Coracle: Getting in the Boat | Caitlin Montgomery, '16

No, it’s not a type of seashell, a magnifying lens, or a species of bird.. tempting as those definitions might be, “Coracle” is actually the name of the retreat center and ministry visited by the Horizons Fellows each fall. If you’re as bewildered by this word as I was, check out Executive Director Bill Haley’s description on the organization’s website:

“Often when [the old Celtic Christian pilgrims] set out on pilgrimage together, they would get into a small leather boat, hoist the sail, pull up the rudder, and go where God took them, by way of the wind. In those native tongues these small boats are called curraughs, in English they are a ‘coracle’, a small boat for wide seas. A coracle is a vehicle to take the journey with God to find God, together.”

So… it’s a type of boat? Easy enough- got it. Ok. Fast-forward. When we first turned the doorknob and stepped inside Coracle, I was initially struck by the relaxed, intimate atmosphere made apparent by the circle of cozy couches and the emanating smoky smell of the furnace. It looked like a family cabin! Hmm, I thought, this is wonderful, but what about this retreat center is supposed to resemble a boat? …Should I be worried?

A few minutes later, when Bill sat us down with a smile and recounted Coracle’s story, my question was answered. Here’s my not-so-eloquent summary: a boat is never really just a boat. That is to say, no boat exists for its own sake- a boat is most “boat-like” when it is fulfilling its reason for existence, its purpose- which is to take people somewhere.

Likewise, Coracle exists in order to stimulate spiritual formation in its retreatants - to mobilize us to discover what it means to be called by God for work in his Kingdom. Bill’s direction on Christian vocation this weekend taught me that so much of the work Christians are called to carry out in this world necessitates that we understand who we are in relation to God and the world. Humans are kind of like boats, I think. We are far more interesting than monuments or statues, created to look pretty or preserve a memory- we are going somewhere, always, whether we realize it or not. And in a way, we are “most human” when we realize where we are going and how we can intentionally orient ourselves toward God, others, and creation. When we exist for a purpose outside ourselves, only then do we find out who we really are. But first, we have to get moving.

These sentiments may best be expressed by the Prayer of St. Brendan the Navigator, on his own journey in his own coracle:

“Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries,

the soft comforts of home?

Shall I turn my back on my native land,

and turn my face toward the sea?”


Calling and Constraint - With Kate Harris

Calling is a complex and comprehensive word that speaks to how we faithfully steward all of life, yet we often tend to think of calling as primarily to do with our giftedness or potential. And while both are good and important, this view misses some of the more sustaining and redemptive aspects of calling which are borne of  brokenness, finitude and frustration. Please listen to this unique discussion about vocation and be encouraged to see how even constraints and limitations can yield purpose in life and work.

Kate Harris is the author of  Wonder Woman: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity as part of the Barna Group Frames. She was the Executive Director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture from 2011-2015 and the interim Executive Director of the Fellows Initiative from 2016-2017. Kate graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.S. in Journalism and B.A in Political Science and is currently pursuing an MA in Culture Studies at George Mason University. She is wife to a very good man and mother to four young children and also a new board member of Theological Horizons! Welcome, Kate!

Listen to "Faith in the University"

What does a Christian need to know about faith in the university? What are the intellectual challenges to belief and the day to day realities in the classroom?  In this one hour talk, religious studies professor Charles Marsh speaks in depth about thinking and living as a person of faith in an academic context.  With an introduction by Billy Peebles, headmaster of Lovett School in Atlanta.  
Listen to the lecture here.  


We love to WELCOME the new Hoos to the Bonhoeffer House---a warm home away from home in Charlottesville--at the intersection of faith, thought & life.  So if you know a student headed for UVa, EMAIL US NOW at & we'll do the rest! We'll send a hand written note before they even get here

We'll  personally deliver homemade cookies to dorms on Move In Day

We'll roll out the red carpet with a Wahoo Welcome Lunch on August 25: 12-2 at Common Grounds.

We'll keep the invitations coming--for 4 years!

And for you new kids, here's a blog post from Sarah--about why she keeps coming to the Bonhoeffer House!

It seems like the summer just got underway, but soon, Charlottesville will again be bustling with students new and old.

Come August, you will move into your new dorm home, you will meet all kinds of people with different stories, and you will experience new things. To some, this whirl of activity is exciting, while others find it unsettling and exhausting.

For many Christians, the start of college is a time to think about their faith, what it means, and how it intersects with their 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.

Theological Horizons serves the academic community by providing a welcoming place for engaging faith, thought and life. As a student, the Bonhoeffer House quickly became a place for me to rest in the midst of an otherwise busy week and to think about what it means to live the Christ-centered life.


I came to Vintage lunches on Fridays, in part to eat a delicious home cooked meal, but also, and perhaps more significantly, to feed on the wisdom and experience of Christian thinkers who came before me, who asked the hard questions and who fought to think well.

We serve a God who hears us in our sadness and in our joy. The readings at Vintage were a reminder of how God speaks and works both in my life and in the lives of so many people before me in all seasons. Think C.S. Lewis, Jean Vanier, St. Benedict, and Frederica Mathews-Greene. You will get the chance to know them too.

Their stories will encourage and impact you—telling you of the amazing and certainly real ways our God can work and speak. Their stories will remind you that you are not alone. The questions that might plague you now, have likely been asked before.

As Bonhoeffer said, “God has willed that we should seek and find his living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a person. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.”


Should you decide to come (and I hope you do), you will learn from fellow students, but also people who lived and thought long before our time. As a recent graduate, I thank God for the gift that Theological Horizons was to me.

So please, come August, whether you are an incoming first year or not, make plans to visit Vintage, attend Evening Prayer on the Lawn, or participate in any one of the programs that Theological Horizons hosts at the Bonhoeffer House and around town.  Email Karen at and she'll put you on the invite list--then you won't miss anything!!

God-sized Dreams: Advice for College Students

Nathan Swedberg graduated in 2012 with a B.A. and an M.A. from UVa’s Batten School of Leadership School and Policy.  He then was part of the World Race, a discipleship and missionary program by Adventures in Missions. For one year he and his team travelled to 11 countries and four continents, serving a number of different ministries—and serving the physical and spiritual needs of the people they meet.  (Read Nathan’s blog!)We emailed Nathan to ask him share advice to you incoming college students.  Here’s what he sent us:

Sorry about the delay!!! Just got out of Swaziland with no internet access...

Hmmm a few thoughts as I get internet quickly:

College is an amazing time to approach "identity." What are you going to identify yourself with? Who are you going to identify yourself with? What hard choices are you going to make? It's not something that's supposed to feel condemning, and you don't want to live under excessive pressure, but the decisions you make during your college years (and then on during your twenties) will have huge ramifications for your life. But that should come as no surprise-- habits you form today will determine what you're doing tomorrow, the character you form, and the destiny you walk into.

