the present. This volume in fact includes an article by GDR alumnus of the year Professor James Crenshaw on his teacher, James Philip Hyatt, who taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School from 1938-1972. Particularly interesting, too, are topics found in no other dictionaries, such as Horror (on the Bible in horror fiction and film), Holy Grail (in Christin literature and film, and among new churches and current religious movements,” the Hui People (a Muslim people in China, the impact of the Bible, both directly through their encounter of eastern Christians and as mediated through the Qurʾān), Hoaxes (forgeries in the ancient Near East, earlier Christianity, and modern forgeries of artifacts from the world of the Bible), Illuminated/Decorated Bibles.

This rich and fun resource for scholars, pastors, teachers, and artists is available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library both in print and, perhaps importantly for our alums, easily accessible online.

 

 

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on May 8, 2016 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


A note to our Class of 2016


It was the spring of 1998. Europe was in the final stages of agreeing on a single currency, the euro. The Good Friday Accord had just been reached in Northern Ireland. Back in the United States, the President was embroiled in a White House sex scandal. And closer to home, on the speakers of high school graduation ceremonies from Hendersonville to Hollywood, Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” imbued sentimental seniors with enough nostalgia to gloss their education in rose colored glasses.

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test and don’t ask why
It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time

Commencement brings a mixed bag of emotions. There is enormous relief and celebration. There’s the anxiety about next steps. There’s saying goodbye to friends who have seen you through the best and hardest moments of your Divinity career. And then there are all the questions left unanswered, the theological works-in-progress which will continue to be cultivated in you over the course of a lifetime.

Theological education is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

Fortunately, your training is well under way. In your time here, I know you’ve felt the thrill of the starting line, the surprise of that first pothole, the weariness of seemingly endless miles, dehydration in oh-so-many-forms, and what runners affectionally term “chafage.” For you, Commencement will be a major milestone of achievement, but (sorry!) it’s not the finish line. Yours is a journey that continues on the streets of the city, down the aisles of congregations, across dividing lines of race and class, and toward that beloved community that so often seems a distant mirage.

Here, too, you have discovered that you are not alone on the journey. I hope you’ve heard the fans – your family and friends and yes, even the faculty – cheering from the sidelines. I hope you drew strength from classmates running beside you, sometimes guiding the way a few steps ahead and sometimes pushing you onward from behind. I hope you felt your theological muscles stretch and grow as they hit their limits and then discovered new capacities beyond.

So take the photographs and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while

Not many people know that the official title of Green Day’s hit song is actually “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life.)” What an apropos juxtaposition for this moment! But we who have studied the psalmist know there is not always contradiction in lament and praise. My hope and prayer for you is that the fullness of your experiences here will serve you well in the years ahead. May you help the world hold together its joy and pain with tenderness and empathy. May you discover beauty and strength in unexpected places. And may the road ahead lead you always toward greater kindness, justice, mercy, and peace.

It’s something unpredictable but in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life

Katherine Smith
Assistant Dean for Admissions, Vocation, and Stewardship

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on May 4, 2016 in Feature, , , , , , , , ,


READ THIS BOOK – April 2016

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 Graham Reside, Executive Director, Cal Turner Program in Moral Leadership for the Professions and Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

Professor Reside recommends “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T. Cavanaugh.


Since 9-11, scholars from across the disciplines have sought to locate the etiology of contemporary violence within the soul of religion.  And why not?  It seems that each day we hear of another egregious act of violence committed in the name of God.  Whether it is suicide bombers crying Allahu Akbar, or American politicians taking recourse to religious rhetoric to describe their justifications for war, religion has come to play a central role in our current political drama.  As I began to reflect on the nature of religiously based violence in the context of religion and globalization, my colleague and friend, Professor Melissa Snarr, recommended I read William Cavanaugh’s book, the Myth of Religious Violence.  This book provides an important brake on the idea that religion is somehow genetically and uniquely violent.

Cavanaugh examines theories of religious violence, noticing three basic themes: 1) Religions are absolutist; 2) Religions are divisive (creating an “us and them”); 3) Religions are irrational.  Together, these “truths” mean there is no hope for reasoning toward compromise or agreement.  Under these conditions, the argument goes, religiously motivated violence is ever a temptation.

