Anything Dead Coming Back to Life Hurts | Reflections by Cynthia Ajuzie '19

If I’ve realized anything about being at UVa the past four years, it’s that one of my favorite quotes from Toni Morrison’s Beloved holds true. The quote is “Anything dead coming back to life hurts”. (Slight digression: I wasn’t sure if I should write this blog post about how college has further solidified my identity as a Nigerian-American woman, but I often need to my remind myself that being black is only one story that streaks my life and that God has given me many other stories that deserve attention too.)

Merely a few weeks into my fall semester as a third year, I quickly noticed how difficult it was for me to stay on top of my workload. However, I thought that my struggles were just going to be something I overcame by working hard and being strategic with the time I spent studying. School had always been something I felt completely in control of and believed I could excel at with the right efforts, so I didn’t worry too much about my rigorous course load. The night before my first exam rolled around and I remember reviewing notes in my room, trying to elucidate concepts that were still blurry to me. Once I realized that information was no longer sticking in my head, I decided to go to bed. The only problem was that after I did get in bed, I couldn’t sleep. My mind continued strumming through concepts I didn’t understand and my heart felt squeamish in my chest. By 2:30 a.m., I figured I should probably try to talk to someone to see if that would get my mind off of things. I called my mom, who works night shifts as a nurse, and she tried to calm me down for a few minutes. It was comforting hearing her voice and being reminded that my heart and thoughts were not the only sounds that sloshed the earth.

I viewed that night of not sleeping as a fluke that would certainly not happen again because I’d be more diligent in making sure I got to bed earlier at a consistent time each night. However, even with my efforts to apply better sleep hygiene to my life, I continued struggling with anxiety and insomnia multiple times a week. Lying in bed exhausted in the middle of the night, feeling betrayed by and unfamiliar to your own body is one of the worst feelings I have come to know in my life. Insomnia descended me into a pit of loneliness, fashioned by anxiety and I was so unaware of how to plow myself out of it. Many activities that I used to enjoy became lackluster and I dreaded having things to do that would require a lot of energy/thinking. I felt like a walking silhouette of who I knew I was.

Desperately wanting to improve my compromised mental health and not wanting to turn to my parents for help (who come from a culture that struggles with legitimizing mental health issues), I began trying to think of ways to fix myself. I visited CAPs, looked up organic remedies to insomnia, sought prayer from my housemates, bought religious self-help books for sleeping disorders, and had my sister stay on the phone with me some nights in hopes that it would help me sleep better. Nothing seemed to be working long term. With my frustration towards myself and God mounting, I resolved to accept the fact that insomnia had woven it’s way into my life and I’d just have to make room for it on my bed most nights.

The night before my biggest final that semester, I began hearing strongly from God. I was on the floor in the room of one of my housemates who had struggled with insomnia one summer and told me I could stay in her room, so I wouldn’t feel as lonely, while she played worship instrumental music to see if that would help me sleep better. After she had fallen asleep and I was still wide-awake ready for the sun to sprout in a bit, I felt the Lord drop this poem in my spirit based on Psalm 23.

It is well with my soul

For the Lord is so faithful and gracious

He makes me lie down in still pastures

And allows my joy to overflow in abundance

He gives me reasons to sing

He calms my spirit

He gives me strength

He is my strength

After I received those words, I felt lighter. It’s interesting how easily we make room for our struggles to ingest more and more of our lives until something - an epiphany or encouraging word- reminds us that those struggles do not have to permanently suffocate who we are as people. God is our reminder of this fact. And He does it so well. He meets us right where we are, just like He met me in that moment, and tells us that there is hope. He is hope.

I’d be lying if I said that night was the last time I experienced sleeplessness. But, it was the last night I viewed insomnia as some insurmountable entity that characterized all of me. That poem God deposited into my soul made me realize two things:

  1. God is always faithful and his faithfulness is noticeable if we actually open our eyes to see it

  2. God wanted me to stop being so close-fisted with my studies/ future and to relinquish those parts of my life to Him

After I made these realizations, I felt a peace that I had not felt in months. I allowed myself to indulge in the kindness and graciousness of God unrestrainedly. Experiencing a semester racked with sleeplessness and anxiety made me notice how God is a high tower for those who seek Him. His hands are strong enough to carry all of our burdens and His love is deep enough for Him to actually want to carry them. Nights can still be difficult for me, but not as often anymore because of my confidence in God’s faithfulness and his desire to give me rest. I had to go through one of the most difficult seasons in my life for God to revive who I am in him and for him to truly make me a new creation.

John 14:27, Philippians 4:7, John 1:5, 1Peter 5:7-10


The call to Lament | Reflections by Fellow Robert Cross '19

Last year the church that I attend in Charlottesville, Trinity Presbyterian, had a sermon series on the book of Lamentations. At first I was curious and a bit skeptical — isn’t “lament” just a biblical word for being sad? Will studying this Old Testament book be fruitful? Of course, I was wrong. Lament is integral to healing and is present throughout the Bible. After a semester of orienting our worship toward lamentation, I began to see the beauty and difficulty of lamenting.

One of my favorite parts of this process was a song I was introduced to, “How Long?” by Bifrost Arts. It's on an album of lamentation which cries out for wholeness in a broken world.  

How long? Will you turn your face away?

This is the first line of “How Long?” and it honestly and unapologetically calls out to God, mirroring the Psalms of lament. God wants our honest and open hearts.

Over the past year, I've encountered brokenness, sadness, and injustice in the world and have felt hopeless in its face. I’ve learned that lamentation requires that we name the hurt and cry to God for help. For me, this often means listening to others and learning from people around me, so I can join in their struggles for justice.