Having said that, college is a great time to make mistakes-- don't avoid them. I did too much of that. Take classes you wouldn't normally think to take. Hang out with many diverse groups. Become friends with people you wouldn't gravitate to first. Live adventurously. Do enough preparation to allow yourself sweet spontaneity.

Know that you will have an amazing time at this great institution, but life doesn't end there, and in fact there is much more "living the dream" to be had afterwards. Let UVa be a launching pad. Let God god-size your dreams.

Wholly Surrender | Reflections by Fellow Anna Cho '17

I have had seasons in my life where I have been in deep spiritual highs. But if I am being completely honest with myself, I sometimes find myself shifting my gears into neutral and losing my enthusiasm for the gospel slowly. There have been seasons where I’ve gotten completely lost in my work, have gone days without reading God’s word, and unknowingly have forgotten how many days it has been since I last prayed. This feeling of settling for average is the most deceptive. Your devotional life appears to be okay. Church life is average. Life is moving. It all seems normal and ordinary.

I normalized this kind of ‘average’ faith for portions of my college life, but the unforeseen circumstances and chaos of my spring semester of third year caused me to reassess everything around me. The truth is, I bought into the lie that the things of this world could offer me true contentment without realizing I had fallen into this trap. And if there is anything that scripture is clear about, it is that contentment transcends circumstances and is an act that comes solely through a lifestyle of wholly surrender.

God wants us. He wants ALL of us. He wants to permeate every circumstance, process, and problem we walk through, but often we are afraid to let him. When I face a trial, my first instinct is to run and I often struggle to trust God. But it is these moments that my heart is kept in check and I am humbled. The greatest gift in the face of trials is faith. Once I realized that God sees us through every problem and stands with us in our weakness, my perspective changed entirely. He meets us where we are in the depths of our shame.

How many times have I equated the broken love of sinners to the perfect love of a savior? The answer is simple: A LOT. But looking back on these past four years, I cannot help but smile at all the times that the Lord has met me at my doorsteps. He gave me real community at a time when I didn’t know if I wanted to be at UVA, provided me a space to explore vocational discernment through the Fellows Program with Theological Horizons, and taught me what unconditional love looks like during my time in Liberia even in the midst of doubt. When I finally found the courage to surrendr my need for control and let my life be permeated by grace, I found the most freedom.

So here lies the final question that I have been regularly challenged by: will you trust God with your life?  



Things to Remember: Julie's Top 5

TH newsletter Julie Robertson pg 1
TH newsletter Julie Robertson pg 1

Julie's recent facebook picture shows her in cap and gown, surrounded by orange balloons and jubilant friends.  She is one who can proudly say, 'I have worn the honors of honor, I graduated from Virginia.' Commerce degree in hand, Julie has already jumped into her next adventures--a new city, a new career, new relationships--and she's experiencing both the promise and trepidation that transitions brings.

As Julie steps out into all that comes next, she holds fast to reminders of God's accompanying presence.  If you, too, are in is your list of Things To Remember!

  1. God has shaped me for this.  He has molded me and prepared me just for this journey ahead.  Not only has He prepared me, but He has gone before me, paving a way, carving a path for me.
  2. God wants me here.  Today.  Now.  In this moment.  He led me here and He has a plan.  I need only trust He knows better than I.
  3. There is no fear in perfect love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made in perfect love.  I love because He first loved me. (I John 4:18)
  4. I am not defined by anything but God's love.  His glorious, merciful, and abundant love overcomes the world. (John 16:33)
  5. God gives peace.  He gives unsurpassed peace that is powerful and mysterious.  He gives me the Holy Spirit to accompany me in every moment, to calm my anxieties, to bring me into His presence.  God will not forsake me.

In Transition: A Mother's Persective

Annesley Macfarlane is the mother of three sons: Sammy (UVa grad), William and Jamie.  She and her family live in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Summer is a time when many of us---parents, children, faculty---are in transition.   We've asked Annesley to talk about the changes her family experienced during the boys' college years and where she found God in the midst of it all.: I have a new motto: "Try and enjoy all you can about the minutes because they soon become years". I made it up last week as I reflected on the realities and emotions that often come in early June. June brings transition. Graduation. First jobs. Spring to summer. School to camps or summer internships. Most of these transitions are celebrations but many  can be tinged, or even paralleled, with sadness.  Where have the years gone?

Transition can't stall time, as perhaps we would wish, but it often fosters consideration of how we have lived. Should we have done things differently this past year, or years? Could we have done things better? Have we  built a strong enough Faith foundation? Were we attentive to God's direction for our family?

I watched our middle son drive out of our driveway this afternoon for his summer job 5 hours away. His last college exam was yesterday, he took the red-eye, and I picked him up at the airport this morning.  We washed his clothes and repacked them all day, squeezing in a few appointments he needed in town. We also managed to fit in a birthday celebration for my husband and a 5 minute family prayer time that felt too rushed. Our son was here 8 hours and then gone.

I knew today was precious.  I tried to absorb the minutes but the day has come and gone  and my heart aches. Yes, he is doing something wonderful this summer, even God-centered,  but it still hurts to see him go. Family is a beautiful design God gave us and it can be painful when the family no longer resides together most of the time.

I don't transition well. I am pretty sure I needed tissues at Pre-K graduation. I tend to prefer the "old days" and the "old ways" to all the change that is constantly thrust upon me. I am learning to store things up in my heart and to recognize that embracing what is ahead doesn't diminish what is behind. God gives us seasons. New adventures for us and for our children.

Colossians 1:10-12 is a wonderful passage and I pray it for our three boys. "And we pray this in order that you many live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." Amen

Two things a college woman should know

Listen to psychologist Susan Cunningham speak on two things she wish she'd known when she was nineteen!

Click here: Beat the Rush talk Jan2013

On Tuesday afternoon, girls gathered at the Bonhoeffer House for the annual “Beat the Rush” tea. The day was a dreary and rainy one, and the first year girls were tired from two long days of rush. However, the hot tea and delicious cookies, cheese, and fruit brightened up the day.

After chatting around the table of appetizers, the students gathered in the living room for the talk. Karen introduced the panel of women who had come to offer wisdom and insight to the students. Among them was Susan Cunningham, a well-known counselor in Charlottesville. The four other ladies there were Molly McFarland, Tilly Lazar, Johanna Montague, and Kendall Cox.

After introductions, we first had the privilege of listening to Susan Cunningham. She told us two pieces of advice she would tell her nineteen-year old self. The first piece of advice Susan had to offer was to “never compare yourself.” One quote of Susan’s that particularly stuck out to me was that “comparison is the thief of joy”. By comparing ourselves to those around us, we either feel a sense of superiority or inferiority. In both instances, we experience a loss of joy, pleasure, and satisfaction. We have to actively avoid falling into the temptation of comparing, which we as humans (and especially girls) will always face. Susan reminded us that we are all uniquely and perfectly made, with different passions and personalities.

