VDS Voices

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 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.


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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Giving Tuesday – Cameron Barr, MDiv’12

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.

When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that He swore to your ancestors…take care that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt.  -Deut. 6: 10-12

Last fall, a little more than three years after graduation, I made my last payment on debt assumed as a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Money was a concern for me from the very beginning as I know that it was for many of my classmates. I had a good car and a roommate to share rent, but no savings.  My plan was to pick up odd jobs where I could and live from loan check to loan check.  (It’s eight months from January to August, not six!) Borrowing the money was a little scary, but I saw it as an act of faith in a calling that I deeply felt.  That calling was to be tested strenuously.

No reason not to be honest here—I had some tough times in seminary. Days before I matriculated, ecclesiastical pinheads denied my petition to become a candidate for ordination on the basis of my sexual orientation. Their decision was a major surprise and disappointment to me. For the next three years my future as a minister looked uncertain. After a family crisis that occurred on the day of my first Gala, I considered dropping out to return home. I felt little promise for ministry on many days.

At the same time, it was hard to deny my good fortune.  Looking back on those struggles, I can see how God was saving me. My roommate, a classmate, was a solid rock of friendship and grace. My professors helped me to discover an authentic voice for leadership in the church. My Covenant Discipleship Group prayed without ceasing. In public remarks, Dean Hudnut-Beumler once described in detail the School’s efforts to provide more scholarship support to students. I had a lot of help.  And I wasn’t the only one making sacrifices for my education.

As I wrote that final check, I said a prayer of thanksgiving for all the people past and present, known to me and unknown to me, who helped me get through school and pay for my education.  Now in the season of Lent, I’m writing another check, not because I owe the money, but because I have experienced myself how God uses the offerings of so many people to make ministry possible through the School of the Prophets.

Cameron Barr, MDiv’12
Pastor of Grinnell United Church of Christ in Grinnell, Iowa

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 15, 2016 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, Giving Tuesday, , , , , , , , , , , ,

READ THIS BOOK – March 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 Victor Anderson, Oberlin Theological School Professor of Ethics and Society and Professor of the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies and Religious Studies.

Professor Anderson recommends The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010, pp.ix-366.


Professor Jennings’ book is a genealogy of Christian theologians’ participation in the geographical and geopolitical constructions of modern world imperialism over black and captive flesh. Where to start is an especially important question for a theological history where race, imperialism, colonization, and Christianity are intrinsically embedded and appear “natural”.  Jennings deconstructs this “natural” transfusion of race, colonization, and Christian faith in three parts: Displacement, Translation, and Intimacy. The “Introduction” highlights two distinct imaginings that frame Jennings’ genealogy. First, he experiences himself, his parents, and community as objects of evangelism and missions. His parents, migrants from the Deep South, settle in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Mecca of Reformed Christianity.  Stories and story-telling were determinant aspect of his upbringing. His parents were devout believers for whom Jesus and their Biblical faith were ever present realities. Jennings remembers one day when white missionaries from the Christian Reformed Church in the neighborhood invited themselves into his mother’s garden to inquire into her faith, talk about their church, and inform her about programs available for children. He remembers himself being addressed as if he were five years old when he was actually twelve. Well planted in their community, pillars of their church, and living in the neighborhood for years, this all fell on deaf ears to the congregation in their midst. He, his parents, and his neighborhood were suddenly objects of missions. What came together in this garden were two alienated Christianities, one black and one white. Jennings ponders: “Why did the men not know me, …not know the multitude of other black Christians who filled the neighborhood that surrounded that Church?” Years later, Jennings finds himself now a student at Calvin College, a Christian Reformed institution, delivering his first sermon at chapel and receiving handshakes from his theology professors. In contrasts to his first encounter with Christian Reformed missionaries, Jennings now finds “a sense of connection and belonging and of a freedom to claim, to embrace, to make familiar one who is not.”  He imagines Christian intimacy as a genuine possibility. Jennings’ book deconstructs a complex history of contact and conquest that makes possible the segregated Christianities experienced in his mother’s garden and forms of intimacy experienced to him now as a student at Calvin College. These two moments frames Jennings’ book, which is a genealogy of Christian imaginings of faith and race through Displacement, Translation, and Intimacy in six powerful chapters.

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 13, 2016 in News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home.”

As my yearlong research leave from the Divinity School was winding down this past summer, I found myself imagining how I might put some of the resources in my endowed chair to work for the benefit of our school and the wider community. The notion first came to me in late May on a long homeward drive south from New York City, where I had been occupying a visiting academic chair at Fordham University. The specific content emerged just a few weeks later, as Pope Francis published his highly anticipated encyclical on climate change, “Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home.” As I gave the lengthy document a first read, I could readily see that the pope’s explicit audience—all people on the planet—and his methodological approach—integrating the Church’s social teaching, ecumenical sources, and research from the scientific community—altogether promised good theological-ethical and interdisciplinary discussions at Vanderbilt. Even as I began planning a series of events for spring term 2016, a general invitation to faculty and graduate students appeared in my inbox: Professor Beth Conklin (chair, Anthropology) was heading up a special university-wide initiative on climate change for AY 2015-16 called “The Eos Project” (http://eosprojectvu.org/ ). Divinity student John Compton generously expressed interest in working with me, and in September we were accepted into the circle of Eos Fellows (http://eosprojectvu.org/people/ ).