I took a class this past semester about the history of race and real estate in the United States, and it exposed me to a part of our nation's past I haven't encountered before, one of racism and quiet, insidious exclusion. My after-class conversations with another Fellow, Lindsay, lamented the remnants of past injustice and the reality of our broken world. We ended each conversation with more questions than answers, but in this small way we began to lament.  

This wasn't easy, but we continually tried to understand our place in this pain and in its healing.

Amen, Jesus, come! 

“How Long?” ends with the repeated refrain, “Amen, Jesus, come!” When we sing it at Trinity, we start quietly and end with powerful drums and bright tambourines. It gives me chills every time we sing it, because this movement reflects how we must lament. We may begin in fear and sadness, but we end with hope and faith.

As I approach the pain and brokenness in this world, it’s easy to become hopeless. The relationships we’re in, the families we love, and the systems we’re a part of are all broken and we see this -- and feel this -- deeply. After some conversations with Lindsay after class, I could only say, “Amen, Jesus, come!”

I don't know how to approach all the pain in our world. There’s too much of it for one person to bear (like Ms. May in The Secret Life of Bees), but it’s our job to enter into our own and otherss’ suffering as we cry for Jesus’ will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, while I begin this lifetime of joyful and hopeful lamenting, I can work to return His creation to wholeness with the hope that Jesus will one day wipe every tear from our eye. He is making all things new. In Him alone is our hope.

Before the Rush resources

Sorority rush begins at UVa soon--a process that sparks many urgent questions:  Who are my friends?  Where do I find my identity?  Am I beautiful?  How do I deal with stress and disappointment?  with judgement?  Where is God in all of this?  These are questions that we all ask throughout our lives! 

As students return to the university, we want share two precious resources: short audio talks that are just one click away.  Listen to these talks from our past "Beat The Rush" events.
 
These talks for ALL women students--whether you are rushing a sorority, in a sorority already, not in a sorority!  Like me, you are seeking love, acceptance, friendship...and struggling with insecurity, fear and doubts.  It is so important to be reminded of how very beautiful and loved you are.  So do yourself a favor and listen up...
 
The first talk is by Susan Cunningham on "Finding Your True Identity".  Susan was named Best Psychologist in Charlottesville, and her words are so wise and so kind...Don't miss the truth about who YOU really are.   Click HERE to listen to Susan's talk.
 
The second talk is by Miska Collier on "Knowing the Light and Love of God".  Miska is a spiritual counselor--30 seconds into her talk you'll be hooked.  Click HERE to listen to Miska's talk.

 

A blessing for the New Year | John O'Donohue

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets in to you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green,
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

-John O’Donohue

[Note: "Beannacht" is the Gaelic word for "blessing." A "currach" is a large boat used on the west coast of Ireland.]

It's snowing in our neighborhood (so join us!)

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14)

At Theological Horizons, we invite Emmanuel, God With Us, to move into our own “neighborhood” of academia---a space where people crave open, grace-filled speech and answers to the biggest questions.

Here at the intersection of faith, thought and life, Theological Horizons gathers students, scholars, church and community folks, and everyone in between. Every day we pursue the Truth together, giving thanks for Christ’s transformative presence among us.

We depend upon your generosity to sustain the work of Theological Horizons.

Will you join us with a gift of financial support? Your contribution, however great or small, makes a real difference. SEE THE WAYS TO GIVE RIGHT HERE

Theological Horizons is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, so giving benefits YOU..

Donate now and claim your 2018 tax deduction.

May you be richly blessed during this season of giving!

https://www.theologicalhorizons.org/giving

https://www.theologicalhorizons.org/giving

Nick, Catherine, Leslie & Matthew Merrick

Nick, Catherine, Leslie & Matthew Merrick

#1 the Merrick Family

As parents, we expected Theological Horizons to equip our three kids (UVa '15, '20 and '21) for a deeper consideration of faith.  To our surprise, we ourselves have been equipped for those same spiritual conversations.  Our Dallas book club uses Karen’s Vintage Saints & Sinners, along with her small group guides.  As we explore the ways famous (and not so famous) Christians found faith and lived out their convictions, we study, argue, learn and grow. 

 Who knew that Theological Horizons--a ministry we support from 1000 miles away---would have a deep influence on us, too, beautifully enriching our own intellectual and spiritual lives?

—Leslie Merrick, TH Board member & UVa alumna

 Find the free small group guides at https://karenwrightmarsh.com/vintage-sessions/

Cynthia Ajuzie, Horizons Fellow ‘19

Cynthia Ajuzie, Horizons Fellow ‘19

#2 Cynthia Ajuzie, Horizons Fellow ‘19

Too often, our society requires us clothe ourselves in armor, afraid of the darts that someone will throw at us for holding opinions that may differ from theirs.  Theological Horizons conversations are beautifully fearless. People are able to leave their hearts exposed, even when they talk with one another about important, even heavy topics.   

 I can adopt a heart-on-sleeve attitude with people in Theological Horizons, unafraid, because I know that my thoughts, however varying, will be received with nothing less than love and compassion. And I find this truly beautiful.

Nadine Michel, Horizons Fellow Mentor & M.D./Ph.D. candidate

Nadine Michel, Horizons Fellow Mentor & M.D./Ph.D. candidate

#3 Nadine Michel, Horizons Fellow Mentor

There’s an honesty to Theological Horizons conversations that I appreciate. People are vulnerable; they genuinely care about where you’re from, how you’re doing, and what your life experiences have been like. After talking to someone from Theological Horizons, I always find myself seeing patterns of God’s work in my life—prompted by the questions they’ve asked me, questions that made me reflect on a much deeper level. Community like this is rare and I truly cherish it.