Secondly, Susan said she would’ve told her younger self that “your baptism defines you.” We must remind ourselves that our identity in Christ is secure and unconditional. We have already been accepted and included in Christ, and there is nothing we could ever do to lose this identity.  All of these truths allow us to possess what Susan calls “interior stability.”

After Susan spoke, the other four ladies then related their own experiences with rush and sorority life—both the challenges and the blessings of it. It was a neat opportunity to hear from these ladies; their experiences were still recent enough to be relatable, yet the women were also old enough to have reflected and gained insight on their college experiences. After, the first year girls were then able to ask questions about difficult issues, such as dealing with disappointment and pressure from others.

“Beat the Rush” was a time of refreshment and recovery from the pressures and busyness of rush. The girls were blessed to hear wisdom and truths from older women in order to face the week ahead with a new perspective and mindset. These topics of identity and comparison that were discussed are important issues that all women struggle with, whether rushing or not.  ---Caroline Parsley, UVa '14

johanna and tilly
johanna and tilly
beat the rush presenters
beat the rush presenters

Loving amidst the Questions | Reflections by Fellow Melina Rapazzini '16

During my first semester of college, one morning during a devotional in the religious studies building (like every good Christian should do), I stumbled upon a verse I had never encountered, 1 Timothy 2:9,

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing (English Standard Version).

I felt like I had just been slapped across the face. How could this God of loving kindness that I had grown to intimately know and love through out my entire life allow for such a misogynistic verse to be included in the scriptures. Anger, passion, heartache and fear overtook me; I became consumed with reconciling this Christian God I loved with feminism, something that I instinctually knew as intrinsic to the liberative heart of God. I threw myself full force into a sincere pursuit for truth, for God, for understanding how, and with trepidation if, God was compatible with feminism.  The feminism of 2012 seemed to me to be an abstract complex of ideas that subjectively differed from person to person. Even so, I knew down to my bones that feminism’s basic tenets of fighting for the social, political, and economic equality of the genders is a movement that the radical Jesus of Nazareth would have lead.

I joined a Christian fellowship and became the token liberal from San Francisco with my butch-cut hair and hipster style. To be fair, I may have played up that stereotype. It seemed as if every conversation I had with someone would result in a discussion of women in religion. With my religious friends I gleefully played the part of the feminist kill-joy by asking “hard hitting” questions about the bible. This was engendered by the simple fact that I could not bear to be alone in my questions. Yet often I was placated with rehearsed answers that I tried desperately to believe but could not. It was a lonely road. Did others not care about the contradictions? Were they not similarly propelled towards understanding truth? I felt disillusioned.

The Bonhoeffer House, a gem hidden amongst the vibrant Christian fellowships, quickly became a place of refuge for my many questions. This was a space where I learned that I am not the first person to ask my questions. Here I realized that I was allowed to question everything, down to the very tenants of my faith, and know I was still loved by a God who loved the long history doubters that came before me. I was able to question along with the great thinkers of Christianity, both living and dead. At the Bonhoeffer House, I heard talks from inspirational activist nuns, successful women in politics, and prolific ladies who wrote on the very topics I had questions about. Here I found solidarity among academics, lay people, professionals, and students- bound together by our pathological consumption for needing to engage with some 2000 year old dead man from Nazareth.

As a Fellow, I was able to meet up once a month with a phenomenal woman who is a pastor in Charlottesville. Thirteen years ago, she felt God’s call to start a Church in Charlottesville for those who suffer from homelessness, substance abuse, who have a history of (or are in the cycle of) incarceration, and other vulnerable populations. In Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, he speaks of questions. He says that questions are good and dandy to have, but they become problematic when they interfere with loving people. Because of my questions, faith had been difficult for me. However, I learned through my mentor what it means to express faith through acts of love. Through the Bonhoeffer House, I have been exposed to not just academic theology, but how to live out theology through acts of love- this is perhaps the greatest gift I could have received. 

One Fool's Offering. What's yours? | Karla Petty

This blog post is reposted with permission from Coracle.

“Originality consists in returning to the origin.”
– Antoni Gaudí

I hadn’t heard of Antoni Gaudí before spring of 2004 when I first visited Barcelona, but you can’t miss him once you’re there. Of the many works this master architect designed, his pièce de résistance is surely the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia located in the heart of Barcelona, punctuating the city’s skyline with its incomplete towers and huge cranes continuously at work.  Construction started on the Sagrada Familia in 1882, and is slated to be finished in 2026, 144 years later. When asked if it worried Gaudí that construction was taking so long, it is said that he responded, “My client is not in a hurry.” Who was this infinitely patient client? God. His client was God.

As I’ve reflected on my more recent visit to the cathedral in January, at least two things keep coming back to me. The first: the building is Gaudí’s own unique offering to the Kingdom of God. It calls to mind the woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet in Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13). “She did what she could”, Jesus said.  A devout Catholic, Gaudí’s heart and soul poured into every last detail of this psalm carved from stone for over 40 years, and he knew it wouldn’t be completed before he died so he spent years constructing detailed models and plans to guide the building’s realization through to completion, knowing he wouldn’t ever see it finished (sound familiar, Moses?). He eschewed greater notoriety, large commissions, and even his own personal appearance in favor of his work on it. He drew his inspiration and his joy from nature and scripture, channeling it back to God as a pure offering of his own soul. I’ve seen hundreds of places of worship all over the world, and none have struck me quite like La Sagrada Familia. It’s singular, authentic and holy. Gaudí had a vision, and knew it was given to him to realize as a gift back to the Creator, and the origin of the vision. He did what he could. 

The second takeaway is that God’s truth is written into everything. A geometrician more than an architect, Gaudí loved the patterns and gorgeous ratios he discovered occurring around him in nature and how they functioned so beautifully to guide and enhance the wild flow of life through it. Every hyperboloid is replete with meaning. He thought of trees as buildings themselves, saying they know just where to sprout their branches and balance themselves out, so that’s how he designed the vaults in the nave. It’s not so random, this nature around us.  When I walk through the building, and I see the truth of God’s beautiful geometry built into nature, then transposed by “God’s Architect” into stone towers and stained glass windows, the harmony of God’s truth is astounding. It all fits together, like it was always meant to. Like all Ikea modules are supposed to. The originality and universality of God’s truth breathes new air into my lungs which often choke on recycled thought, imitation philosophy, and incongruous, easy answers.

Perhaps where God is calling you to offer yourself isn’t an artistic vision that will span three centuries, cost hundreds of millions of dollars in donations, and require the efforts of thousands of people.  Perhaps it is a call to simply love someone that only you (maybe not even the one you are loving) will ever know about.  But that is just as important in God’s eyes as a huge monument made of stone.  When I think of this building, I will think of it as a reminder to offer all that I am, everything God wrote into me, back into service to Him, because he made me how I am on purpose. And I pray I will remember to keep my eyes open to all around me, looking for God and his truth in everything I see. God’s vision for our lives is what we need to ask for, and it is our journey, our offering, and our joy to walk humbly with Him in its revelation.