Cavanaugh challenges this view.  First, he demonstrates that these three tendencies are hardly limited to religion.  But second, he argues that the myth of religious violence – the idea that religion is particularly prone to violence – is part and parcel of the legitimating ideology of secularity.  According to secularity’s myth of religious violence, the West’s invention of secularity provided an alternative to religious violence.  By dividing religion from State, and situating the religious in the realm of the private, the secular solution put an end to religious violence.  This prescription remains operative today.  This is perhaps best articulated in the common argument that for peace to prevail in the world we must await a Muslim Reformation, which would separate religion into the private and introduce the secular solution.  For like Europe in the 16th century, the Muslim world’s problem today is too much religious fervor, and the cure will be privatized religion and more secular rationality.  I admit this has seemed persuasive to me, as I have listened to the stories of religiously motivated violence, from ISIS to Al Qaeda to Boko Haram;  however, Cavanaugh reminded me that the secular is hardly the peaceable alternative it pretends to be.  Violence can and does come in secular forms, as wars, drone strikes, colonial ambitions, economic immiseration, and state-sponsored killing demonstrate.  It may be true that most Americans will no longer kill for the God of the Bible, but most remain willing to kill for Country (or to have the State serve as their agent).  But do the dead care about the legitimating institution?  This is why Cavanaugh refers to the myth of religious violence: not that there is no violence done in the name of religion.  Of course there is.  But focusing on religion as somehow uniquely prone to violence obscures from view the much broader reality of violence in its secular forms.  Secularization represented the transfer of the authority for violence from religion to the State.  It did not, in fact, represent a diminution of violence itself.  Ask those on the underside of globalization about the source of the violence they experience and they will point to economic and political forces.  Ask African Americans in this country about the source of violence, and often they will point to our (secular) Police State, and not to some prophet calling for religious purity.  Religion is not exempt from the accusation of violence, but neither is it uniquely violent.  And focusing on religious violence, according to Cavanaugh, is the secular magician’s trick, concealing the gun held in the other hand.  Violence comes in many guises.  As religious people, we would be wise to recognize our own tendencies toward violence, but we also should be prepared to draw back the curtain on secular forms of violence as well, while bearing witness to the peaceable alternatives, which remain elemental to our faiths.

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on April 17, 2016 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , , , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday – Emily Lauren Burg

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.

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I enrolled in Vanderbilt University Divinity School planning to become a hospital and hospice chaplain.  Upon being graduated, I realized in large part, due to the amazing opportunity I had to create a yoga program at VDS under the auspices of the Office of Women’s Concerns, that I would not be satisfied working solely as a chaplain.  I had long felt like the chaplain who was sneaking yoga and meditation into her clinical work, and similarly had become a yoga and meditation teacher who drew heavily on pastoral care techniques to create a healing and restorative self-care environment for her stressed-out classmates.  I sought to combine the most rewarding aspects of both roles into one, and drawing from my previous career in the corporate world as a strategic analyst and advisor, decided to create my own postgraduate job as a counselor working primarily with people with and affected by cancer, using the therapeutic aspects of chaplaincy and the healing modalities of mindfulness, yoga, and meditation. After earning the master of divinity degree from VDS and returning to Los Angeles, I went into private practice as Guru Em.  Additionally, I joined the staff of several nonprofit community cancer centers, innovating and facilitating support groups, and becoming a speaker at cancer conferences.  All of this work was informed by my theological studies, especially my field education and pastoral care courses.

I enrolled at VDS with an idea to pursue one career but left to embark on another; however, I am ready to change careers again. I have found that I miss working on a larger scale than individual and group counseling allows, and that the part of me that was in the business world for so long yearns to rejoin it as a refined version of myself: one who experiences everything relationally and sees the world through a spiritual lens.  I don’t know what this will look like, and I write this in a moment of profound uncertainty, yet I draw strength from lessons learned during my “informal” education at VDS about how to find peace amid what one of my yoga students called “the blessed ambiguity” of life, in addition to my personal spiritual practices.

The friendships I forged with my classmates at VDS also remain influential and supportive. I was embraced with compassionate acceptance from the VDS community while I wrestled with culture shock, disappointment, and despair.  The agape love that was showered upon me has significantly informed my work as a counselor, and as a person walking through the world, knowing that everyone is wounded and that there always is an opportunity to be of divine service in bearing witness to, and holding space for another person, wherever they are on their path, and wherever you are on yours.

Emily Lauren Burg, M.Div/13, E-RYT 200, Founder of Guru Em, Mindfulness & Wellness Counseling Practice

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on April 12, 2016 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, News, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Creating Change – Shakiya Canty

The National Conference for LGBT Equality: Creating Change is an annual event. It’s truly a one-of-a-king organizing and skills-building event for the LGBTQ community and allies.
The 28th annual Creating Change conference was held in Chicago, Illinois, this year.
Vanderbilt Divinity School student delegates Shakiya Canty, Levi Dillard, Sarah Jordan, and Marty B. Tracy attended along with The Carpenter Program’s Carlin Rushing (Program Coordinating Fellow) and Lyndsey Godwin (Assistant Director).

by Shakiya Canty, MDiv’3

I wanted to attend Creating Change for several reasons.