Emily and Anthony Lazaro with Annalivia, Mattie (the pup), James and Milly

Emily and Anthony Lazaro with Annalivia, Mattie (the pup), James and Milly

#4 The Lazaro Family

What keeps me coming back to Theological Horizons both as a Board member and as a friend is the way they offer what our culture so desperately needs: conversations that cut below the surface, that speak to enduring truths about the Christian story, and that offer authentic spaces to be known and loved.

—Anthony Lazaro, TH Board member & UVa alumnus

https://www.theologicalhorizons.org/giving

https://www.theologicalhorizons.org/giving

Let it snow! Peter, Ginger & Anna in the Bonhoeffer House library

Let it snow! Peter, Ginger & Anna in the Bonhoeffer House library

An Interview with Goodwin Prize Finalist Matthew Wiley on Charles Taylor and the Secular Age

Awards for the Goodwin Prize are given to graduate students whose essays demonstrate creative theological thinking, excellence in scholarship, faithful witness to the Christian tradition, and engagement with the community of faith.

An Honorable Mention of $200 goes to Matthew Wiley (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) for the essay, “Sacramental Theology in a Secular Age: Charles Taylor and the Evangelical Church.”

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology? 

Well, I guess I’ve been interested in theology for a while now. I studied it in college, but in some ways that seemed to provide even more questions when thinking about God, his church, and his world. So, I felt led to continue to study theology as an important part of my preparation for pastoral ministry. 

What do you hope to do with your degree?  

In the long term, I am hoping to pastor a church. So in many ways, that’s the main thing I’m trusting this degree is preparing me for. More immediately, I’m applying to PhD programs and am hoping that someone will let me study and write for a few more years as I continue to be shaped and prepared for pastoral ministry.

Where do you see connections between your personal faith, your intellectual work and the other aspects of your life?  

The blessing and curse of studying theology is that it has everything to do with my faith and other aspects of my life. A lot of my schooling thus far has forced me to think about maturity and godliness in very concrete ways. After all, sometimes sanctification looks like getting up at 5:00am to brush the snow off your car in order to make it on time to your Hebrew midterm, and to learn to do this without complaining. And the things that occupy my mind for most of the day in school are brought out through my experience in the local church. How does my clearer understanding of Chalcedonian Christology inform the way I think about leading my church small group? In more ways than I initially imagined. 

How would you summarize your paper for someone without a theological background? 

Basically, this paper is about doing theology in a world where belief in God is one option among others. A philosopher named Charles Taylor wrote a book in 2007 called A Secular Age, which gives an account of this shift (usually referred to as secularization) that has been occurring over the past 400 years or so in the West. Part of the shift is what Taylor calls a ‘disenchantment’ of the world, where the social imaginaries of people have been limited to a more immanent understanding of their daily experiences. So, the paper is about how to do theology in this ‘disenchanted’ age. How do we speak about divine action in a world where almost everything can be explained naturally? What can we say about the Lord’s Supper when the plausibility structures we have in place buffer us from a sense of transcendence? In short, this paper is about how to recover a sacramental theology in a secular age. 

How might this award make a difference in your life? 

It’s a rare thing to have someone read your work and honor it, and it’s remarkably affirming. Especially as I am considering doing more school, it inspires me to keep going.

How do you spend your time when you are not studying? 

I like to read fiction and poetry and am glad when I get the chance to do so. A good cup of coffee is a gift to me, so I find myself drinking that in perhaps gluttonous ways. But really, I’m just an extrovert at heart who loves nothing more than spending a lazy afternoon sitting around a living room with people who are dear to me.  

Any other comments? 

There are a few people that I would like to thank. First, thanks to Karen Marsh and the Board of Directors at Theological Horizons for offering and awarding this prize. Also, thanks to the donors who support this ministry and are willing to make this competition possible—may their tribe increase! Second, I’d like to thank my professors for their support and encouragement along the way. Thanks to Dr. Ashish Varma for introducing me to Taylor’s work, and to Dr. Harold Netland for letting me write the paper and giving much needed suggestions as I did. Finally, thanks to my church, Evanston Bible Fellowship, for showing me what is real.

Advent 3: How can it be?

annunciation pre text.png
annunciation words.png
nouwen.png

The angel's visit to Mary is a moment of such mystery

that poetry, music & art only begin to capture it.

But what of God's daily arrivals into our lives? Are our eyes open to the shimmer of angel's wings? Do we hear the announcements of holy glory blazing around us? Henri Nouwen reminds us that we, too, are the beloved of God: favored, even chosen, for sacred callings. And that we are not alone.

"Mary"

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

{Malcolm Guite}

WWAnnunciation-d.werburg welch-lg

WWAnnunciation-d.werburg welch-lg

nouwen question.png
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN:  Advent with Theological Horizons

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN: Advent with Theological Horizons

Undertaking a Posture of Lament in a Season of Joyful Expectation  | Caroline Carr Grant, Perkins Fellow '20

As we move into a season which is characterized so often by a posture of gratitude, a season filled with an infectious thrill of hope, I have found myself almost antithetically drawn to texts, essays, and scripture which focus on lament. 

The practice of lament is a deeply interesting concept - for in lament one seeks to honor the honesty of pain and anger while also honoring the ultimate faithfulness of the Lord.

Since all of the Perkins Fellows last gathered to discuss various ideas, such as lament and our call to saint-hood rather than heroism, from Hoang and Johnson’s The Justice Calling I have felt a continual calling to further explore and seek understanding of what is means to undertake a posture of lament. 