In his own VDS Voices blog entry earlier this semester (1/20/16), John Compton well summarized the content and objectives of Pope Francis’s ecological encyclical: “Over the span of 184 pages, Pope Francis ardently criticizes the rampant consumerism and individualism so characteristic of our late modern society while maintaining that caring for the environment is central to the Christian faith. He repudiates interpretations of Genesis that call for human domination of the earth and urges us to cultivate and protect the earth to which we are intimately tied. Francis situates this encyclical in a long tradition of Catholic social teaching by emphasizing that care for the earth is care for those suffering from poverty. This emphasis remains central to Pope Francis’s ministry because he recognizes that everything in creaturely life is connected. The suffering of the earth, those living in poverty, and the actions that have caused them (both quotidian and monumental) are related to one another.”

The first event of our spring semester’s series, “On Care for Our Common Home: Engaging Pope Francis’s Ecological Justice Encyclical,” a January 22nd panel discussion including a environmental philosopher, John Compton, and myself, had to be canceled due to the snowstorm that paralyzed Nashville that day. While that turn of events was disappointing, we were nonetheless excited to learn of the broad interest in the discussion of the encyclical it generated (including print and web articles in The Tennessean, The Tennessee Register, and various Vanderbilt platforms). Heather Lee, our Divinity faculty assistant, relayed to me numerous inquiries about the talk, its cancelation, and the possibility of rescheduling. While the latter was not possible, we looked ahead to a larger event planned for our semester-long engagement with the encyclical: a two-day speaker series—March 17-18—bringing to campus leading voices in a new generation of social ethicists.

On Thursday, March 17, Part One of “On Care for Our Common Home: Engaging Pope Francis’s Ecological Justice Encyclical” will feature Kevin Ahern, assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, who will deliver the lecture, “The Ecological Common Good and the Globalization of Indifference.” Professor Ahern is a specialist on the relationship between common good tradition and our present globalizing context. In addition to his book-length treatment of the topic, Structures of Grace (Orbis Press, 2015), his other books include The Radical Bible (Orbis, 2009) and Visions of Hope: Emerging Theologians and the Future of the Church (Orbis, 2012). Responding to Professor Ahern’s lecture will be:  1.) Professor Carwil Bjork-James (Anthropology), whose research interests include collective rights and strategic social action; and 2.) Professor Michael Vandenbergh (Law), a leading scholar in environmental and energy law.

On Friday, March 18, Part Two of the lecture series will feature Nichole Flores, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, with her talk, “’Our Sister, Mother Earth’: Promise and Challenges in an Ecological Vision of Family.” Professor Flores’s research emphasizes the contributions of Catholic and US Latino/a theologies to notions of justice within plural socio-political contexts, addressing such issues as migration, consumption, ethnicity, and family. Professor Flores’s respondents include: 1.) Dean Emilie Townes (Divinity), whose broad interests in Christian ethics, culture, and postmodernism include critical attention to womanist perspectives; and 2.) Professor Douglas Perkins (Human & Organizational Development, Peabody), a leading researcher in the areas of community psychology, criminal justice, and family and consumer studies.

Both lectures on March 17 and 18 will take place from 3:30 to 5:00 pm in Divinity G23, followed by receptions in the Common Room. Click here for series details and here for participant details.

by Bruce T. Morrill, Edward A. Malloy Chair of Catholic Studies
Professor of Theological Studies



Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 9, 2016 in Feature, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Alumni/ae Tuesday – Kenneth Young, MDiv’90

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

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

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


My greatest joy is to see how words motivate people through the basic principles I teach as a motivational speaker and as a pastor—to empower hearers through the practical application of Scripture with my books on spirituality, leadership and financial literacy. Professor David G. Buttrick paid me the highest compliment. He said, “I am reading your book and I am halfway through it. It is terrific.” The new book is titled Financial Literacy is EXPOSING The New Economic Racism. XulonPress 2015.  -Pastor Kenneth M. Young, D.Min. Dothan, AL & Winter Park, FL Daleville Christian Fellowship Church-KennethMYoungPublicationLLC[DPA1]

The January colloquy week for preaching peer groups was an awesome experience for those who were given the opportunity to be on the sacred grounds of Vanderbilt University Divinity School for the David G. Buttrick Homiletic Peer Coaching Preaching Program. The groups were conducted under the leadership of Professors Dale P. Andrews and John S. McClure. The Divinity School takes on a premier role again, this time by untangling the conundrum of the preaching experience and how language shifts the mindsets of culture. The vital dimensions of the program operate through a parallel learning process, which in this writer’s opinion ultimately shapes our lives.

The workgroup topics ranged from racism, sexism, group covenants, economics, preacher formation, sermon models, and an evaluation. The sessions culminated with a critique of preaching from African American traditions.

Each day made a tremendous impact upon the peers, evaluation teams, and professors. It is a model that certainly represents a paradigm shift on how to look at preaching with a diverse critical eye and with the highest respect of the various cultural experiences represented. Pastors work on sermon substance, methods, and sermon delivery with a laser focus inspiring and equipping their parishioners in their preaching, teaching messages, or sermons.

Peers came from around the country: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

by Pastor Kenneth M. Young, MDiv’90

Posted by Michelle Bukowski on March 8, 2016 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , , , , , , , ,


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