Verses of Thanks for Thanksgiving

“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

Reflections on the Perkins Fellows program by Evan Heitman '19

“And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” - Mark 10:51-52

Like many (all?) of the stories of Jesus, this one about Bartimaeus the blind beggar is remarkable. It is actually one of my favorite ones in the whole Bible. I think Bartimaeus has much to teach us about what faith is, what faith takes, and where faith leads, especially for college-aged Christians like myself. Asides from being a profound example of the kind of faith that Jesus loves and expects, this story speaks to a major theme of my coming to Christ my first year of college, and, by the grace of God, I hope it characterizes far more than just my experience in college and my experience putting my faith in Jesus for the first time. I hope that the example I find in Bartimaeus is the example I will make of myself and I pray that I would never falter in seeking new ways to carry my cross so that this hope may become reality. In a way, my work volunteering with Abundant Life through the Perkins Fellows program this year has been a means to that end and an extension of this greater theme in my life. So, without further adieu, let me explain what exactly I’m making this whole fuss about (feel free to read along in scripture as I go into further detail).

The story of Bartimaeus opens with him sitting by the roadside as the great crowd following Jesus passes by. Mark says that when Bartimaeus heard that is was Jesus who was going by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” After which, many rebuked him and told him to be silent. Far from being discouraged, the text says that  “...he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!'” I find this part of the story alone to be so incredible. Bartimaeus had never met Jesus, and being blind, he had no way of knowing that Jesus could even hear him or that it was really Jesus at all. Even though he was already an outcast and looked down upon, he fearlessly shouted out for the Son of David, the promised king, that he might look upon him and have mercy. Not only did he get no response from Jesus then, but those around him pressured him to stop asking and to just be silent and accept his lot in life. Showing incredible strength of faith and character, Bartimaeus cried out even more than he had before. I find this story to be so powerful because in my first year, I felt a hopelessness that I imagine is of a similar kind, if not degree, to what Bartimaeus must have felt at that point in his life. I felt utterly blind and lost about who I really was. I felt like everyone around me had a life they were truly living while I was just merely existing. I felt like a puppet dancing along the stage of my years but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to grab hold of my own strings. I wanted to have faith in God and I tried to believe, but my doubts rebuked me and told me to stop asking. With no small amount of stumbling along the way, I tried my best to cry out all the more for God to do something, anything, in me, despite what I saw to be slim odds of that really happening. 

Jesus stopped. That's what the text says in Bartimaeus’ story. Jesus, the King of Kings, God of the universe, heard Bartimaeus’ plea and altogether stopped what he was doing. And then he called to him. And just as Jesus changed Bartimaeus’ life forever, he changed my life forever. He showed me that He is living water and the bread of life. He called to me that I might have life and have it to the fullest. He took my heart in his hands and taught me to cry at the beauty of who He is and how wonderfully, perfectly real life with Him really is. This is the first chapter of the story God started writing in me and for reasons I don’t fully understand, He has asked me to coauthor the whole thing with Him. I believe that God has reasons for writing our early chapters the way that He does. I think that He uses our experiences as young children in His eternal family, so to speak, to shape and set the stage for the spiritually mature adults He calls us to be. The lesson I began to learn as a new Christian and the one I saw reflected in Bartimaeus’ life two thousand years ago is one that I think will be an important motif throughout my life and I think it's one that Jesus is trying to teach me a little more about this year through my participation in the Perkins Fellow Program.

One part of the chapter I currently find myself in is my wrestling with empathy. Really, I think this is just picking up where my previous struggle left off. God has brought me so far in learning to love being alive with Him, but often times, I feel as though I have an impossible distance left to travel when it comes to loving that life in others. I have a hard time entering into the pain of others. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t think I do it particularly well when I try. Even when I am able to provide comfort to others, I fear that it is shallow, that I lack the ability for my comfort to come from a place of radical, selfless love. And then, for every time that I find my attempt at empathy lacking, there is a time when I reject the desire to empathize at all. I find myself making my own thoughts and my own experiences my god and resisting the call to humility. I commit the sin of partiality and become a judge with evil thoughts. I haven’t yet found the magic button for letting go of my pride, but too often I’d rather not let go of it at all. I see the degree to which I love my neighbor as a manifestation of how deeply I understand the steep price Jesus paid to win them for Himself and I don’t understand it even close to how much I wish to. As a Perkins Fellow, I have been provided an opportunity to cry out to Jesus to have mercy on me in this. If I’m being honest, I don't even know which direction to shout in, but I have to hope that Jesus hears me anyway. I have been given a chance to learn from Jesus how to love those who are growing up and have grown up as a minority, how to love those who are growing up poorer than I did, how to love kids whose childhoods have been more fraught with violence and evil than I can wrap my head around, and how to love fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who hold political ideas with which I fundamentally disagree. I hear the difficulty of all this (and it is hard) pressuring me to stay silent, to simply put in my required service hours and be done with it, but I pray for the strength and faith to cry out all the more.

Interview with Kyle Potter for the Goodwin Prize

Kyle is a native of Appalachian Kentucky, and holds the MTh (Applied Theology) from the University of Oxford, the MTS (Liturgical Studies) from the University of Notre Dame, and is a doctoral candidate in Systematic Theology at Marquette University, where he serves as a Teaching Fellow. Kyle’s primary research interests are ecclesiology, political theology, ecumenical theology, and the sacraments. He is a lay Preacher in the Episcopal Church.

Paper title: No Greater Love: Friendship as the Enactment of Charismatic Ecclesiology in the Small Asketikon of Saint Basil the Great

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology? 

For as long as I've been a believer, I have been fascinated the diverse ways in which people have lived and experienced the Christian faith. My studies have broadened my thinking about God, worship, and mission, and enabled me to share the riches of the Christian tradition with others.

What do you hope to do with your degree?

I just want to teach! I would love to teach at a seminary so that I can help form future pastors and lay leaders for ministry. I am trained as a generalist, so I will be applying to religious colleges and universities as well.

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

I am an academic who stands firmly in the Church. My major research interests — ecclesiology, liturgy, and political theology — are oriented to questions of how believers can best understand their live with God and one another as they consider God's call to serve the world. 

