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

Greetings, friends.

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

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

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


Our Capps Lecture with Jonathan Merritt. 

A successful board retreat.


A dear friend whose father just committed suicide.

Jerry Capps, for physical healing and health.

Alison - for work on her dissertation.

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

Our dear friend Ginny as she fights cancer.

Unspoken prayer requests

Share your own petition  

The Fragment's Place in Christian Ethics | An Interview with Goodwin Prize Winner Bryan Ellrod

The $1,000 prize has been awarded to Bryan Ellrod (Emory University) for the essay, “The New Romantics: Authority, Authorship, and the Fragment’s Place in Christian Ethics”.

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology?  

I grew up in a home where some theological debate or another was the standard topic of dinner conversation.  However gregarious, the Ellrod family has never had any talent for proper small talk.  This upbringing inspired a deep love for theological questions.  For better or worse, they provide the frame within which I approach the world and connect with other people.  Pursuing an advanced degree in theology gave me the chance to be part of a community of inquiry where these questions are shared, reformulated, and refined.    

What do you hope to do with your degree? 

God willing, I hope to teach in a school of theology or undergraduate religion department.  I was very lucky to attend both a college and a seminary that saw rigorous intellectual training as part and parcel to formation for life and ministry.  I wouldn’t say that these settings gave me the answers to all my questions, but I was challenged to explore them more deeply and to ask new ones.  I would love to be able to serve in such a capacity as to be able to help my own students in the same way.  I am yet optimistic (naïve?) enough to believe that the sort of attention we cultivate in our studies and seminars also develops the caring and inquisitive attention we owe to our neighbors.

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

I have always felt a little caught in the tension between Acts 1’s call to witness, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, Ecclesiastes 5’s admonition that it is God who is in heaven and we who walk upon the earth.  We are tasked to bear witness, in word and deed, to a reality that eye has not seen and ear has not heard.  I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about being dumbfounded by this task.  I’m just incredibly lucky.  For now at least, I get to build my entire occupation around puzzling over the tension. It’s as if I am being paid to attend my own therapy.  As I understand it, my intellectual work on transcendence and immanence or authorship and authority all springs from personal questions about what it means to be this particularly guy from central Florida being called to bear witness to divine love in this particular moment.   

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

How are we to bear witness to a God, who shapes our lives yet outstrips our understanding?  How are we to communicate divine love in contingent acts and sentences? Our initial response might be to tell a story about this God, her creation, and the task she sets before it. But telling such a narrative requires a particular kind of narrator, one who is able to step above the helter-skelter of history and get a clearer picture.  For those of us still living in the midst of history, achieving this vantage point is insurmountably difficult.  We live in the middle of the story and not at its end.  So, if we can’t get a clear picture, then we must learn to communicate based on the piece-meal glimpses we achieve in the midst of our day to day lives.  Taking our contingency seriously means getting comfortable with fragments.  That is, recognizing and being clear that our works are always incomplete.  They are the echoes of a Word that has gone before them and the first whispers of its return.     

How might this award make a difference in your life?

When I wrote my paper, I attempted to be playful in my use of genre; allowing the ideas in the paper to permeate the form.  I love reading Søren Kierkegaard, I think he is a master in this respect.  I’m a novice at best, but I take this award as encouragement to continue in the experiment. To my mind, taking divine revelation seriously should bear not only on the claims of, say, epistemology or ethics, but should also encourage us to question howwe ought to go about uttering and writing them in the contingent sentences of a particular historical moment.  Homileticians have long been concerned with the theological significance of rhetorical and literary device, I take this award to be added confirmation that theological ethicists have good reason to be as well.      

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

When I am not studying, I am an amateur ice hockey player and zealous supporter of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  I also play guitar and write music – not terribly good music.  When we can get out of the city, my wife is teaching me to enjoy hiking and camping.  When we cannot, we are teaching each other how to cook. 

Any other comments? 

I just want to thank Theological Horizons for the opportunity to play with some of these ideas!  The essay was a pleasure to write, I didn’t really expect anything to come of it, so this has all been a lot of fun. 

For more information on the Goodwin Prize, click here.

 Dr.  John  M.  Perkins  always inspires.