Karla is the communications manager for Coracle and also works as an international student advisor.  She grew up in northern virginia. She loves to travel, hike, ride her motorcycle and listening to music of all kinds. 

A Theology of Vocation & Spiritual Formation | Rev. Bill Haley

We are so grateful to have Rev. Bill Haley share this post with us. Bill is an Anglican priest with the Falls Church and also founder and director of Coracle, a non-profit that fosters spiritual formation for Kingdom action. Our Fellows meet with Bill and his wife Tara on their farm, Corhaven, for a retreat together each fall. His thoughts on vocation and spiritual formation share a resonance with our own work here in Charlottesville and beyond.

This article was first posted by The Washington Institute and later on Coracle's website. 

The following is the edited transcription of a talk given to participants of the TWI Come and See Vocation Conference July 16-17 2013 in Washington, DC. 

Jesus came into the deep mess—the mess of the human experience.  Of course he came for us and for those that we seek to minister to. Isn’t Christ likeness exactly what we are trying to engender fundamentally? Incarnational mentality that is willing to take the mess, dive into the mess and be willing to take it on and right there be a redemptive presence to show what the character of God is.

Years ago, my friend Rich was packing up his car to leave UVA and go to law school.  A well-intentioned friend came up with him and pled with him through tears to abandon his law school plans in order to go into full time Christian ministry.  In this case it was Campus Crusade.  He said, “Rich, you are going to throw your life away.”

Rich listened, but was not persuaded.  He went off to law school and became a recognized lawyer seeking justice in international corruption cases, specifically related to international business and issues for governments.  This is what he does, he pursues justice in businesses that have participated in malpractice or governments that have been complicit with business that have been involved in malpractice.

This is fundamentally Rich’s vocation: to do justice. Two years ago, we had a month long series on the gospel of justice and I consider it one of my biggest successes ever at the Falls Church to have Rich stand up in the pulpit and give one of those sermons. It was the first and hopefully not last time a lawyer would take the pulpit, and nobody walked out. In D.C., that’s saying something.

I once went to see Rich in his office and he was talking about the various ways he tried to be a Christian in that place. Whether it was having a Bible on his desk or a little cross on the wall or some sort of Bible verse somewhere. He wanted something that if someone walked into his office they would say, “This is a person of Christian faith.” He talked about how he had done all that and he just didn’t find it compelling anymore. What else was there to do as it related to being a Christian presence in his office and I likened it to this: I said, “Rich, there are two ways of bringing light into your office. You can bring in a flashlight and have it in your pocket and pull it out and turn it on and shine it when you really want to show the light of Christ. That’s one way to bring the light of Christ into your office. And the other way is to be light.”

That is to say, let’s have Christ so alive in us that we radiate. And then the light of Christ floods the office because of his presence living within us. We lay down our strategies of witness because our presence becomes a form of witness. Isn’t this the New Testament promise?

As I was walking down to the elevator, a guy from his office who I had met once ran to catch up with me. He caught up right when I got to the elevator and he basically made my point. He said this, “You have no idea the difference that Rich makes in this place. He is like Christ himself is working here.” That’s pretty high praise. I don’t think anyone’s said that about me yet. I have a ways to go. He went on to talk about how Rich’s presence had been so helpful to him; about how much Rich had helped him professionally and also as a believer and how much he had seen Rich become, basically “a pastoral presence in our lawyer’s office” by virtue of who he was and by virtue of his character. He’s an excellent lawyer. He’s a partner, so he’s doing good law.

I once asked Rich, “How often do you enter your law office in the morning with this thought, “I am the priest here today”? His response floored me. He said, “Oh I don’t know. Maybe two times out of the week.” And what floored me about that is I was so encouraged that here was somebody who consciously would walk into the door of his building knowing that his job there was to take what God had given him, consecrate it, and offer it back up for the good of God and people—all in a law office. I quoted him later that week in a sermon and he said, “Oh yea, two out of five. That doesn’t sound very good.” And I said, “Rich, baseball, that’s batting .400. That’s pretty darn good.” My suspicion is that I don’t know how many people bat .400 or .200 or .01. I was so encouraged to meet somebody who actually consciously had in their mind that they were a priest in that setting.

Now that’s a good story, there are some bad stories. As a pastor, I have had many conversations with people where I hope that they will remember something that I said, you know, at least one thing would be helpful. I don’t know if people remember or not but what I do know is that on some occasions, the conversations that I have stay with me for years. I am the one who’s actually impacted. My work as one who helps in the spiritual formation of another becomes critical to my own spiritual formation. These conversations and the faces continue to rattle around in my soul and they help me form my own questions and these questions lead me on journeys that I walk away with some greater understanding of something. So one of those stories is with Jerry.

I was in Philadelphia, speaking at a men’s retreat, not even on these topics. I was talking to Jerry; he was mature on his faith. Any one of you would love to have him in your congregation, in part because he was a really good businessman. We love having business-like minds on our vestries or on our sessions. He owned and ran a car dealership and it sounded to me like a great business. It sounded like a great work environment that was pastoral and love-filled and marked with integrity and compassion. He said there was a lot of Christian witness and compassion both verbally and nonverbally. He said that the business had allowed him to give away a lot of money. Like I said, just the perfect person for your church council.

Then he shared with me, that he had a lurking suspicion that he had missed his calling. He wondered if he should go into full time Christian ministry. He went to seminary testing this out, and he finally said with an air of exasperation, “Bill, how do I know my vocation?” I had come to like him very much and was heartbroken that so much of his life’s work felt like a waste of his life and that all the reasons of why he thought it was “OK” were “second-best.” So after I kind of got over that response of compassion, I said to him, “Well, Jerry, how are you listening?”

So there are two things that I want to highlight from this story. One, Jerry was looking for a theology that made sense of his job. Secondly, he was looking for a spirituality that led to an interactive relationship with God, one that was based on conversation, listening, and not just intellectual understanding and obedience derived from the will. Two massive topics: one about theology, one about spirituality.

Here’s the encouragement. If I was back in Philadelphia now (four, five years later) and Jerry’s been paying attention to recent developments in the church, he and I might have a very different conversation. I might find him thriving with few questions about whether or not his work matters to God. That’s the encouragement.

This is because of the huge proliferation of resources and messages in very recent years coming out of the evangelical church on the fact that our work matters to God and that our work is God’s work. I want to pause on a question, “how some jobs don’t seem to matter as much as other jobs.” I believe that every job rightly understood matters to God as long as it is not against God’s purposes and it is somehow moving in the direction of human flourishing and God’s plan. It’s easy to say to a doctor, “Oh your hands are the hands of Christ!” Or to Rich, the lawyer, “Oh great your job is justice!” But what about the guys who I passed on my way here this morning who are setting up the cones getting ready to fix Route 66? What about their job? Do they matter? And I would say, yes, they do.