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

From my vantage point in 21st century America, our culture suffers a dearth of models for supportive, life-giving friendship. Like other contemporary writers, I went digging into the ancient monastic traditions for help. Basil of Caesarea's Small Asketikon is one of many guidebooks for living in Christian community that got passed around the late Roman Empire. I picked it because Basil was famous for some strong and stormy friendships, and for being persnickety about his regulations. In examining them, however, I discovered that he had a sophisticated understanding of human nature, and how Holy Spirit transforms lives in the context of committed friendships.

How might this award make a difference in your life?

My mentors have encouraged me to focus on my development as a writer, so the award is first a great encouragement in my vocation. Beyond that, I hope it will help me meet people that I might not meet otherwise, and of course, the prize itself will help in a quite practical way when I log on to the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace this month.

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

I throw parties, develop my culinary talents, and read horror novels. Oh — and I take a lot of cat photos.

Any other comments?

I'm grateful to Theological Horizons for this recognition. I am grateful as well for Dr. Marcus Plested's guidance on this research project, and for the encouragement and careful criticism I have received from Dr. Susan Wood. I've become a better writer for it. 

For more information on the Goodwin Prize, click here.

Interview with Erin Zoutendam for the Goodwin Prize

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology?  

I started my master’s degree in theological studies for very pragmatic reasons: I thought I might like to go into academic editing, and a master’s degree seemed like it would help. But I very quickly fell in love with what I was studying, and I had some excellent professors along the way who encouraged me in what I was doing.

I’m now on my third theological degree, and I kept going for the same reason that I think a lot of people keep going: I still had (and have) questions about God.  I’m especially interested in historical theology and retrieving wisdom from the historical church. A lot of my research has focused on women’s theological writing, on the theology of contemplation and prayer, and on how people have historically read and interpreted the Bible. All of those areas touch on my own life; indeed, the questions I have in my own faith have tended to drive and shape my research.

What do you hope to do with your degree? 

I hope to teach someday, particularly at a seminary or divinity school. When I was pursuing my MTS and ThM degrees, I loved being in class with people who were going to be ministers. I’d never been around so many people who love the church and who are so committed to it. My classmates were really a gift, and it gives me great hope to know that someday the church will be in their hands. I would love to teach people like them in the future.

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

In a beautiful essay called “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” twentieth-century mystic Simone Weil writes that the heart of prayer is attention: focused and unwavering attention to God. School studies, as she calls them, train and develop our faculty of attention. When I first read this essay, it made sense of why I have always loved my studies. Even when I was young, I found myself able to be interested in almost any subject. Part of this was because my parents, who are both very faithful people, did a wonderful job encouraging curiosity, wonder, and age-appropriate kinds of reading and research when I was young.

What my love of learning taught me was a disposition of attentive wonder. I have always had a sense that there is something new to learn just around the bend. That disposition is something that I try to bring to my personal faith. Of course, there is always a danger, at least for me, that study will come to eclipse spiritual practices: it is easy to spend all day reading about prayer and still forget to actually pray. So while I am by no means an “expert” at prayer or faith—and in fact I’m pretty poor at those things—I do try to worship and pray in a state of attentive wonder.

This disposition of wonder, which was nurtured by my studies as a young child and integrated into my faith as an adult, feeds right back into my intellectual work. Sometimes “’academic” theology is stereotyped as dry or abstract, but I find God everywhere in my work. I’m particularly drawn to theological writers whose lives and theology are one, and one place I find that is in medieval female mystics, although certainly it exists among many other theologians.

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

Crying is something that everyone does—in fact, it is the very first thing you do when you’re born. And yet, scientifically speaking, we don’t know that much about tears. But historically, tears have been understood to possess great power: the power to communicate, the power to persuade, the power to heal, the power to redeem. This was never more the case than in the Middle Ages, when weeping was a common devotional practice. The question underlying my paper is how we might reclaim a theological understanding of tears. I explore this question through the lens of Catherine of Siena’s writing on tears in The Dialogue. Catherine was a fourteenth-century Italian mystic, theologian, and activist.

In my paper, I propose that Catherine viewed tears as an embodiment of individual desires. In other words, tears are a way for what is going on in your soul to become manifest in your body. I also argue that Catherine saw desire not as something bad to be eliminated but rather as something to be redirected. In other words, there is bad desire—greed, envy, the desire for vengeance—but there is also good desire—namely, the love of God. The goal is to convert bad desire into good desire, which is a lifelong process. I think that for Catherine, tears, as an embodiment of desire, could be ordered toward an end: self-knowledge and spiritual formation. I hope that by exploring the spiritual dimension of tears we can better understand how to learn from and be formed by our own tears.

How might this award make a difference in your life? 

First of all, it is affirming on a personal level to know that my work resonates with other people.  This particular paper has been near to my heart since I began writing it, and while I had a few affirming conversations with friends as I was researching it, it is encouraging to know that the work is of interest to others.

From a financial perspective, I hope to use the prize to further my studies. A lot of the research I am interested in is in German (as are some of the primary sources), and my German simply isn’t very strong yet. I hope to use the prize to take a German course in Germany and become much more confident in my language abilities.

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

I’ve recently taken up birdwatching. My husband jokes that I like birdwatching because of the “taxonomical potential”—that is, because I’ve always been a sorter, a list-maker, and a bit obsessive. All of those things really pay off in birding! Learning the field markings for different species of sparrows is very exciting to me, which I know sounds odd. So my husband is not wrong, but I also think birdwatching is—like prayer, like studies—fundamentally about attention and expectation. You can’t summon birds, although you can try to put yourself in the right place at the right time.

When I’m not studying or birding, I like to read literary fiction. I enjoyed gardening before we moved to our apartment this year, and I also like traveling with my husband and spending time with our two cats.

Any other comments? 

I would like to thank the professors who helped with this paper. I originally wrote it for an independent study supervised by Dr. Han-luen Kantzer Komline, whose careful reading and sharp eye for argumentation made the paper significantly stronger. And I first read Catherine of Siena’s work with Dr. Frans van Liere, who  took a semester to read through the works of eight medieval women with me—a semester that has profoundly shaped my academic career. It was he who first suggested to me that there might be something of interest in Catherine’s chapter on tears.