As described in The Justice Calling, Lament is a “cry directed to God, it is the cry of those who seek the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace, it is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are.” This passage so poignantly describes why I have been feeling this intense draw to lament, not in-spite of the hope and joy of the quick approaching advent season, but rather in light of it.  It is in times such as these that I am most reminded, or more truthfully, deeply disturbed, by the way things are. It is during this most joyful time of year that I feel most deeply the wounds of the world, that I cannot help but turn to scripture from the Psalmist, from Lamentations, Habakuk and so many others that beg the question of the Lord, How Long? 

How long until we offer refuge to the most vulnerable of people with confidence in the Lord that He will provide and protect all of His children? 

How long until our city’s street and public spaces are no longer places where we have to fear violence? 

How long until we no longer have our hearts broken by the pain of a broken home or family? 

How long, how long, how long… 

For the longest time I felt as if I had to hide these probing questions of lament. For in begging the Lord for answers to questions such as these, as well as so many more, I was somehow failing to fully believe in the grace and faithfulness of the Lord. I felt like my sense of heartache over the state of the world was a betrayal of my faith, for how could I truly believe in Him if I was constantly asking: Where are you? Why, Lord? Where is the goodness in this? 

However, as time has passed, I have come to reconcile that in fact in undertaking a posture of lament, in begging those most difficult questions of the Lord, we are not betraying our faith, but rather we are demonstrating our ultimate determination to draw near to the Lord in times of hardship rather than pulling away. For as stated in The Justice Calling “lament enables us to keep moving forward with perseverance in the justice calling; it is a way to remain deeply connected to the God who loves us and loves justice even when injustice makes us ask the hardest questions of God”. 

To lament, to weep for the brokenness of the world, is not to question the grace and fruitfulness of the Lord, but is rather a testament to our faith. For we know that in the mist of our weeping we are crying out to the God of the universe whose love for all of creation is everlasting and never failing. 

To undertake a posture of lament is to believe fully in the thrill of hope that is to come. 

(p.s. I have had Bilforst Art’s How Long? playing in the background as I write this post, it is worth a listen) 

10 x 10 Minutes: Refreshing Study Breaks for UVa Exam Time

study break header with snowmen.jpg

Do you need a break?   It can be tough to step away from important assignments or materials for an important exam, but studies have shown that regular breaks will actually increase your potential for success.

Skip the Instagram feed for now: a recent survey by Huffington Post found that online activities can significantly increase stress.  There are other ways to recharge your batteries.

Sleep is good! Researchers tell us that 10-20 minutes is the ideal ‘power nap’ duration.  A 60-minute rest period helps when you are attempting to memorize facts, names, dates, and other important items. 90-minute naps boost creativity and emotion-driven memories.

Here are our favorite strategies to re-fresh and re-focus… {PRINT THE PDF HERE!!!}

We’ve thought of ten creative ways to make the most of a ten minute pausewherever you may find yourself around the Grounds of the University of Virginia.

#1 Stop in to the UVa Chapel. Walk along the windows and find a piece of stained glass that draws your eye.  Sit down, set a timer on your phone if you like (then put it away), and take ten minutes doing nothing but gazing at the window.  Let your eye wander deeply into the colors, the lines and the images.  Breathe deeply and let the quiet of the chapel surround you.

#2 Open the gate into an empty Pavilion Garden (you’ll find them behind both the East and West Lawn rooms & Pavilions).  Set a timer on your phone (then put it away) and take ten minutes walking the garden paths. Step slowly, taking time to notice the path, the plantings, light in the sky.  Listen for the noises of animals.  Breathe in the fresh air.  Walk a bit further along the path.

#3 Walk into the Fralin Museum of Art on Rugby Road.  Leave your backpack in the coat room and wander into the galleries upstairs.  Find a painting that intrigues you and stop in front of it. Sit down if you like.  Set a timer on your phone (then put it away) and take ten minutes to lose yourself in the painting--taking in the details, wondering about the scene, maybe even imagining yourself in the painting.    There’s no hurry.

#4 Climb up to the top of the marble steps of the Rotunda.  Put down you backpack and sit looking out on the view from that height.  Set a timer on your phone (then put it away) and take ten minutes to notice what you see from there: the people, the light, the natural beauty. Listen for sounds around you. Relax to know that, for now, you’re not doing anything at all.

#5 Step into the lobby of Old Cabell Hall.  You are surrounded by Lincoln Perry’s mural, “Students’ Progress”.  Set a timer on your phone (then put it away) and take ten minutes to peruse the painting, stopping wherever an image or a color draws you in.  You don’t have to examine the whole painting. Notice the details in the mural.  Imagine yourself in the scene. Lose yourself for a little while.

#6 Stop at your favorite coffee shop or café.  Buy your favorite drink (or make it for free in your room).  Sit down in an inviting chair—or take your drink outside.  Leave aside your phone or your book or your laptop. For now, only savor the warmth, the flavor of this treat.  Take all the time you need to drink it.  Feel free to close your eyes or look at your surroundings.  Daydream about the coming break.  How will you relax then?  

#7 If you’re in the library, stand up and stretch.  Set a timer on your phone (then put it away) and take ten minutes to wander along shelves of books.  Stop along the way to notice the titles; pick up books that interest you and flip through the pages, reading if something draws your eye.  Look for engaging illustrations.  There’s nothing you need to study or remember here. Simply enjoy.

#8 Find a place to sit down. Anywhere that feels out of the way.  Outside on a bench, in the grass. Or inside in a comfortable chair or on the floor. Set a timer on your phone (then put it away) and take ten minutes to close your eyes and let your body relax.  Imagine yourself in a place you love—or with people you enjoy.  Put yourself in the scene, picturing details that take you deeper into that welcoming space.  Allow your eyes to stay closed; nobody is watching you.  Just rest for a while.