However, what is required is a comprehensive theology that understands not only the vision of human flourishing and why “good homes matter and good places for people to live matter as it relates to their individual human flourishing.” That’s why it matters to God. We have to understand the concept of human flourishing and we also have to answer this question, “Does the world go in a blaze of flame or is the refining fire in the New Testament refining? Is there continuity?” We have to decide where we fall. And if we decide on the lens of “it goes up in a ball of flame” then you might have a really good point. If we believe in continuity and if we believe in rewards, which Jesus does, then we have some room to work on why every job matters to God.

Now, the pastoral question is, “How many steps do you want to have take in between being able to demonstrate that this is the work of God in the world? How many steps are you willing to take before being able to connect your theology with your job?” Some people have higher tolerance of this than others. It’s not unfamiliar at all for someone to say, “You know what, there’s value in that and I’m very grateful for it, but I want to be able to have less cognitive distance in my own brain about what I’m doing in God’s kingdom.” And if they can’t figure out about their own job, then they start thinking about another job. That’s ok. It’s one of the ways that God does it. He speaks through our discontent.

There’s been this resurgence of understanding that our work matters to God and that our work is God’s work. This recovery of an emphasis on vocation is not in isolation. I’d say there are at least four other sea changes that we’ve been living through in these last twenty, maybe thirty years. Some are more clear than others, some are on their way still. First is an emphasis on God’s heart for justice and concern for the poor. Second is dramatic leaps forward in ecumenical relations and appreciation for the ancient church. Third is a dramatic new, positive orientation towards the Christians responsibility for creation care. Finally is the emphasis, and even new language, on spiritual formation.

I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. It was a great place to grow up. I was there in the 1980’s and none of these four things were on the scene. In fact, some of them were viewed as distinct threats to the gospel. I think what is going on here is that God in his mercy is helping the Evangelical Protestant church in the US, which is a relatively new and small slice of church, to mature in our own theological vision. God is giving us the spiritual nutrition that we need in our tradition to help people get into their twenties and not ditch the Christian faith because we haven’t been able to give them something that matches the world that they’ve all of the sudden entered into.

It’s this last one that we want to talk about, this new emphasis on vocation. Tim Keller’s book, it’s called Every Good Endeavor. This represents the tipping point. Now where this conversation about vocation and our work mattering to God enters into the Church’s conversation in such a way that it is much more universally accepted as legitimate, precisely because of Tim Keller’s voice in our own generation. This is what he says, “Perhaps not since the days of the Protestant Reformation has there been so much attention paid to the relationship of Christian faith to work as there has been today.” That’s really strong language. That’s 500 years, and this is timely and needed.

You are probably familiar with the stunning statistic that was communicated to us in 2011. This was that 84% of Christians between the age of 18 and 29 had no idea how the Bible applies to their occupational field or their professional interests. There is still a sharp divide in our own tradition on what constitutes a higher calling. We see it pastorally, we see it on the internet.

Christianity Today is a fantastic publication doing phenomenal work on this stuff (This Is Our City Project under Andy Crouch’s leadership). So it’s always very ironic to see these wonderful articles about good Christians doing great work for the common good right next to the advertisement on the side bar, for the seminary, saying “Are you called?” And then it goes on to say here’s how to get your M.Div. at such and such seminary. What does that say? That if you aren’t interested in this particular seminary you aren’t called? That just sends a wrong message. There are all sorts of them like that.

Another one was, “Change your life. Change the world.” And then there was the advertisement for the seminary. I just feel this profound mixed message for the reader. What is the message coming from the seminary community? That if God has touched your life, then we want you at our school. And if you don’t belong at our school, we’re not so sure if God has touched your life.

It is really important to continue to try to keep on whacking at the trunk of a very large tree, that still implicitly says, “You’re somebody better if you are called to get a paycheck in a way that identifiably a result of Christian ministry.” How did we get here from Luther? Luther is ours. As he said, “Priests, bishops are supposed to employ God’s word in the sacraments. That is their work and office. And the shoemaker and smith and farmer and the like has it’s own opposing trade. Nonetheless, all are equally consecrated priests and bishops.” How did we get here? Well that’s a longer conversation but it’s one we are trying to address. So we can talk about that some other time. Here is another quote with two massive topics imbedded in it. This will be our launching place into our two topics.

This one is from Archbishop François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận who was a bishop in Vietnam in the 1970’s and 80’s. He was chosen as Archbishop in 1979 and three months later was whisked away by the Vietnamese police and was put into solitary confinement for nine years. Talk about verification of vocation. What he felt while he was in that little jail cell was a burning desire to care for his flock. That’s what a bishop does. So he wrote little words of spiritual encouragement on scraps of paper from a calendar and they got smuggled out and they were hand copied and sent throughout the Christian community in Saigon. This is one of those little notes that he had on the piece of paper:

Saints do not do anything extraordinary. They simply carry out their ordinary activities. The worker will become a saint in the workplace, the soldier will become a saint in the army, and the patient will become a saint in the hospital. The student will become a saint through studies, the priest will become a saint through his ministry as a priest, and a public servant will become a saint in the governmental office. Every step on the road to holiness is a step of sacrifice in the performance of one’s mission in life.

Now there are two topics in this one, once again, that revolve around theology and spirituality. First, inherent in this, is the assertion that the soldier’s work matters as much as the priest’s and the same with the student’s. There’s a theology in that, isn’t there? Secondly, our work is not a diversion from our sanctification. It is a means to it. So we need a theology and a spirituality of vocation.

I want to touch briefly on these things and highlight a few things that The Washington Institute has done in relation with the Falls Church Anglican. I think it might be helpful to see, at least, what one group is trying to do on a very practical level with very real people in the pews. One of the things that Steve Garber is fond of saying has become an assertion of our ministry. It is that “vocation is integral, not incidental to the missio dei.” We believe that our work in the world rightly understood and practiced is as important to God’s work in the world as pastoring, as missionary work, as evangelism, all these so-called full time Christian ministries.

The question is, why do we believe this? Why do we assert this so boldly? Because it preaches. This stuff really turns people on. But that’s not enough of a reason for a message is it? I come from a denomination that has preached many things that will turn people on. Just because it might be in vogue or popular does not necessarily mean it’s going to be life giving or helpful. So a really critical and important question is, does the Bible teach this? We don’t want to just be clever. We don’t want to just be timely or relevant. We want to be Biblical. That’s our heart. Two years ago, we did a four-month lecture series on whether or not the Bible teaches this. We talked about vocation through the lens of the four-chapter gospel: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. How does this speak to work? How does this speak to job? How does this speak to vocation? I’m not making those terms all the same. We found out, at least I did, that this is true.

At the beginning, we looked at vocation and work through the lens of creation. Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.” Just, simply mentioning that that verse happens before Genesis 3, you watch light bulbs come on in people in the pews. “You mean that work is pre-fall? You mean our labor is part of the way things were designed? I’ve never thought about it that way.”