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

Learn more about the Perkins House  at and  CCDA at    

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

Sarah Bland (Perkins House resident,  UVa ‘20)

Vulnerability & Community in the Whirlwinds | Reflections by Zach Balcomb '19

Recently, I find myself using the word whirlwind a lot... And by a lot I mean probably too much. I use it to describe the feeling of being a fourth year at UVa (i.e., a person with little time remaining in a place they’ve come to know and love) but also the feeling of trying to hang plants in my room. Obviously, these scenarios do not share the same emotional gravity, but I think my liberal usage of the term is significant to the state of my heart over the past few months.

In stressful moments, even those of an undeniably fleeting or trivial nature, anxiety has quietly crept in and occupied empty spaces in my heart. On the one hand, it’s easy to attribute this anxiety to the harsh reality that looms over all of us fourth years who have yet to figure out the next step. On the other hand, I would say that under the surface of the things that worry me, such as an unforeseeable post-grad life, anxiety arises from a sinful tendency that is often overlooked: resistance to vulnerability. It is from this resistance which anxiety has found a foothold in my life and “whirlwind” has become my new buzzword.

At the Horizons Fellows Retreat a few weeks ago, however, I experienced the beginning of a reset—I was reminded of my capacity and desire for spiritual vulnerability with others. I found joy in being in a transparent community, and I learned that when honesty has a place at the table in religious spaces, those spaces become more Holy. During the retreat, held at a Christian retreat center called Corhaven Farm, Fellows broke bread and laughed together. We snuggled up in blankets and sipped freshly-steeped tea. We pet docile, little donkeys and big, amiable cows (many of us, like me, admired them from afar). And finally, with crackling firewood and the sweet smell of s’mores as our backdrop, we took turns sharing our stories.

Our stories did not have to conform to a specific length or format, which I found so freeing. Growing up, I thought my story had to mirror what I had come to know as the archetype for a Christian testimony: a rip-roaring turn of events eclipsed by the earth shattering aha moment where “everything clicked.” Instead, I heard beautifully honest impressions on life and how people have come into relationship with their Creator over time. I heard people share things they have never before shared for fear of being judged or written off. More importantly, I saw people respond to these stories with kindness and an openness to learn.

In between storytelling, Fellows got to hear from Rev. Bill Haley, who taught us that we are to “cultivate relationship with the One who calls, so that when we are called we can respond efficiently.” We discussed the meaning of vocation, or more appropriately vocations, uncovering how they may not manifest in a paid position after graduation, but rather in how we bring God’s presence to the world. We listened and learned about the history behind the land upon which Corhaven is situated, which happens to include a cemetery where at least 25 black people who died as enslaved laborers now rest. As we explored the cemetery, which is now a memorial honoring the brothers and sisters who lay there, we grieved and prayed for an end to the 375-year reign of racial oppression in our country that still exists today.

In each of the aforementioned experiences, I felt our little cohort of Fellows displayed a level of transparency and celebration of difference that I have never before witnessed in a Christian circle. As interactions and conversations unfolded in this way, I felt spaces in my heart—once paralyzed with anxious energy—begin to breathe again.

IT'S YOUR CALL: A Gospel-Centered Life Design Workshop in Atlanta | Nov. 18

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ATLANTA FRIENDS in your 20s and 30s!

JOIN US in an exploration of your life purpose---and discover a call that is both knowable and nameable.

God created you with one-of-a-kind potential and placed you on earth for a specific purpose. So how do you discover your purpose?

Begin the journey with us (no matter where you are) as we consider the idea that DISCIPLESHIP = GENERAL CALLING + SPECIFIC CALLING. A process called Gospel-Centered Life Design explores all the sides of this equation.

Gospel-Centered Life design yields radical clarity on your unique Life Calling, while also equipping you to live into it. A three hour workshop with friends is just a start...but we know it'll be terrific!

Kelly Kannwischer, CEO of Life Younique, will lead us through a discussion and share some helpful, practical tools as we take our first steps into Gospel-centered Life Design.


How can I contact the organizer with any questions?

Email Charlotte Marie Sturtz at

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

No! We're asking you to register so we know you're committed to coming. This event is limited to 18 people and is free of charge.