#9 Choose a piece of music—or a favorite playlist--and listen to it with earbuds.  Wherever you are, take a wandering walk, letting the sounds fill your mind and your body.  Don’t check your phone or do anything else right now; there will be time for that later.  For these ten minutes, let the music be the soundtrack for your walk. 

#10 Pause wherever you are.   Get comfortable.  Use your phone or laptop to visit the website, Pray as You Go.  Explore this link:  https://pray-as-you-go.org/prayer-resources/imagining-the-nativity/

Here you will find a series of short guided reflections.  Choose a character from the nativity story and listen to that very short podcast. Put yourself into the story.

Or try out their 4 minute guided breathing exercises:https://pray-as-you-go.org/prayer-resources/prepare/

WE ARE HERE FOR YOU! NEED TO TALK? TEXT KAREN @ 434.466.1342 AND SHE’LL CALL YOU BACK.

created with love TH.png


Advent 2: Voices from the Wilderness

It’s a snow day at UVa! We’ve got lots more on the ground now!

It’s a snow day at UVa! We’ve got lots more on the ground now!

john the baptist came.png
amanda berry smith.jpg

Born into slavery, Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915) lived amidst the suffering of a broken world. She longed for God’s freedom in the here and now. But who, she wondered, would proclaim it? In prayerful listening, Smith heard God’s voice speak surprising words: “Go preach.” She writes:

I arose and got on my knees, and while I was praying these words came to me: ‘If anyone will come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. ‘ And I said, ‘Lord, help me and I will.’

This unlikely evangelist, born in the wilderness of bondage, preached God’s coming throughout America, Liberia, England and even India. Like John the Baptist, she calls us to prepare the way for the Lord. The Kingdom of God is already here! Read more from Amanda Berry Smith

amanda berry smith question.jpg

More for you…

Read Fleming Rutledge’s wonderful piece, “John the Baptist Points to the Real Hope of Advent” and buy her book, Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans).

Request a free 7x11 Advent Calendar. Email us at karen@theologicalhorizons.org

Follow our Advent with Theological Horizons Spotify playlist

The Oratory of Saint John the Baptist by Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni

The Oratory of Saint John the Baptist by Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni

Lamenting: Prayers, Cries and Promises | Perkins Fellow Sarah Daley '20

 “How do we hold in tension the truth of God’s goodness and love for justice with the reality of pandemic suffering?” 

This question posed in The Justice Calling is a lingering question that I have and still struggle with daily. As I interact with the immense suffering around me, I honestly admit that I often cannot comprehend the “how” in this question. Soon, this overwhelming “how” turns into a heavy and piercing cry of “Why?” 

And I know that I am not the only one who grapples with the “why’s” and “how’s” following this question. Every day, our eyes are opened to more and more of the corruption, the deep brokenness, and the injustice in and around ourselves in this world. We see broken relationships, the devastating effects of war and conflict, abandonment, illness, and inequality. The list goes on and on. We see the effects in ourselves. In our families. Our relationships. Our school. And especially as Perkins Fellows this academic year, we see it in our own backyards. And as we see, we question. We wonder. We doubt. And immediately following this, we feel. We feel the pain of suffering and often the pain of guilt as we question our faith and see our hope fade away. 

And as we wrestle with this guilt and dissonance, we often respond in either two ways: we try to fix the brokenness in our lives with our own strength and solutions or attempt to walk away in an eruption of fear and anger. 

Yet instead of walking away, the Lord invites us to come to Him. He welcomes our doubts, our fears, and our questions not in spite of our doubts, but in the midst of them. Though injustices make us ask the hard questions to God, He wants to hear them. He wants to hear our cries - even the cries that are directed to Him. 

This is what lament looks like. 

As the Perkins Fellows gathered recently, we discussed our beliefs and understanding of lament. We agreed that lament is not a betrayal of faith, but a bold demonstration of faith, an acknowledgement of who God is, with a determined mind and heart to draw near to Him instead of pulling away. And in this process, He gives us hope and a call to persevere by drawing near to Him.  

God calls us to do this through constant prayer and lamentation, even while the suffering and corruption increases. We cry out to God and wait expectantly for God to fulfill His promise to reconcile and redeem what is broken. And as we lament and wait, we can rejoice and hold fast to the truth that there will be a time when we won’t have to lament any more, where we will no longer have to hope. When every tear is wiped from every eye through,  the healing of this world will become an eternal reality in our communion with Christ. But in the meantime, we pray. We lament. We wait. And we listen. All because we know that God is present, that God listens and that God heals, rescues, and restores all things. 

As a Perkins Fellow, Sarah serves weekly with the International Rescue Committee. This fall, she has been partnered with a Syrian family. Each week, Sarah drives the daughter to ballet practice. She writes: “It has been an absolute JOY to get to know this family and I have felt so incredibly blessed to have built a friendship with them. On my first day with them, they immediately welcomed me into their home and even invited me to sit down and have dinner with them: it has been so humbling to see how hospitable and enthusiastic they have been towards me…They have shared so much with me, from the joys of living in Charlottesville to the sorrows that they have been experiencing as refugees separated from the rest of their family in Syria, and it has been such a privilege to have earned the right to listen to and encourage them.”

Advent 1: Bonhoeffer on the Blessedness of Waiting

Advent TH 2018.png
icon by C. Pate Jr. http://cpatejr.blogspot.com/2011/10/prison-project.html

icon by C. Pate Jr. http://cpatejr.blogspot.com/2011/10/prison-project.html

Advent begins today.

Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) ushers us into this holy season. Imprisoned by the Third Reich, he knew what it was to wait---hopeful for his release, to see the ones he loved, for the war to end. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent. One waits, hopes and does this or that or the other, things that are really of no consequence, but the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.

Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot...Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting--that is, of hopefully doing without--will never experience the full blessedness of fulfillment.

For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing and becoming.

Will you enter into the austere blessedness of waiting this Advent?

icon by C. Pate, Jr. http://cpatejr.blogspot.com/2011/10/prison-project.html

TH-AdventCalendar 2018 Dec 2 scripture and quote.jpg

Jeremiah 33:14-16 New International Version (NIV)

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time

I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;

he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved

and Jerusalem will live in safety.

This is the name by which it[a] will be called:

The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

To receive our free 11x17” Advent Calendar, email us with your name and snail mail address: info@theologicalhorizons.org

Learning to Listen | Reflections by Horizons Fellow Celeste Meadows '19

There’s a reason I’m not a liberal arts major--I’ve never been a confident speaker in discussions or seminars, especially when my grade is on the line. While many factors influenced my decision to study Nursing rather than English or Philosophy, I’m grateful to have clinical rotations at the hospital rather than discussion sections. 

As a Horizons fellow, I have the privilege of meeting once a month with the 11 other fellows to discuss passages about life, vocation, vulnerability and faith. At the most recent discussion, I found myself overwhelmed by the depth and meaning of the passages from David Foster Wallace and Parker Palmer. I sat and listened as the other fellows shared insights on how to live in the present moment and how to cast light into the shadows of our broken world. Meanwhile, an internal battle raged. 

“Celeste, you need to say something.” …

“No, you shouldn’t just say something, you have to have something good to 

say.” …

“Your thoughts probably won’t make sense anyway.” 

And I even prayed,

“God, give me words to say that will sound deep, that will make it sound like I know what I'm talking about.”

That night I felt both awe at the thoughts my peers have and the way they think deeply about the world, and frustration with myself for not sharing. As the discussion continued, I was aware of who had and had not spoken, and as each new person spoke I worried that it would eventually become obvious that I wasn’t saying anything. I know that Horizon’s gatherings are not a graded class and that I don’t have to make the groundbreaking comment that shapes how my friends view the Lord or vocation. However, we are encouraged to share, as each of us has unique gifts and God-given interests. We all interact with literature and theology in different ways. The words coursing through my mind that I paid attention to, kept me from being present in the conversation, from listening and responding. 

It’s ironic because the topic of conversation for this particular evening was “Calling and Listening.” One of the questions was “What do I pay attention and listen to each day?” 

And there I was—listening to the voices in my head telling me my reflections and thoughts aren’t worthy to be shared!

 Since that night, I’ve had the chance to think about how I listen, if I listen and what I am hearing. Am I paying attention to what my peers are revealing about themselves and the way the Lord is working in their lives? Am I listening to a script in my head that tells me my insights and I are not valuable? As I consider these thoughts, I’m wondering that if in simply listening and paying attention, not only do I give a gift to my friends and others, I also attend less to the swirling voices in my mind that prevent me from seeing my God-given worth. 

I notice I tend to be on autopilot, giving in to the busyness of being a student and not stopping to reflect. I’m learning that listening requires attention and patience. Staying in the present moment requires me to be critical of my thoughts and brain. I’m inspired to be present in any hurt my housemates might be experiencing, to take pleasure in reading just for fun, and to have discipline with myself in being open to the voice of the Lord. I miss these things when I pay attention only to the internal scripts in my mind. 

Words for your Thanksgiving table

“O Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Psalm 95:1-3

Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full. Do not let a hard place here and there in the bed destroy your rest. Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.

--Alexander Maclaren

But we who would be born again indeed, must wake our souls unnumbered times a day. –-George MacDonald

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.--Colossians 2:6-7

Saying Grace
Here is supper.  It smells good.
It looks good.  It tastes good.
It is good.
All good things come from You.
Let the sweet taste of You
Become the constant blessing on my tongue.  ---Gunilla Norris

"Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, God’s love endures forever." Psalm 118:29

Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in her or his soul.  For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men and women.  Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love –-Thomas Merton

"I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Ps. 9:1

Every moment is a new gift, over and over again, and if you miss the opportunity of this moment, another moment is given to us, and another moment. We can avail ourselves of this opportunity, or we can miss it, and if we avail ourselves of the opportunity, it is the key to happiness. Behold the master key to our happiness in our own hands. Moment by moment, we can be grateful for this gift.

Does that mean that we can be grateful for everything? Certainly not. We cannot be grateful for violence, for war, for oppression, for exploitation. On the personal level, we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend, for unfaithfulness, for bereavement. But I didn't say we can be grateful for everything. I said we can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity, and even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult, we can rise to this occasion and respond to the opportunity that is given to us. …Most of the time, what is given to us is the opportunity to enjoy, and we only miss it because we are rushing through life and we are not stopping to see the opportunity….

So how can we find a method that will harness this? How can each one of us find a method for living gratefully, not just once in a while being grateful, but moment by moment to be grateful. How can we do it? It's a very simple method. It's so simple that it's actually what we were told as children when we learned to cross the street. Stop. Look. Go. That's all. But how often do we stop? We rush through life. We don't stop. We miss the opportunity because we don't stop. We have to stop. We have to get quiet. And we have to build stop signs into our lives.