To learn more about the Goodwin Prize in Theological Writing, click here.

Interview with Daniel Eng for the Goodwin Prize

Daniel K. Eng | University of Cambridge, PhD candidate

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology?  

I am pursuing a PhD in theological studies for three reasons. First, as a pastor I’ve witnessed the need for quality theological teaching in connection with the church, which I am preparing to help meet. My aim is to join a growing group of pastors and scholars who promote biblical literacy in both the church and the academy.

Second, I have an intense desire to discover more about the biblical text. It was my parents who instilled in me a love for the Bible and for the church. Their loving guidance over the years has enabled me to pursue theological education. I am now appreciating this season of dedicated time to research and write as I investigate the texts that bring meaning and hope to so many people.  

Third, I am motivated to communicate these truths and concepts from the Bible to others. The PhD process and degree offer opportunities for me to communicate in various settings. I’m grateful for the mentoring I received in different places in my life, from Talbot School of Theology to Evergreen Baptist Church SGV. The sum of these experiences has given me the tools and motivation teach the biblical text clearly.

I chose to come to Cambridge because of the world-class faculty and resources to which I have access. I am especially grateful for the library and conversations at Tyndale House Cambridge, an outstanding biblical research community, where many of the concepts for this paper were shaped.

What do you hope to do with your degree? 

I am hoping to equip others through teaching biblical studies at a seminary or Bible college. I am grateful for fantastic experiences teaching in different capacities at Talbot School of Theology, Cru’s Institute of Biblical Studies, Tyndale House Cambridge, and Training for East Anglia Ministry. I especially hope to guide those who engage in church ministry, as I impact the church at large through teaching and mentoring. In addition, I plan to continue to preach and minister at a local church in some capacity.

The invigoration I experience through every teaching opportunity has driven my desire to fulfill this purpose in my life. I particularly appreciate the times when I facilitate foundational material to others, on which they can build and use to understand the biblical text well.

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

One of my professors at Talbot School of Theology, the late Dr. Robert Saucy, once shared with me that he kept a sticky note at the place where he spent every morning reading the Bible and praying. The note read “Trust Me.” He placed it there as a reminder that his faith in God would always drive his daily activity.

As I follow Dr. Saucy’s example, my relationship with God motivates my intellectual work. The apostle Paul preached to a crowd in Athens that in God that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 18:28). This statement deeply resonates with me, as I find my purpose as part of God’s unfolding redemption of creation.

The good news of the cross and the empty tomb provide motivation for me to investigate the biblical text. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope and meaning in all I do, and I endeavor to bring him glory in my intellectual work. I cannot think of any higher pursuit for myself than studying the character and message of God and communicating it to others. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to engage in this as a vocation.

Upon moving to Cambridge, my family has found supportive community at both Tyndale House and Christ Church Cambridge. Both groups of believers have sustained us with encouragement and have given us opportunities to use our abilities to impact others. My wife Sanjung and I are committed to modeling faith in Jesus Christ to our three daughters: Joanna, Josie, and Jessica.

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

In teaching about the kingdom of God, Jesus told many parables: short stories that illustrate profound truths. This paper explores one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables, the Prodigal Son. I examine the dynamics of honor and shame in this parable, offering a fresh reading of the story through this lens. In a culture that valued the collective over the individual, Jesus taught to his first hearers that the movement he was creating would be characterized by a widening of the community’s circle.

The message of Jesus is then applied to the modern American church in the context of care for immigrants and refugees. While steering clear of a commentary about public policy, this paper calls the church to embody the message of the Jesus movement by expressing inclusivity and love towards those who are displaced and marginalized among us.

How might this award make a difference in your life? 

I’m honored and grateful that my essay has been chosen for this award. My hope is that it will spark more conversations about how the church can embody Jesus’ message of a widening circle. I’m looking forward to seeing how these concepts can make an impact.

On a practical level, I am grateful that the privilege of receiving the Goodwin Prize communicates the quality of my research to potential employers. Some of the prize money will be used for something special for my wife Sanjung, who has been very supportive during my PhD journey.

Above all, this award has been an encouragement for me to press on through the demands of the PhD journey. As my morale can often ebb and flow, moments of affirmation like this inspire me to persevere.

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

When I am not studying, I enjoy spending quality time with my family. I build deeper connections with my wife Sanjung and find opportunities to guide my children as they mature. We enjoy exploring Cambridge and the occasional trip elsewhere to build memories.

I keep a frequent preaching schedule, as I consider it a privilege to communicate the life-giving message of the Bible from the pulpit. Sanjung and I are actively involved at Christ Church Cambridge, volunteering with and participating in various ministries.

We also enjoy connecting with people through strategy board games. Our recent favorites are Kingdomino and 7 Wonders.

Any other comments? 

I am very grateful to the Board of Directors at Theological Horizons for choosing my essay for this award, and to the donors for their generosity in encouraging theological writing.

I would also like to thank two of my mentors, Dr. Benjamin Shin of Talbot School of Theology, and Rev. Cory Ishida of Evergreen Baptist Church SGV, for encouraging me to pursue this PhD. These two men have spent countless hours investing in me, and their influence in my life has shaped some of the concepts of this essay. 

Women, Work and the Myth of Balance | Some resources

Our 12 Horizons Fellows meet monthly to mull over a couple articles around the themes of faith & calling. We recently discussed the idea of calling itself and especially how women have a complex relationship with calling and careers.  Here were our readings:


Jon Malesic – Don’t Search for Purpose, You Will Fail

Kate Harris – Constraint and Consent

And here are some questions to ruminate on further:

1) What would it be like (if I'm a guy) or how do I think about this idea as a woman of having to choose between motherhood and a career? What has my church or family or current context taught me to think about this?

2) How can we promote more equity in work and caregiving (which shouldn't be seen as second tier for either men or women) for women of all races and classes in our communities and country? 

Anne-Marie Slaughter has loads of fascinating articles on The Atlantic website. Here are some if you want to dig in a little deeper:

Why Women Still Can't Have it All - one of the most read Atlantic articles in history that inspired Kate Harris to write her above critique.