I live in a more rural environment, it is really true that people will work to a period, full stop. People will work for their family life in the evening and friends on the weekend, and that’s it. That’s not exclusive to a rural environment; it’s just a little more pronounced perhaps. People aren’t as consumed by work there as they are here in this strange place.

You realize that Genesis 3 is not about the introduction of work, it’s about how work gets harder, and again we come back to that conversation about how work is work. After we were all finished and even when we were on the way you could really see this transition happening in people between from, “I have to go to work,” to “I get to go to work.”

Here is another quote, by Terence Fretheim about creation untamed.

Genesis does not present the creation as a human product, wrapped up in a big red bow and handed over to the creations to keep it exactly as it was originally created. It is not a one-time production. Indeed for the creation to stay just as God originally created it would constitute a failure of the divine design. From God’s perspective, the world needs work. Development and change are what God intends for and God enlists human beings and other creations to that end. From another angle, God did not exhaust the divine creativity in the first week of the world. God continued to create and uses creatures and their vocation that involves the becoming of creation.

Tim Keller gets into this.  Amy Sherman gets into this.  Ben Witherington gets into this. Tom Nelson gets into this.  There is a profound theology in this.  There is something we can rest on, explore and offer to our folks and we can root it in the Scripture. That’s really good news.

The other thing I would say is about theology and I think this is probably true in almost everything. Clarity, like compelling clarity on anthropology and eschatology, fills in almost every gap. That is, until we have fundamental clarity on why we were made and what our being “made in the image of God” means, and until we have clarity on “where is it all going? What’s my role in this progression and where will I land?” Until we have clarity on these things, people will always trip and stumble on a million different issues, not least of which is sexuality and not secondarily of which is vocation as well. I would encourage us all just to continue to pound a drum on anthropology and eschatology and again we have to of landed on what we think happens after Jesus comes back. That really has bearing on our work now.

The series that we did was one of the things that we did at the Falls Church with The Washington Institute. Praying for parishioners week by week in their vocation; that has had probably the singular biggest impact on our church as it relates to people understanding that their work matters to God. People have walked into our church, heard that happen, and stayed and joined the church for that one little reason. We do have testimonies from time to time. Every Labor Day we’ll have someone get up who’s not wearing a collar and talk about how they do wear a collar, as it were, in their normal week. Some of our clergy are especially good at visiting people in their work place.

So there’s a theology of vocation. There’s also a spirituality. This comes back again to the story of Jerry. How do I know my vocation? How are you listening? Vocation comes form the root “calling” which assumes that there is a caller and it also assumes that we can hear. If we are not listening we are going to have a hard time hearing. So often, the response to the question of “what is my calling” is “what are your gifts?” That’s very different than “how are you listening for the caller? Tell me about your prayer life? Tell me about your experiences of solitude? How does God’s voice sound to you? When have you heard him? How are often are you in solitude like Jesus in order to create space simply to listen and to hear the One who calls?”

It’s not that uncommon that God calls us to do things sometimes that don’t necessarily employ all of our gifts or he may call us to lay down some of our gifts in season. He may also call us to use our gifts in ways that make no professional sense. This is because of vocation. Listening is a primary skill to knowing our vocation, but it is not easy. Our devices don’t make it any easier. Henri Nouwen says:

We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us, unable to understand in which direction he calls us. Thus, our lives have become absurd. In the word “absurd” we hear the Latin word, surdus, which means deaf. A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear. When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word ‘obedient’ comes from the Latin word audire, which means ‘listening.’ A spiritual discipline is necessary to move from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there is some free interspace where we can listen to our God and follow his guidance. Jesus’ life is a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was all ear. That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obedient standing in the presence of God.

This is a lovely invitation. So we are trying to help people listen. Now there is a place for gifts and inventories and things. I’m not denigrating that at all. It’s important and I’m the beneficiary of a lot of that in my own life.

We had another Vocation is Mission lecture series. This time it was on hearing God. We had a retreat out at our place, Corhaven, in the country. We helped people understand how to practice time in silence and then we spent time in silence. It was wonderful to get very practical about the skills of listening. One of the things that I am very grateful to offer is spiritual direction. It’s a real shift to move from mentoring, discipleship, and pastoring to spiritual direction. They are very different and distinct and one is not the other. One of the main parts is specifically not talking. All we’re doing is listening and helping the other person to listen and trying not to get in the way. For somebody who’s paid to talk, it’s a discipline to stop talking and to provide that ministry as well. We are elevating the value of silence and solitude and enabling people to do both. There are two great resources on this topic: one is my sister, Ruth Haley Barton's book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, and the other one is Hearing God, by Dallas Willard. These are things that I often recommend to people who are really beginning to go deep in their posture of listening.

I recently received a wonderful email from a guy who came down not long ago from New York City to Corhaven for a personal retreat. He is in business in Manhattan. He works for a toy company that employs several hundred people in Honduras making safe wooden toys, high-end stuff, out of sustainably harvested wood in a way that generates self-sustaining business practices. He saw that there were personal retreats and wanted to come down for a five day one and he saw that TWI was having a retreat right after that. He emailed me and said, “For whatever it’s worth, I’m one of the Gotham fellows from Redeemer Presbyterian Church and their Center for Faith and Work.” So I was like, “Great, yes come! Have a personal retreat, and then join the corporate retreat and then go back for your Gotham retreat.” He just emailed me and this is the effect of him doing a personal retreat, most of which was in silence and solitude, and then coming to one of our group retreats. Here’s what he says,

I have particularly blessed by God’s nearness following my personal retreat and the final Gotham retreat. The Gotham retreat was a very rich experience in the Lord’s presence and community, and both it and my time in Corhaven will always be a sweet remembrance of the Lord’s love and faithfulness.

Happens all the time. People come out with vocation questions and they encounter the love of God. He went on to say:

With regards to work, God has used these past few months to refocus my time on Tegu and I can say that I’ve never felt more confident or comfortable in my time here. I still have questions around long-term career direction, but God has given me a conviction about where he has me and the role I’m playing in my business and I’m very grateful for that.

So what is the goal of spiritual formation, specifically as it relates to listening? To what end? Self-actualization? Is that the goal? Is it so that people walk around a little bit lighter? Those things can happen, but it’s not the point. The point is this: it’s not so that someone can merely feel good about their job or that their life has meaning, it’s about something far deeper. It is about spiritual formation.

Robert Mulholland has got the best and most quoted definition of what spiritual formation is. That is, “The process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” We want to see people become those in whom Christ freely lives and through whom he freely works, wherever they are and whatever their job happens to be. We’re hoping that people can say with utter integrity and experience, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Or people say: it is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me. You get somebody who becomes better and better probably at their job and they become a powerful presence for Christ.