When I was in Africa some years ago and then came back, I noticed water. In Africa where I was, I didn't have drinkable water. Every time I turned on the faucet, I was overwhelmed. Every time I clicked on the light, I was so grateful. It made me so happy. But after a while, this wears off. So I put little stickers on the light switch and on the water faucet, and every time I turned it on, water. So leave it up to your own imagination. You can find whatever works best for you, but you need stop signs in your life. And when you stop, then the next thing is to look. You look. You open your eyes. You open your ears. You open your nose. You open all your senses for this wonderful richness that is given to us. There is no end to it, and that is what life is all about, to enjoy, to enjoy what is given to us.

And then we can also open our hearts, our hearts for the opportunities, for the opportunities also to help others, to make others happy, because nothing makes us more happy than when all of us are happy...Stop, look, and then go, and really do something. And what we can do is whatever life offers to you in that present moment. Mostly it's the opportunity to enjoy, but sometimes it's something more difficult.  But whatever it is, if we take this opportunity, we go with it, we are creative, those are the creative people. And that little stop, look, go, is such a potent seed that it can revolutionize our world.

---Brother David Steindl-Rast

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Col. 4:2

Life itself is an exercise in learning to sing ‘alleluia’ here in order to recognize the face of God hidden in the recesses of time. To deal with the meaning of ‘alleluia’ in life means to deal with moments that don’t feel like ‘alleluia moments’ at all. -- Joan Chittister

Alleluia is not a substitute for reality.  It is simply the awareness of another whole kind of reality—beyond the immediate, beyond the delusional, beyond the instant perception of things. One of the oldest anthems of the church is Alleluiah means simply “all hail to the One who is.”  It  is the arch-hymn of praise, the ultimate expression of thanksgiving, the pinnacle of triumph, the acme of human joy, It says that God is good — and we know it.  In the Hebrew Scriptures the word is an injunction to praise, a call to the people to summon up praise in themselves.  It is a challenge to see in life more than is seeable in any single moment and to trust it.

--–Joan Chittister & Rowan Williams

Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart….
Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be

Thy praise.                       --George Herbert (1593- 1633)

O Lord, that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness. –William Shakespeare

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

---e.e. cummings

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." Col. 3:15

Interview with Goodwin Prize Winner Chris Hazlaris

Chris Hazlaris (Yale Divinity School) has been awarded $500 for the essay, “Redeeming a Sinful Theology of Nature.” Learn more about the Goodwin Prize in Theological Writing here.

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology?  

I have always been deeply passionate about religious studies, spurred on by my own Christian faith, and, in my undergrad at Fordham University, I discovered how particularly interested I was in spirituality as it related to culture. My second degree was in anthropology, and I was fascinated by the different ways the divine could be conceived and worshiped by humans across time and geography (I believe this to be what we Christians call God’s boundless “Grace!”). My interest in theological anthropology reached a high-point when I studied abroad with base ecclesial communities in El Salvador in 2015. From this point onward, whether I obtained a Ph.D. or sought ordination, I had determined that my path would be to try to offer folks alternative conceptions of God that I believed could prevent their own theological understandings from remaining confined “in a box.” 

What do you hope to do with your degree?

I originally entered Yale Divinity School believing that I would either be ordained as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) or pursue a doctoral path in theological anthropology. However, my time in graduate school has convinced me that my vocation lies, at least for the time being, in neither of the two. I am incredibly passionate about the spiritual development of young people, particularly high school and college-aged youth, and accompanying them in their own religious journeys and questions, and it is in this area that I have become convinced that my present gifts can best meet the needs of the world today. I care so deeply about young people growing up with the knowledge that they were uniquely created and are uniquely loved amidst their imperfections (I have been active in youth ministry for over five years), and by continuing to gently walk with teens in their faith lives and to challenge them in their own preconceived notions of religion and Church, it is my hope to be a stepping stone to a more spiritually grounded and compassionate society. I am currently applying to jobs as a youth pastor and campus minister, and rather than seeing these occupations as rudimentary, am quite proud to be dedicating my time and energy to an age group that I think is always in desperate need of intentional pastoral care and guidance.

Where do you see connections between your personal faith, your intellectual work and the other aspects of your life?

Faith and my intellectual work cannot be separated for me. What I study and research I hope will have tangible effects on my ministry with young people in the near future. For instance, many of the papers I write explore worship and theology in unfamiliar non-Western cultural environments. I do this so that I may continue to better offer teenagers tangible examples of the ways in which God exceeds our human conceptions or norms, offers different individuals and groups different gifts and insights, and communicates divine love uniquely and intimately to all. 

How would you summarize your paper for someone without a theological background? 

It is my intuition that many Christians have internalized the story of Adam and Eve’s sin to mean that the whole world is fallen and corrupt. I argue that this is sorely mistaken. The world as created by God is full of beauty and goodness and often even the parts that look “messy” to us (“survival of the fittest,” biological death, chance occurrences, etc.) are actually, if seen holistically, a major source of abundant life and diversity in the universe. I use what is called a “process theology” model to explain how I think God permits all of Creation – not only humans – to operate with free will, with some divine guidance. As for “sin,” it should be re-defined as our conscious, human refusal of the highest life of love God wishes for us. (Though I do not have room to go into this in the essay, I believe refusing to deem the natural world as sinful is so important because doing so could have major implications for how we view and treat nature and our bodies.)

How might this award make a difference in your life?  

I am incredibly grateful to have received a Goodwin award. It encourages me to continue to want to challenge the understandings of God that we take for granted in the hopes that such interrogations can make people more in-tune with what it means to be a creature under God. Specifically, I hope my work can help people, particularly young people, to see that inter-dependenceis not sin; having imperfections and needing to support one another is an immaculate way that God has sown us together (this is what I believe Church, the Body of Christ, means at its most basic level!) Sin is something quite different, an intentional willing to disobey God that must be recognized for what it is. If my paper has started to do this then I feel humbled and empowered to continue on this road. 