The Having it All Debate convinced me to stop using the term Having it All

The Failure of the Phrase: Work-Life Balance 




Directionally Challenged | Horizons Fellow Ellie Wood '18

“Arrive at Christy’s house by 8pm” -- a simple direction, with a not so simple destination. As a Horizons Fellow, I have the unique opportunity to meet with the other Fellows every month to discuss theology, chat about life, and learn how to live a life for Jesus.  Christy, our fearless leader, has been gracious enough to open up her beautiful home out in the countryside for our monthly meetings. On this particular night, Margaret Draper (another Fellow) and I decided to carpool out to Christy’s house. Now, for those of you who don’t know me, you should know one thing: I am perpetually late.  I have always been and most likely always will be at least 10 minutes late to the party.  Following this pattern, Margaret and I were already running late to our Fellows meeting when we lost cell phone service and as a result lost our sense of direction.

Snaking down unknown, curvy roads, we quickly realized we had missed our turn. As we drove aimlessly, we discussed our post-grad plans and realized neither of us had any concrete ideas. We both had joined in on the typical UVa business consulting career frenzy but through our conversation, I realized I had no idea why I “wanted” to go into consulting. Within my major at the Batten School, everyone feels the unsaid pressure to have the best job in the best city while singlehandedly changing the world through policy. Somewhere along the way, consulting became the route to achieving all of this and more, so I wanted to get in on it.  I didn’t consider whether or not I would actually enjoy consulting nor did I even attempt to ask God about it. I was captivated by the world’s definition of success but deaf to the Lord’s voice in my life. God calls us to a much higher purpose than to simply “be the best.” In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter addresses this calling by saying, “his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” The key to this verse for me is ‘our knowledge of him’—and I realized that night that through my pursuit of knowledge in my major and in my job search, I’d forgotten first and foremost to seek knowledge of the Lord.

Despite arriving 30 minutes late, Margaret and I eventually made it to Christy’s house, and everyone welcomed us in with cookies and laughter. Although we may have taken the longer route to get there, the conversation was well worth it. As a 4th year, life often feels like a journey with a not-so-simple destination. But, since that car ride, the Lord has gently reminded me that He is the one holding the directions. 

2017 Goodwin Writing Prize Winners Announced!

The Louise and Richard Goodwin Writing Prize for Excellence in Theological Writing was founded in 2001 to recognize upcoming scholars in the theological field. The writing prize is awarded by the Board of Directors of Theological Horizons, a non-profit corporation fostering reflection and responsibility in the church, the community, and the academy. Award are given to essays that demonstrate:

  • creative theological thinking,
  • excellence in scholarship,
  • engagement with the Christian tradition, and
  • commitment to the well-being of the church.

After four rounds of readings of the exceptional essays submitted from across 40 schools, the board of directors of Theological Horizons has awarded the $2,500 prize to Erin Risch Zoutendam (Duke University) for her essay, "The Body, the Heart, and Desire: Catherine of Siena's Theology of Tears."  

The $1,000 prize has been awarded to Daniel Eng (Cambridge) for his essay, “Jesus' Shameless Message: Honor and Shame in the Parable of the Prodigal Son and its Significance for Immigrant Care and Refugee Relief.”  

Kyle Potter (Marquette University) has been awarded $500 for his essay, “No Greater Love: Friendship as the Enactment of Charismatic Ecclesiology in the Small Asketikon of Saint Basil the Great. ”  

Congratulations to the winners and a big thank you to all who submitted papers.

Abstracts of the winning essays and biographies of the writers will be posted on the our website soon.

Christianity is Madness! Capps Lecture by Dr. Stanley Hauerwas

In case you missed it, or in case you want to mull over it some more, Dr. Stanley Hauerwas gave a provocative lecture on Kierkegaard and the Academy on Thursday, October 12th at the University of Virginia. We were honored to host him in partnership with the Project on Lived Theology and through our Capps Lecture series. 

To watch the video recording, click here.

Professor Hauerwas has sought to recover the significance of the virtues for understanding the nature of the Christian life. This search has led him to emphasize the importance of the church, as well as narrative for understanding Christian existence. His work cuts across disciplinary lines as he is in conversation with systematic theology, philosophical theology and ethics, political theory, as well as the philosophy of social science and medical ethics. He was named "America’s Best Theologian" by Time magazine in 2001. Dr. Hauerwas, who holds a joint appointment in Duke Law School, delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectureship at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland in 2001.

His book, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, was selected as one of the 100 most important books on religion of the 20th century. Dr. Hauerwas recently authored The Work of Theology(Eerdmans, 2015), Hannah’s Child: A Theological Memoir, 2nd Ed. (Eerdmans, 2012)and War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity ( Baker Academic Press, 2011).

Kierkegaard & the Christian Faith | Karen Wright Marsh

In order to prepare us for our upcoming Capps Lecture with Stanley Hauerwas on Kierkegaard, we thought it appropriate to remind us a little about who he was and what he said.

Christ never asks for admirers, worshipers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.  Christ claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). For this reason, he could never be satisfied with adherents who accepted his teaching – especially with those who in their lives ignored it or let things take their usual course. His whole life on earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers and to make admirers impossible.

What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.

-Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard, best known as the founder of existentialist philosophy, was familiar to everyone in his home town of Copenhagen. Denmark--a spindly, comical figure with hair that stuck up nearly six inches from his forehead. He walked for many hours each day, stopping to talk with random folks along the way, entertaining them with is caustic wit. But inside he suffered greatly.

Søren was the youngest of Michael Kierkegaard’s seven children. His pietistic father was convinced that their family was cursed and took his kids on treks to the cemetery to dwell on their own horrific sins. 

No wonder Søren described himself as an intense boy in the power of a “monstrously brooding temperament.”

As a teenager he was both repelled by and attracted to his father’s fierce religion. He wrestled with faith as a theology student at the University of Copenhagen and turned to philosophy in his intense quest for meaning.  