For starters, I had been wrestling with the social construction of gender (and more specifically the gender binary system) ever since I encountered, through a first-person account, the prison story of a formally deported Transwoman in my VDS course entitled “Traversing Our National Wound: Immigration and the US/Mexico Border.” I felt that Creating Change would provide a space in which I could engage in dialogue and reflections on faithful responses to gender discrimination in the prison system and gain insights and tools that I could take back to my justice communities in Nashville and Philadelphia. Additionally, as a soon-to-be faith-based low-to-middle income community organizer, I wanted to meet organizers of faith who are fighting to advance LGBTQIA justice through their churches.

Creating Change provided these spaces for me. In my day long institute, “Faith in Action: Reclaiming Faith, Advancing Justice,” people across faith traditions met to discuss real-lived faith, sacred texts, and intersectionality and explore intersectional organizing and advocacy skills that would help us to tackle various LGBTQIA issues, ranging from the prison industry to religious exemptions.

The institute was powerful. I walked away feeling lifted and more confident in me and my colleagues’ abilities after the first six hours. Still, little did I know, what I wanted was nothing in comparison to what God had in store for me.

I entered the experience with faith and organizing on my mind and left with greater hope and healing.

Following the day-long institute, I attended an opening plenary session concerning Black feminist leadership, social justice, and intersectional movement-building. As I sat and listened to Black Feminist Barbara Smith, Trans-activist Reina Gossett, and Black queer feminist organizer Charlene Carruthers engage in intergenerational dialogue on prison systems in Chicago, New York, and Ferguson, the sterilization of East African women in Palestine, and the role of queer Black women in challenging and uprooting these systems and atrocities, I learned a great deal about the invisibility and erasure of Black Queer and Transgender Women in social movement talk as well as Global Black Queer Feminist Power. Their conversation ultimately helped me to gain knowledge on Black women’s lead roles in social movements as well as a deeper sense of trust in my vocation as an organizer.

For the remaining days, I engaged in many conversations with Black queer women across the United States about their justice work. Additionally, I attended interactive workshops, one in which people of color discussed and created experienced-based tools that allow us to confront and heal from the harm that Straight White Jesus brings to our faith communities, and another in which survivors of sexual assault created powerful toolkits for personal and communal health and healing. All in all, Creating Change was a remarkable experience that granted me an opportunity to heal and learn from phenomenal Black Queer women who do extraordinary work on the ground, every-day. And ever since, I have been researching Black Queer and Trans Scholars and activists, like Riley Snorton and Charlene Carruthers in an effort to learn more about Black life, Black history, Black hope, Black healing, and Black liberation efforts.

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 30, 2016 in Creating Change, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Creating Change – Sarah Jordan

The National Conference for LGBT Equality: Creating Change is an annual event. It’s truly a one-of-a-king organizing and skills-building event for the LGBTQ community and allies.
The 28th annual Creating Change conference was held in Chicago, Illinois, this year.
Vanderbilt Divinity School student delegates Shakiya Canty, Levi Dillard, Sarah Jordan, and Marty B. Tracy attended along with The Carpenter Program’s Carlin Rushing (Program Coordinating Fellow) and Lyndsey Godwin (Assistant Director).

by Sarah Jordan, MDiv’2

While there is still work to be done, Creating Change in many ways is a place where people can be more fully and openly their whole selves. It is a place of connection and solidarity. People struggled together and definitely celebrated together. People held each other accountable in small group discussions and larger protests. I saw people reuniting and making new connections wherever I looked. It was like a reunion in a Muppet movie – full of weirdness, big personalities, intra-community conflict, and so much heart.  And shouldn’t the church be like this?

One of the last workshops I attended at Creating Change asked, “What is the queer church beyond inclusion?” What would it look like to build the church in a way that centers the stories and gifts of queer folks? What particular insights and gifts do we bring as queer folks to our faith communities and our leadership roles? And how might these insights and gifts transform the church?

Surprisingly, the workshop, “Print-making for the Revolution” gave me some insight on what building the queer church might look like. We spent most of our time in the workshop collaboratively designing prints in small groups. We had all individually done some sketching around the words “creating change,” and then had to decide what we were actually going to print. First, we shared a bit about ourselves and we set goals for our design. We wanted our design to be simple, have a sense of movement to it, and able to be used for multiple movements for justice. We took turns sharing and building on each other’s ideas. We would play with one image for a while and then decide that it didn’t work. So we’d go back to something else and play with it and so on. Until eventually, we found something that worked. It included pieces from people’s individual sketches that had been tweaked and transformed in our conversations.