Remember we started with the story of Rich? That is what we are talking about. He is a really good lawyer who is a potent presence of Christ. In other words, what does the aroma of Christ smell like off a person? Christ living through us will always be more powerful than anything we do for him on our own strength. In that sense, life becomes a school of spiritual formation. Everything is an opportunity to be formed in the image of Christ.

The trick then is to be able to see our work place as that place too. As opposed to our work place being a distraction from God’s purposes in my life, how about my work place as being a tool. We are talking about “aha!” moments. What I’ve been continuing to find is that vocation becomes either the back door or the front porch to deeper things. It allows God to really start messing with people in different parts of their life in such a way that it comes back around and gives them more clarity and confidence and competence in what he has called them to do.

So people come to me and us often with, “I need to hear God about my vocation.” Often God says, “Now that I’ve gotten your attention, let me talk to you about what’s really holding you back.” When well understood, this topic leads us to better theology, it leads us to a deeper spirituality, and in short it leads us to God. I’ve always read this insight from Oscar Romero thinking it applied to my work, but it actually also applies to this work as it relates to the church growing up into the full measure of the stature of Christ and the church maturing in it’s own theology in this conversation about vocation. Oscar Romero says,

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that can be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings us to perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives concludes everything. And this is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds that are already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that, because this enables us to do something and to do it very well. We are workers, not master builders. We are ministers, not Messiahs.

So can we walk out of this thinking, “You know what, I can’t do it all, but there’s some that I can take some big steps in.” I’m not going to see it all realized even in my own church and seminary, but you know what, that’s actually not my business. My business is to be very faithful with what I’m being called to do in this arena and what God is laying on my heart.


Wahoo Welcomes!!

We know how daunting it can be to be left at a big new college, all alone, sometimes, not knowing a single soul! (That's how it was for me, Christy, at UVa many years ago!) But when life is hard and lonely, YOU NEED CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES.

That’s where we come in. There is a team of current Horizons Hoos and community friends (real people who just love college students!) ready to come by your dorm room on Move In Day with homemade cookies and a WARM WELCOME—along with directions to the Bonhoeffer House, your most promising source of free lunches and fellowship for the next four years.  

Know a transfer or incoming First Year or are you one? Fill out this form and we'll be sure to give you this warm and yummy welcome! 

God's Hands - Reflections by Fellow Rachel Alderfer '17

As a Horizons Fellow, before we graduate, we are required to write our own personal faith statement. I wrote about my place as one of the Lord’s hands.

This past weekend, I unexpectedly ended up in the emergency room with piercing abdominal pain. By the time I left my house to head to the hospital it was 11:00pm and raining. While the timing never seems good to be going to the ER, I was supposed to be heading to the beach the following morning with 5 friends and, at this point, no packing had taken place. The situation was far from ideal. The only thing that kept me going was my totally loving, gracious housemate, Becca. Not only was she the one to convince me that I should head to the ER but she was also there to sit with me for 7 hours, awake and lively, while entirely sleepless. She was the hand rubbing my back in the waiting room, and holding my hand through the examinations.

Recognizing the other “hands” that the Lord has placed in my own life—those that have helped me along the way—inspires and encourages me to serve Him similarly. I pray to be used as the Lord’s hand, however that may look in my day-to-day moments.

My faith statement is as follows:

To be a hand

That gives rest to the foot

That cups the ear

That heals the heart

That dries the eyes

That claps loudly with the other.

That loves the whole body.

To be a hand in the hand of God.

I thank the Lord for giving me precious examples. Thank you, Becca, for being a hand in the hand of God. 

Meandering Musings on Place | Reflections by Fellow Nathanael Kim '17

“Where is my place?” is an all-encompassing question that surrounds nearly every facet of our lives. For the UVa student, it includes more specific questions such as “Where am I supposed to be after graduating?” or “Where and with whom should I live beyond first year” or “Which major should I study?” These questions can easily be more debilitating than helpful because they chain people to worldly expectations of life and subsequently a fear of failing to meet such expectations. In the midst of this spiritual and existential confusion, I have found Theological Horizons to be a refreshing respite and place for considering these complex questions. Whether through monthly meetings as a Horizons Fellow or conversations with my stupendous mentor Evan Hansen, God has presented me reminders of His faithful truth to dispel the fears that accompany thoughts regarding place.

For one, everyone’s ultimate place is simply with God. In one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, God invites His people near to Him, saying, “Incline your ear and come to me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast sure love for David” (Isaiah 55:3). No matter what circumstance or context we face, we are meant to convene and commune with our Heavenly Father. Though we have done everything possible and more that is worthy of separation, He meets us where we are and vindicates us through the death and resurrection of the Christ. Thus, every morning, God invites us to receive His new mercies, to trust in His faithful promises, and to wield His strength to face the day. God is with us, we belong to Him, and He is in everything we do and everywhere we are.

Two, I find that an enormous part of place doesn’t pertain to location but rather to people. The University context presents an amazing opportunity to relate to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, my place is with the Lord and with the people who know me well. In the past four years, no one has known me better than the very people I live with at the Benji, a house filled with eight guys in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. We all connected as wide-eyed, naïve first years in the same small group, and from there took the risk of living together in the same house. Needless to say, it has been the best decision of my life yet. What I’ll remember most about these brothers above the countless laughs, prayer, and good times is that during my third year when I was deep in the valley, these guys lifted me from the pit and showed me the love of Christ like no one ever could. As such, I implore any student to seek out friends who become family. The Lord intended for us to share life together and as such, our place is with people who are known by the same God.

With these two maxims in mind, I don’t want to fully disregard the questions of place that were mentioned in the beginning of these thoughts. Personally, the question “Where am I supposed to be after graduation” especially rings true as I am still in a state of uncertainty for the immediate future. Even so, I do not face that ambiguity with fear but rather I am encouraged to draw nearer to God and to my community to discern my next steps. For no matter where I am, my place is with the Lord and with the people He has placed near and dear in my life.



The Oxymoron of Proximate Justice - Christen Borgman Yates

Reposted from online journal.

Oxymorons always unsettle me. They compel me to mull them over in my mind, again and again, attempting to unpack layers juxtaposing two contradictory terms.

Proximate justice is an uncomfortable oxymoron at first. Isn't justice, by its very nature, meant to be full and absolute, right or wrong? Doesn't the integrity of the term demand our full commitment, our faith in the possibility of real justice?

I had the opportunity to hear Jim Wallis speak once at a luncheon in Boston. He was on his book tour for The Great Awakening. One thing I appreciate about Wallis is that he is extremely consistent and persistent. He's talked about wedding personal faith with social justice now for over thirty years. And so when he says there is a revival of justice happening across the country, I'm inclined to take the man at his word. According to Wallis, revivals of justice occur when "Billy Graham meets Martin Luther King," and toward this end, Wallis has inspired folks to join grassroots movements that push political structures from below while praying for open doors from above.