Søren couldn’t shake his suspicion there actually was a divine reality: the person of Jesus who would demand a startling commitment of him. At 25 years old, Søren had a decisive spiritual experience, a feeling of “indescribable joy” that he couldn’t understand with his rational mind. He arrived at his life’s central truth at last—the realization that, at his core, he was a person found by God.  He threw himself into an inward, ardent Christianity—and gave us that expression “leap of faith. “

But Søren continued to reject the way of the “parsons’ trash” peddled by his own state church, the jaded institution that counted all Danish citizens as automatic Christians from birth.   Don’t just be a Christian, he said, as if “Christian” is some assigned identity that means nothing to you. No, take all of your life to become a Christian: choose, again and again with each new day to live a wholehearted life of faith in Christ. 

Once Søren experienced the faith that reached beyond abstract knowledge, it was the practice of prayer that kindled his inner transformation. Søren’s daily encounters with the eternal became as essential to him as breathing.  He recorded his prayers in a journal, writing out his his questions, confidence, doubts, joys, pains, con- solation, suffering, love, longing, depression—and gratitude. “The function of prayer is not to influence God,” he said, “but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Jubilee Year, Where a White, Middle-Aged, Relatively Rich, Overweight American Woman Tries to Live Out Some Sort of Biblical Jubilee | Cary Umhau

This blog post originally appeared on the Spacious blog. Cary will be sharing about her work and unlikely friendship with Joey Katona at Vintage Lunch on Oct. 6th. All are welcome. More info here

“And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man,” reads Genesis 9:5b.

How responsible are we? How seriously do we need to take this? Pretty much so, I’d imagine.

I heard a quote recently and like many good things I read and hear, I am not able to attribute it accurately. If you know the source, please tell me, and I’ll update. I think it could have been Rob Bell or Francis Chan. I listened to books of each of theirs on the same day on a LONG road trip (my favorite kind). Anyway, the quote was something to the effect that “When we feed someone, it means that we want him to go on living another day.” It’s an investment in them, a statement of the value of their life.

Here in Big Mac Land, we aren’t talking about sustenance for living or life-and-death calorie counts. But it still applies in the sense of desiring to nourish someone, provide something “life-giving.”

So when Genesis admonishes that we are going to be held accountable for the “life” of fellow man, certainly it includes actual life. So why, when I see someone sprawled out on the sidewalk or on a staircase in the more visibly hurting parts of my city (there is as much pain of a different sort in homes with manicured lawns), looking as if they are dead, do I not go see if they are in fact dead — or living but desperate? I shudder to think why I don’t.

And C.S. Lewis famously talks about our encounters with each glorious person (full of the glory of being God’s image-bearers) that we meet, and how it is incumbent on each of us to treat the other that way.

Here is an excerpt from Lewis’ Weight of Glory:

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.

So when we read in Genesis, “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man,” we know that beyond doing anything we can to insure that our fellow man lives bodily, we are also charged with the privilege of taking their dignity and spiritual destiny seriously. And held accountable for such.

Reflections on the Horizons Fellows Retreat by Megan Helbling '18

In a Day in the Life of Megan Helbling, Fridays are happily chaotic. I start the day at the Theological Horizon’s office, fulfilling my intern duties—which range from emails and spreadsheets to snuggling with Ginger, the Marsh’s mutt. The Vintage lunch welcomes friends by the droves, filling the space with food and the hum of life. Later, I scurry from one errand to another, running between appointments and coffee chats. Last Friday, one of those errands was to quickly pack a bag full of sweatpants and t-shirts and my favorite pillow. Soon after, the twelve Horizons Fellows (plus our loving leader, Christy) piled into three cars, and we began a pilgrimage to Corhaven, a Christian retreat center in the Shenandoah Valley. As my car exited Charlottesville and turned towards the mountains, an Avett Brother’s playlist and the rhythm of trees whizzing by our moving vehicle drowned out the busy hum of school, and only quiet beauty remained in its place.  

When we finally arrived at Corhaven, we were completely surrounded by pastoral serenity. My car dumped our belongings in the upstairs bedroom of the log-cabin retreat building, and were overcome with giddiness at the sight of cows and hay bales outside our window.  As we waited for the rest of the cars to arrive, we shuffled puzzle pieces around downstairs and tripped through an enormous vegetable garden. My relationships with each of the individual Fellows are diverse: some are my best friends, some I barely knew by name: but there was a warmth of unadulterated hospitality that infused the entire scene as we converged that made even the newest friends seem like family.

Besides serving as a reprieve from schoolwork, the purpose of the Horizons Retreat was to learn about each other and establish a groundwork for our future semester-long discussions surrounding vocation. As the sun began to set, we huddled onto couches and curled under blankets and began to listen as one by one, we shared our ‘stories’ with one another. We reflected on the ways that our pasts impact our present circumstances, and mused about how our stories thus far will inform our plans for the future. It was such a blessing to listen to, laugh at, and learn from each Fellow’s story. We are used to getting to know one another through lived experience: we discern incremental amalgamations of life through getting meals with others and learning what they are allergic to; by watching a movie together and noticing what parts make them cry; by being with them when they embarrass themselves and seeing how they laugh at themselves. The type of sharing we experienced at the retreat was beautiful in a different way. We were each given the ability to compose our stories, complete with a beginning, middle and end, with promises of sequels that we will have a front-row view of throughout the upcoming year. Even the friends who I’ve known for years presented their stories to me in new and exciting ways.

In her book On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry describes how “beauty is bound up with truth”. An objectively beautiful thing inspires convictions towards both the infinite (or the immortal), and therefore, especially from our Horizon’s Fellows’ religious perspective, towards what is true. She says, “beauty…has been perceived to be bound up with the immortal, for it prompts a search for a precedent, which in turn prompts a search for a still earlier precedent, and the mind keeps tripping backward until it at last reaches something that has no precedent”. Call me a transcendentalist, but I really believe that the absolute serenity and beauty that surrounded us at Corhaven prompted us to inquire deeply into our own and one another’s stories, as well as into the nature of God’s own purposes and presence throughout our lives. Scarry writes, “beauty is a starting place for education”--and in this case, the pastoral charm of Corhaven provided the necessary and important backdrop to begin learning about one another’s lives and discerning our personal futures. Bill Haley, the co-founder of Corhaven, also provided us with a teaching on vocation and laid a groundwork for us to think about finding God’s purposes for the upcoming year. We talked about how discovering fundamental truths about God’s character will be an important key to discerning how to faithfully follow God’s will in the upcoming years.