This was collaboration at its best. We held onto our own ideas loosely. We played. We shared power. We took risks. We laughed. We were excited and energized. We had a sense of abundance and imagination. We navigated conflict with creativity and compassion. And in the end, we created something beautiful and powerful but not perfect that I never would have created on my own. And shouldn’t building the queer church be like this?

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 23, 2016 in Creating Change, , , , , , , , ,


Creating Change – Marty B. Tracy

The National Conference for LGBT Equality: Creating Change is an annual event. It’s truly a one-of-a-king organizing and skills-building event for the LGBTQ community and allies.
The 28th annual Creating Change conference was held in Chicago, Illinois, this year.
Vanderbilt Divinity School student delegates Shakiya Canty, Levi Dillard, Sarah Jordan, and Marty B. Tracy attended along with The Carpenter Program’s Carlin Rushing (Program Coordinating Fellow) and Lyndsey Godwin (Assistant Director).

The Embodiment of Abundance
by Marty B. Tracy, MDiv’3

What does it mean to occupy space in this world with a mentality of abundance?  I have been thinking about this question since I attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference with a group of Vanderbilt Divinity School students and alumni/ae.  The Task Force brings together thousands of people each year to explore issues related to the intersectionality of race, gender, sexuality, socio-economics, ability, and the various other factors that so often marginalize people within their everyday lives.  The potentiality for learning and growing at Creating Change can be limitless, if one wants to imagine a world without limits.

I bumped head-on into a mentality of limits and scarcity on my first day.  I attended a day-long institute on the incorporation of the harm reduction model into working with LGBTQ youth.  During the afternoon, we had options for 30-minute break-out sessions, and I decided to join one that had “lesbian” in the title.  While I usually describe myself as a gay woman, I thought that if the title specifically had lesbian in it, I would be interested in seeing who joined this conversation and what they had.  Sure enough, a beautiful, honest, and vulnerable dialogue emerged among a group of female-identified people who sleep with other women about why they do (or do not) identify with the term “lesbian,” the prevalence of trauma within female communities (and how this trauma overlaps with substance abuse), and experiences of overlapping sexism and heterosexism.  As the break-out time concluded, members from the other sessions began to regroup into our larger room, and a young man, doodling on his phone, sat down near us.  Our small talk continued, and the man looked up, glanced around at where he was within the room.  Then he said: “Oh no, I’m sitting with the lesbians.”  He wasn’t kidding (not like it is ever okay to joke in a disparaging manner).   We looked at him, gaping with disbelief.  I think that someone responded to him, but honestly, I was still caught off-guard.  As I went onto the rest of the conference, this interaction stuck with me.  Most unfortunately, I encountered more difficult moments, which reminded me that sexism is alive and well…even at a place like Creating Change.  I discovered that women who identify as “Lesbian” feel a sense of erasure at Creating Change within the conference’s programming.  There was a deep lament in feeling called to do work within the LGBTQ community and in recognizing that so much of this work needs to focus on legal, medical, and social support for the Transgender community (and in stopping the murders of Transgender People of Color).  Yet, there were experiences of pain and trauma within the lives of these women as well…reasons why these women choose to identify as Lesbian and stories about racism, sexism, and heterosexism that need to be shared with others in a safe space.

This all made me think about the way that capitalism shapes us to think of the world in terms of scarcity – that all resources and power are finite.  We are led to believe that if one group gains accessibility to resources within society, then it is at the expense of another group.  But why do we need to approach interactions with fellow humans with our minds pre-programmed toward scarcity?  Power does not need to operate in terms of limitation.  If the Kingdom of God urges us to embody abundance, with the ability to feed 5,000 families with five loaves and two fish, then a friend and I can both rejoice together in our gifts and lament our sorrows, which may or may not overlap at all.  In fact, sitting with that friend in his, her, or their joys or sorrows does not ever take away my experiences, and vice versa.  I can listen to this friend’s story, and she to mine, and we can both walk away understanding the ways in which the particular and the universal can overlap within our own individual human experiences.

Creating Change made me think about the ways in which we can embody abundance within our own lives.  Not only does a lived experience of abundance help us to be more present within the lives of the people around us, it is also an opportunity to say “No!” to all of the “ism’s” that surround us on a daily basis. I hope that by embodying this mentality, I can better understand how power operates within current socio-political structures and strive to usher in abundance that the Kingdom of God reminds us is always there.

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 16, 2016 in Creating Change, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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