How do you spend your time when you are not studying? 

I am an avid soccer player and am the captain and coach of my graduate school’s soccer team. Additionally, I love music and always use free time to play cover songs on piano, write guitar music, and sing joyfully throughout my house! Sports and music are two of the most centering activities I have in this world, and I cherish them dearly.

LISTEN! Amy Julia Becker - White Picket Fences: Turning toward love in a world divided by Privilege

Listen to the audio here for Amy Julia Becker’s talk on her new book, White Picket Fences: Turning toward love in a world divided by privilege.

A Gentle Invitation into the Challenging Topic of Privilege

The notion that some might have it better than others, for no good reason, offends our sensibilities. Yet, until we talk about privilege, we’ll never fully understand it or find our way forward.

Amy Julia Becker welcomes us into her life, from the charm of her privileged southern childhood to her adult experience in the northeast, and the denials she has faced as the mother of a child with special needs. She shows how a life behind a white picket fence can restrict even as it protects, and how it can prevent us from loving our neighbors well.

White Picket Fences invites us to respond to privilege with generosity, humility, and hope. It opens us to questions we are afraid to ask, so that we can walk further from fear and closer to love, in all its fragile and mysterious possibilities.

 Dr. John M. Perkins always inspires. CCDA 2018

Our  Perkins  Fellows and  residents of the  Perkins  House, attended  the  Christian Community  Development  Association conference  in  Chicago, thanks  to  the  generosity  of the  Forum  of Theological  Exploration  (FTE) and  Lilly  Endowment.   

Perkins House resident and Perkins Fellow Dominique DeBose reflects:

“The Perkins House went to the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) conference in Chicago at the beginning of the month. I started the conference attending a session that talked about worship in a cultural context — worship as counter-cultural, as cross-cultural — led by Mark Charles. In this session, he spoke about the concept of time being a social and cultural construct and how those particular constructs within a society can affect and mostly restrict how we do worship and therefore put a time limit on how we allow the Holy Spirit to move. In reference to indigenous tribes, particularly the Maori of New Zealand, he gave his experience of how he witnessed their ceremonial dance, the haka, used in times of war, also used as an act of worship. And he noted, in the context of worship, but I also think it applies more generally that, “assimilation is not a Biblical value.” It is the role of the worship leaders to embrace the discomfort of diversity. 

When understanding Christian community development, a major motif that I got from the conference was “comfortability,” or more accurately, not being comfortable. In keeping our eye on the end goal of reconciliation and creation of the beloved community, we, as Christians, are not called to comfortability and safety. Understanding this takes a different mindset. Pastah J said that “community development begins in the mind” and that with that miraculous change in mindset, “Christians have the [unique] ability to affirm the dignity in everyone.” We had the honor and opportunity to meet with John Perkins himself and other Perkins House members and Fellows from Calvin College. I remember Perkins saying that “we have lived for so long in a country based on race and class that we have lost our ability to affirm people’s dignity.” 

I think that in understanding what it is to be a Christian, what makes it uncomfortable is the very same thing that makes it so radical and counter-cultural. How do we as Christians affirm peoples’ dignity? How do we create inclusive culture-affirming worship within the church? How do we enter and uplift a community without harming it with self-righteous white and westernized theologies? How are we able to live alongside those we claim to love and fight against their injustices? 

The conference, for me, brought about these questions and more. It re-opened my eyes to what the daunting process of reconciliation looks like.  In considering community development and reconciliation, I get pretty discouraged, I feel out of place, I feel uncomfortable. “How” do you it? I don’t know all the politics, theologies, and practicalities. It’s hard, and it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also as simple as affirming someone else’s dignity. But when I think of the why, it’s not that complicated; it’s simply spreading the love we have rooted from Christ to our neighbors. 

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,

    whose confidence is in him.

They will be like a tree planted by the water

    that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;

    its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought

    and never fails to bear fruit.

   

From Perkins House resident, Sarah Bland, UVa ‘20.

“For me, CCDA  2018 was a time of intense  spiritual  formation and  discernment  in a  season  of navigating  relationships  and vocational  calling…with  space for  necessary and  beautiful dialogues  around  myriad manifestations  of  God's roaring  heart  for  justice  in communities.  We will continue to press into all of this as a house, recognizing that it's in the  most uncomfortable  places that  we  stand to  grow  the  most.”

Learn more about the Perkins House  at  www.perkinshousecville.org and  CCDA at www.ccda.org

November Prayers | "Prayers are tools...for being and becoming." Eugene Peterson

Greetings, friends.

Like many of you, the words and life of Eugene Peterson have helped expand my imagination of a life lived well through faith. Peterson, who died last month, taught us to 'live eucharist,' to embody in our fleshly, daily lives the love and artistry of Jesus. He wrote that "prayers are tools not for doing or getting but for being and becoming." And within those words is the call to indwell our prayers, to listen to the still voice of God. He had a habit of memorizing the psalms and poetry, to literally hold the words within his imagination. 

How could our prayers transform us more into the likeness of the resurrected Christ? What habits might cultiviate a posture of listening and becoming, more than doing and getting?

Watch this short film with Eugene and Jan Peterson at their home in Montana.

GIVE THANKS WITH US FOR:

Our Capps Lecture with Jonathan Merritt. 

A successful board retreat.

PLEASE PRAY WITH US FOR:   

A dear friend whose father just committed suicide.

Jerry Capps, for physical healing and health.

Alison - for work on her dissertation.

Molly's dad as he struggles with a long term illness.

Our dear friend Ginny as she fights cancer.

Unspoken prayer requests

Share your own petition