It's been a few weeks since this retreat, and each of us has returned to our weekly routines. As a fourth year, I’ve discovered that the victory lap of my college career is filled with ultimate familiarity of a place I’ve come to know and love so well, while also infused with the unpredictability and unknowableness of the future. Since our retreat, however, it’s been comforting to frame both my knowledge and lack thereof in the foundations of beautiful truth that I was reminded of while at Corhaven. Scarry writes, “Hymn and palinode—conviction and consciousness of error— reside inside most daily acts of encountering something beautiful”. My prayer is that each day, I would be able to recognize both the beauty of God’s immortal truths as well as her mortal creation, and that both of those things would convict me towards greater consciousness of God’s truth and promises regarding my lifelong vocation.

For more information on the Horizons Fellows program, a year-long vocation discipleship opportunity for 12 4th years, click here. 

Paperwork and Eucharist | SK Doyle, Horizons Fellow '18

This post was originally posted on the Project on Lived Theology blog here as part of SK's summer internship.

Every week the residents of Magdalene fill out “Weekly Sheets.” These two-page packets are used to document the meetings they attend, to notify staff of upcoming appointments, and to request weekend passes. Every week, after appointments have been entered into the group calendar and passes have been reviewed, I file them. I organize them alphabetically and chronologically in a system I created in the first couple weeks of my work here. I also often file various paperwork and documentation into each of the residents’ individual files labelled with their names and entry dates. It isn’t the most glamorous or exciting of tasks, but as the weeks have gone by I’ve begun to feel the significance of organizing and attending to these individual narratives. In the practice of filing and organizing these documents that mark the past experiences of the residents and their progress as they move forward in their recovery, there is a great deal of beauty and weight. Completing these tasks has become somewhat of a ritual in my week.

As my site mentor Shelia has explained to me, accurate file-keeping is critical to tracking the progress of the women of Magdalene in their recovery. Another regular part of my internship has been observing staffings – individual meetings between a resident and staff to address issues and complications as they arise. As Shelia says, having accurate and complete files that document a particular resident’s past is critical to making in-the-moment decisions about how to move forward. Part of the significance in the seemingly tedious task of filing is in this confluence of past, present, and future. Consulting a resident’s meticulously organized file can allow staff to consult the past, comprehend the present, and plan for the future.

William T. Cavanaugh’s work Torture and Eucharist concerns the particular context of Chile under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. He asserts that the Eucharistic liturgy can function as resistance against state-sanctioned violence in the form of torture, which he sees as an “anti-liturgy” (206). He goes on to write that “Eucharist is the liturgical realization of Christ’s suffering and redemptive body in the bodies of his followers.” In Cavanaugh’s work, this simultaneous experience of past, present, and future is referred to as Eucharistic time that exists outside of historical, linear time in the liturgy of the Eucharist. He writes that when the sacrament of the Eucharist is performed and experienced, “past and future simultaneously converge, and the whole Christ, the eschatological church of all times and places, is present” (234). While the sharing of Christ’s body and blood is, on some level, deeply incomparable with hole-punching and filing papers, there is something of the “simultaneity of past and future in the present” that occurs in the moments that these files become necessary for decisions regarding care for the women at Magdalene (222).

In my practice of organizing and filing in the Magdalene office, I’ve found something in the imposition of order on the chaotic and traumatic histories of the residents that feels somehow liturgical. Rather than reducing the residents to a series of documents, this humble and conscientious filing functions in defiance to the chaos and turmoil of the traumatic histories the women of Magdalene have survived. Cavanaugh writes that Eucharistic liturgy resists the fact that “modern torture is predicated on invisibility, that is, the invisibility of the secret police apparatus and the disappearance of bodies” by making “the true body of Christ visible.” In a similar way, these files are resistant to trauma as predicated on chaos and disorder by intentionally organizing and giving form to documentation of deeply personal narratives.

There is something sacred and liturgical in the handling, organizing, and reorganizing of these files as assemblages of past, present, and future and as physical manifestations of a refusal to submit to chaos. This week in particular, as I’ve assembled the proper tabs in their proper order in empty folders for the two new women who have been welcomed into the community, and placed them–waiting to be filled with history, progress, and trajectory–on shelves with the rest of the files, I’ve felt the privilege of being part of this liturgy and catching glimpses of its power.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here

Reflections on Regent College Summer School by Isabella Hall, '19

The greatest challenge in reflecting upon my time at Regent College this past summer is articulating the depth of gratitude and transformation I feel in the wake of my experience. Regent College provided an excellent setting as a graduate institution committed to producing theological work accessible to and intended for the laity. It was the ideal environment for exploring questions of vocation and calling as well examining the relationship between the life of the mind and the life of the spirit. The diversity of the students within each class is a testament to Regent’s vision which, like Christ, cuts across boundaries and divisions in order to unite followers of Jesus in their seeking the Kingdom in their respective contexts. In the same vein, my own cohort reflected a beautifully diverse collection of individuals—from our ages, levels of study, academic disciplines, geographic locations, nationalities, ethnicities and cultures. However, each of us were attracted to the project because of a desire to use our intellect to deepen our understandings of Christ through academic study and group dialogue. I learned a tremendous amount in my classes under faculty members who made themselves available outside of class times and were passionate scholars who delighted to share their work with students; especially Dr. Soong-Chan Rah who took the time to familiarize himself with each student and speak with particularity to our various experiences. Furthermore, my professors were models of enduring devotion to Christ who balance the importance of theology and doxology with humility and wisdom. This was wildly affirming to me, as one who strives to understand my intellectual pursuits as service to the common good and worship to the Creator who designed the development of my interests, passions, and driving curiosities.