As I considered proximate justice during the lunch though, I wondered whether it would be a compelling selling-point for signing people on to a movement. Movements have an all-or-nothing feel to them, and it's likely the burden our abolitionist, social gospel, or civil rights predecessors felt at times: that they were the ones who had to bring the Kingdom of God here, and now.

Wallis's conclusion with "prayer as key" made me think that he and Garber might still have a point of connection. We do need an understanding of proximate justice to keep us from utter despair and cynicism, especially when the daily grind of working to bring about the kingdom wears us out. At the same time, we could use it as a corrective from taking ourselves or our cause too seriously.

In Political Holiness: A Spirituality of Liberation, Pedro Casaldaliga and Jose Maria Vigil warn us of the idol of justice. They write:

Social justice (however important it may be, and it is) can also be an idol, and we have to purify ourselves from it in order to declare clearly that God alone suffices, and in this way give justice too the fullness of its meaning.

Perhaps proximate justice is ultimately an acknowledgement of humility and faith: faith that this work of bringing about the Kingdom is not entirely on our shoulders after all, that there is a rhythm of work, and then rest, signaled by prayer, contemplation, and weekly Sabbaths.

To be sure, we don't strive for proximate justice. Who wants to strive for an incomplete or imperfect kingdom? By its very definition, shalom means all things as they should be, in right relationship. But we do need an understanding of proximate justice to help us wait until then, even as we strive daily toward shalom in all corners of creation.

My students engaged in community development work, know all too well these dual tendencies: toward the idolatry of our justice work or the cynicism that paralyzes. Studying the complexities of injustice, travelling to the developing world to visit people, learning about the production of goods, and returning here for urban engagement, Christian students are especially exposed to the "bad news," to glaring examples of injustice. They are also mindful of the ways we play a part in all this, like no other generation before us. They are simultaneously driven to right an injustice (fair trade coffee only on campus now!) and stalled by the fear that nothing will ever change. This then is the predicament: Why do anything if it will be tainted by some injustice—if the landfill will increase, if CO2 will be emitted, if a child will be subject to sweatshop labor or sexual trafficking, HIV/AIDS?

We can't work to see these issues approximately solved. We want justice in that child's life completely, not approximately. What motivation based on compromise would sign us up for a justice revival or even compel us to go to work day in and day out? But, as Garber suggests, that mindset is not sustainable, and can be sinful when we shoulder it alone. We must remember that we will not see complete justice this side of heaven. We strive to climb to the mountain summit, not just below it; but we rest often because without resting, there's no way we could keep going. It's just too hard.

Our students start their year reading a selection of Paul Marshall's book, Heaven is Not My Home, because it provides an important foundation for our work in the community that encourages us away from the tendencies toward idolatry and despair. He writes:

Our works, here and now, are not all transitory. The good that we have done will not simply disappear and be forgotten. This world is not a passing and futile phase; it will be taken up in God's new world. Our good buildings, our great inventions, our acts of healing, our best writings, our creative art, our finest clothes, our greatest treasures will not simply pass away. If they represent the greatest works of God's image-bearers, they will adorn the world to come.

Our works for justice, the God-honouring parts, are not all in vain and will not all disappear. This is truly good and life-giving news, news we must remind ourselves of day in and day out within our various vocations.

Recently, one of our students came to the realization of the injustice within the urban public schools where she served. She couldn't believe that art and music had been cut from many of the younger grades. Her middle-class upbringing had been richly blessed by the arts and fostered in her a love for the theatre. Her strongest desire was to change the system right away! But, understanding more the complexities that go into these injustices, she knew change wouldn't happen quickly. With her desire for systemic change still in mind, she set about establishing a theatre program within one of our community partners to teach theatre to young girls. Knowing that so many thousands of children in Lynn could benefit from arts-enrichment like this, she's making peace with her corner of creation: the essential work of teaching drama to thirteen girls.

She's making peace with proximate justice.

Reflections on Loving our Neighbors - Fellow Amanda O'Mara '17

This is a reflection by Fellow, Amanda O'Mara from listening to guest speaker, Cary Umhau of Spacious. Listen to her talk here.

Listening to Cary Umhau’s stories was an interesting experience. In her opening, she said that for a long time, she thought that loving neighbors and those who were different from her was good for other people to do, but not for her. That stuck with me the most as I listened to her tell stories about people she met on the streets of DC, because in a way, I felt exactly like that. I’m a quiet person and definitely couldn’t imagine myself in her place, meeting random people who were led to her by the Spirit, sharing their stories and struggles, and sometimes even asking for transformational prayers.

And now that I think about it, I don’t actually think I’m supposed to imagine myself exactly in her shoes. As much as her stories are cool and moving and admirable, they are only one example of what it looks like to be available and loving to those around you. The way I’ve come to see it is that stories like hers are the ones that make the front page; but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should be competing for that front page, or defining all acts of “loving neighbors” by those headlines. This, then, gives us the freedom to work within our bounds to love others in our own unique way.

In my case, I kept thinking that these things were good for Cary and people like her, but not for me. And after thinking about it more, I don’t think this is an excuse to keep others away, but rather an acknowledgement of my limits. If I stretched myself to do exactly what Cary does, it might be great for a few days, but after that, I’d burn out. It’s the idea that in order to love others, we need to take care of ourselves too, we need to put ourselves in a position that allows us to love others better.

And while I don’t want or need to replicate how Cary approaches loving neighbors, I think a practical starting point is preparing my heart for it each day. Cary mentioned that each day, she asks like a child asking their father, “Abba, what are we going to do today?” What the Spirit leads me to do with that will, and should, look different from what another person does, but is equally as valuable. The goal is, to paraphrase from Cary, to turn a face into a name and a name into a story, to turn the uninvited to the invited, and ultimately, to make someone feel mattered and heard. We don’t have to fit a certain mold to do this, we just have to be willing to see how the Spirit can work within our own limits – which I think actually glorifies God all the more, because He can make great things come from the unlikeliest people and the unlikeliest circumstances.

Amanda has been a Horizons Fellow with us this year. To learn more about the Fellows program, click here

Palm Sunday: after the parade


"Sunday" by Hannah Faith Notess

After the parade, the tired donkey
wanders back to her stall.
Among the bruised feathery branches,
a dog licks at a half-eaten snack
wrapped in a leaf, and the palms,
whose boughs are done being cut down,
begin again to whisper
their fragile green music.
Mud crusts and dries
on abandoned, trampled cloaks,
and the women carry some of them
down to the water for washing.  He seemed
like a nice man, they tell each other. 
He came from the country.
Across the city, the man
who had a strong face, a kind face,
is telling a story with his hands,
and in the lamplight
the wise and foolish virgins
cast shadows on the wall.
Tomorrow his hands will wither
a fig tree and overturn tables.
The temple veil will start
to stretch and fray.  But on this street,
as night falls over the city, and the women
shoulder their dripping burdens
up the hill, the mutter of voices
at the well is only gossip,
and the wail rising in the air
is only a child's cry, hungry and thin.
Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem by James Tissot