Outside of the classroom, I learned nearly as much in the conversations which unfolded with fellow students in the margins of class time, over coffee breaks, around the chapel, and especially doing life with the other cohort members. With so many different perspectives, each conversation was rich with complexity and insights of Truth which I never would had arrived at alone. It was a humbling reminder of the gracious gift community is and how vital personal formation within community is to a life of faith. Acts 4:32 reads that “all the believers were one in heart and mind” and despite our countless differences, I had everything in common with the people I encountered because of a shared pursuit of Truth in Christ. This was an important theme that arose throughout my time at Regent—that I maintain a posture “truth pursued” and come alongside others in that pursuit rather than employing a rhetoric that assumes I have “truth possessed.” This distinction invites me to appreciate and learn from the variety of traditions, worship practices, and even doctrines within the Christian faith. It fosters a sense of kinship with my fellow followers of Christ; that I might learn from them and in turn, they might learn from my journey and expressions of faith. Leaving the program, I was very surprised at how moved I was by every single person in my cohort. I could not have predicted how deep our affections for one another would have grown in such a short time. It was nothing short of spectacular movement of the spirit among us.

Additionally, Vancouver’s otherworldly beauty was a significant piece of my time at Regent. The impossible amount of sunlight each day had a way of obscuring time. Coupled with the formidable blue mountains to the North, the severe blue of the perpetually clear sky, the rocky beaches, and gentle summer warmth; the landscape was a source of nourishment. The environment invited me into a contemplative mindset as I spent most mornings running, reading, or sitting by the ocean. The hiking excursions arranged by the project were great fun and allowed me to see more of Vancouver’s distinctive character. I am so inexpressibly grateful for the unexpected moments of my trip, like jumping into the frigid natural springs of Lynn Canyon, sharing sushi and watching sailboats at the Deep Cove marina, or getting thrown from a mechanical bull at the Richmond night market. My time at Regent College summer school was an adventure that empowered me to be thankful and excited for the adventure that is a life with Christ.

Isabella Hall is a 3rd Year student at UVa who is a Perkins Fellow as well as a resident of the new Perkins House.

Honoring Civil Rights Hero, The Perkins House bridges UVA/Local Neighborhood

What does it mean to be a good neighbor?

That’s the question at the heart of a new initiative that University of Virginia students hope will deepen the connection between the UVA community and some of the Charlottesville neighborhoods closest to Grounds.

This year, five third-year students – Ameenah Elam, Dominique DeBose, Isabella Hall , Sade Akinbayo and Sarah Bland – are the first to live in The Perkins House, a house in Charlottesville’s 10th and Page neighborhood named in honor of civil rights activist John M. Perkins. Throughout the year, they will work to build relationships with their neighbors in big and small ways, whether by opening up their home for dinners or simply helping carry groceries. Some will also partner with different nonprofit organizations working in the community.

“This house will be a group of young people trying to live out an authentic faith, following the great commandment of loving God and loving each other,” Perkins said. “In this world today, there is so much division and violence, and it has been my life’s effort – and that of my wife and many others – to live a life of love.”

Read the full article at UVa Today.


What if we stopped being afraid? Reflections from Charlottesville

Nathan Walton is a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia & Community Life Pastor at the Vineyard Church, Charlottesville.

Nathan Walton is a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia & Community Life Pastor at the Vineyard Church, Charlottesville.

A word from Karen Wright Marsh, executive director of Theological Horizons: Last weekend we witnessed, up close and face to face, a stunning, virulent hatred that dismayed the world. In two days we will receive students into this space for a new academic year.  As we ponder God's call to us as a ministry in this place and at this time, we ask for your prayers.  We seek to bear the light of Christ with courage and grace.  We seek to listen to brothers and sisters with open, tender hearts. We begin with a reflection from Nathan Walton, generously shared here.

On Sunday, I left church after an extended time of corporate lament to grab groceries at Trader Joe’s, along with my wife and our 7-month old daughter. While we were shopping a white woman in her mid-fifties who we had never met came up to us and said “I hope you are not distressed by what happened this weekend.” I responded by saying that it was all very heavy – by which I meant that it all left me feeling emotionally drained, sorrowful, and even numb.

For the next minute or so, she acknowledged the events as “evil” and deplorable”, but disagreed with my use of the word “heavy.” She then attempted to convince us that the events of this past weekend were not representative of Charlottesville and that we should not allow these things to rattle us. In her words, these people are not us. Although I want to assume that this woman had good intentions (because counseling has taught me the importance of “assuming positive intent”), I found this stranger’s comments troubling.

The first thing I found troubling was that this stranger attempted to tell me how to feel. Perhaps she thought that what she said would be an encouragement, assuring me that this weekend was an anomaly. But in reality it amounted to a person of privilege both assuming that they had a better understanding of the situation and had permission to correct mine. In hindsight I’m not sure whether her decision to approach us had more to do with a conscious attempt to comfort (educate?) two people of color or a subconscious attempt to suppress white guilt – an attempt to distance herself and the city she loved from the evil she was convinced had invaded it from the outside. I’m not sure.

But perhaps a deeper issue that this brief encounter underscores is that we as a society have a really hard time being honest about who we are. It gave this woman great comfort to tell herself that all of these “evil” and “deplorable” people were from outside of Charlottesville and that our “progressive” town would never harbor views that echo theirs.

But this simply isn’t true. In this case, choosing to always point the finger at others who are the “real” problem is not only dishonest, but it is intellectually lazy. It is dishonest because my wife didn’t have to go out of our city to be called the N-word last year; she just had to drive around Pantops shopping center. For others of my friends, they just had to walk down Rugby Road or The Corner at night.

Opting to always assume the problem is “way out there” is intellectually lazy because it can lead us to avoid the hard work of introspection and asking ourselves about whether we are complicit in an unjust culture or an unjust system, and if so, how to actively fight against this. Too often we are simply too afraid: afraid of what we might find if we ask ourselves the hard question of whether we are part of the problem.

We saw this after the Charleston Massacre when Dylann Roof’s arrest made it all too easy for people to condemn his heinous acts without interrogating the culture that produced them….a culture that is far more pervasive (around, and even in us) than we are willing to admit. It’s scary to consider this, so we fight tooth and nail to prove to others, and to ourselves, that we are not like “them.”

We are deeply afraid of being a part of the problem.

But what if we stopped being afraid?

What if we realized that facing our fears and the reality of being broken and sinful was an opportunity to become healed? What if we surrendered our idol of perfectionism and laid it at Jesus’ feet? What if we realized that Jesus can handle it? What if acknowledging our brokenness as individuals and as a community was the path for God to mend our individual and collective wounds?

John’s first epistle tells us that perfect love drives out fear, so my prayer is that God would cultivate a love in us for our neighbor that would drive out the fear that keeps us from looking in the mirror; a love that convinces us that we must stand and fight against prejudice not only when it shows up in in a white hood, but when it shows up in our own hearts. In our own families. In our own city. Even in our own church.

May God heal me, and us, as we seek to invite others into that healing.


A prayer after the violence

As this weekend of hate and violence ends, our hearts are broken.  Stand with us, friends.  Come alongside us as we minister in the name of Christ here in Charlottesville and at UVa--as we seek to listen well, to speak the truth, to welcome each person with the abounding generosity of the One who laid down his life for all of us.  There have been many words these recent days. So for now: a prayer.

"God, we are angry and frightened. We know you created us for peace, but our world is just so violent. ... We ask your comfort for those violated. We ask your justice for those whose souls are so numb they cannot feel the pain they inflict. They need you most of all. Violate them with your terrible grace, that they may feel again. And make us your peace; rob us of our privileges, that we may be a refuge so that such evil can come to an end."

- Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken

(Join us on October 12 for Stanley Hauwerwas's Capps Lecture here at UVa.)

A mentoring community at the heart of the University - Karen Wright Marsh

Reposted from The Presbyterian Outlook.

This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16)

It’s “Move In Day” here at the University of Virginia. Out on the teeming sidewalk, Jon, a newly arrived first year student, bids his family goodbye and steps out into four years of life at the crossroads.   He stands there in front of his dorm, peering down the twisting campus paths, and wonders: Which way now?

This young traveler has left the stability of family, the only life he’s known. The beliefs he’s grown up with are about to be challenged on every level. Jon will encounter unfamiliar ideas in the classroom and negotiate tricky social dynamics on Friday nights down fraternity row. He will spend four years interacting with professors and classmates from diverse religious, moral and ethical points of view.

Jon will probably have some shipwreck experiences along the way. He might even face the unraveling of something that has held his world together — the loss of a romantic relationship, maybe a physical injury or illness, a failure, perhaps the discovery of intellectual concepts that call into question things as he has perceived them, or as they were taught to him, or as he has read, heard or assumed.

Rachel, an upperclassman, advises incoming students, “The start of college is a time to think about your faith, what it means and how it intersects with your academic and social lives. At college your faith will be challenged differently than in past years. You will ask harder questions. You might even face doubt at times.”

During these next years, will Jon ask for the ancient paths? And if he finds the good way, will he walk in it?

Jon is not likely to find guidance from his professors, for only one in five faculty members in public universities says that “colleges should be concerned with facilitating spiritual development” and far fewer personally engage in conversations about faith. Belief is considered to be a personal matter outside the sphere of academics. As students’ church attendance drops by almost half in college, chances are good that Jon will walk through this critical time without adult Christian companionship.

Rachel continues, “Theological Horizons provides a welcoming place for engaging faith, thought and life.” Since 2000, Theological Horizons has been creating a Christian mentoring community at the heart of the University of Virginia. The ministry is centered at the Bonhoeffer House, also the rambling home to our faculty family. My children, professor husband, Charles Marsh, and I share our home and our lives beyond the lecture hall.

While Theological Horizons serves an expansive network of faculty, scholars, graduate students and clergy, our daily ministry is enlivened by undergraduate students: the brilliant, energetic young adults who find a home away from home close to fraternity row. Students arrive for home-cooked food at our weekly “Vintage” lunch, house concerts and theology seminars. They read by our library fireplace and have discussions and Bible studies — all accompanied by a sociable dog named Ginger.

Kaylee studied religious studies and finance at the university and became a regular at the Bonhoeffer House. She explains why: “I fell in love with the way that Theological Horizons bridges the gap between the academy and faith communities that surround the University. I was looking for a place that I could come to with my faith tradition and ask questions and be skeptical. The Bonhoeffer House became that sacred space for me.”

As the executive director of Theological Horizons, my philosophy of campus ministry is shaped by the insights of Sharon Daloz Parks, a scholar on leadership. Parks identifies the essential work of the students we serve: “To become a young adult in faith is to discover the limits of inherited socially received assumptions about how life works — what is ultimately true and trustworthy, and what counts — and to recompose meaning and faith on the other side of that discovery.”

How will our young friends recompose meaning after shedding outgrown assumptions, especially in a public university environment where intellectual challenges and social crises can be hostile to Christian belief? Parks asserts that university students’ success in grounding a worthy adulthood depends upon the hospitality, commitment and courage of adult culture, through both individuals and institutions. As members of an adult culture, we’ve taken to heart the responsibility for university students’ journey towards worthy adulthood. To be hospitable, committed and courageous – this is our call to action.

A mentoring community meets young adults in their readiness for deep belonging and encourages worthy dreams of self and the world. All knowledge has a moral dimension. Learning that matters is ultimately a spiritual, transforming activity, intimately linked with the whole of life — knowledge enabled by the recognition, presence and faith of caring adults. Young adults need to feel recognized as who they really are and as who they are becoming. Through Theological Horizons, we offer a safe place for questions and yet challenge students in their fragile faith. We embrace students in their emerging strength, their ambivalence and their vulnerability.

At the Bonhoeffer House we invite folks from the “real world” to come and talk about how their faith is lived in many vocations and contexts. It has been said that God is always revising our boundaries outward. This has proved true for the mentoring community here. Our intensive Horizons Fellows Program serves 20 fellows during their final university year. Fellows and their adult mentors wrestle with concepts of calling through one-on-one relationships, small group conversations, lectures, readings and retreats.

Christen Borgman Yates, director of the Horizons Fellows Program, says, “Our faith and sense of vocation develop best when we’re exposed to differing viewpoints and serving in the ‘real world’. Staying in the college bubble, especially with students just like us, is much more comfortable, but usually reinforces our own point of view. Pulling students out of that bubble is, to me, one of the most exciting journeys to take.”

Maddy, an architecture major from California and a recent graduate, came to faith in Christ during college and has joined the staff of a residential community of adults with intellectual disabilities. Maddy reflects, “Going to the Bonhoeffer House over my years as a student wasn’t an event on my schedule, it became a lifestyle; I have a home and a family there, they considered me their own from the first time I walked through the door.”