Can I bring a friend or a spouse?

Yes! We'd love that; just have them register. This workshop is crafted for women and men in their 20s and 30s..but it'll be flexible. .

What if I need childcare?

Let us know! We'll see what we can do.

On Faith and Physics – The Amused Ponderings of One with Much to Learn | Horizons Fellow, Victoria Lu '19

As a student of chemical engineering and music, I have been afforded the opportunity to think deeply about several very different fields.  I become increasingly convinced that the further one travels into the depths of any given field, the more one will find God.  There are some fields that seem to lead us intuitively to theology - religious studies, philosophy, even biology.  However, my conjecture is that all fields lead to theology if explored deeply enough.  As a case example, I will briefly consider the intersection of theology and theoretical physics. 

As humans, we are three-(spatial)-dimensional beings.  (We exist in three dimensions of space and one dimension of time.)  Imagine a higher spatial dimension - the fourth dimension. As three-dimensional beings, we do not have the capacity to understand such higher dimensions.  We can, however, visualize the fourth dimension with an analogy. Imagine a two-dimensional being in a two-dimensional world.  Such a being can only see and understand what passes through its own plane of existence. As three-dimensional beings, we can interface with this two-dimensional world; we can pass through it and be seen by the two-dimensional being, or we can exist on an entirely separate plane in the third dimension such that the two-dimensional being has no concrete evidence that we exist.  As we pass through the two-dimensional world, the two-dimensional being understands only a fragment of who and what we are.  If I pass my arm through the two-dimensional world, the two-dimensional being sees the cross-section of my arm as a circle.  As I move my arm through the world from wrist to shoulder, the two-dimensional being sees a circle that starts small (my wrist) and grows larger (my upper arm).  What I know to be a cone-like cylinder (a single entity) the two-dimensional being perceives as a circle of changing diameter.  In the same way, if I place three of my fingers in the flat world, the two-dimensional being perceives three separate circles.  However, as a higher dimensional being, I know that my three fingers are really part of one and the same entity - my hand.  Could God exist in higher dimensional space? Possibly.  Perhaps the Trinity is like my fingers in two-dimensional space. We perceive the Trinity as three distinct persons all simultaneously the divine God, a mystery we will perhaps never understand.  Just as a two-dimensional being could never begin to understand the third dimension, perhaps higher dimensional space theory helps to explain how we will never understand the fullness of God.

In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that one can never simultaneously know both the position and momentum of a particle.  The more one knows about the position of the particle, the less one knows about its velocity and vice versa.  In the same way, we cannot possibly know God fully.  Perhaps God is unquantifiable due to his infinite nature; or perhaps he is unquantifiable because we can never simultaneously know all aspects of him; our knowledge of God is limited by his very nature in the same way our knowledge of a particle is limited by the quantum mechanical nature of such a particle. 

The wavefunction collapse phenomenon is most easily illustrated with the famous Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment.  Imagine you have a cat in a box.  You cannot see into the box.  Inside the box is some radioactive substance that has exactly a 50/50 probability of decaying after one hour.  If the radioactive substance decays, it sets off a device which will release poison into the chamber, killing the cat.  If the radioactive substance does not decay, no such device is set off and the cat remains alive.  The thought experiment states that after one hour, the wavefunction representing this system contains both the living cat and the dead cat until the direct observation of the status of the cat determines its state as either dead or alive. In other words, the cat is both dead and alive simultaneously (and the radioactive material exists in both a decayed and non-decayed state simultaneously) until we observe its status. This act of observation which determines the state of the particle is known as wavefunction collapse.  While God himself is incomprehensible due to the vastness of his nature, the world he created was given into our keeping.  When he told Adam to name the animals, he was giving us dominion over creation (not so we could abuse it, but so we could care for it).  The act of our observation determines the state of matter.  This demonstrates how God created the world to respond to us, even if we do not recognize it.  He created the world forus, evidenced by the very nature of matter and observation.

This brief exploration of the intersection of theoretical physics and theology demonstrates two things. The first is that the enigma of God is the grand mystery of the universe that we can never hope to understand fully. The second is that, while we cannot understand the mystery of God, we can understand fragments of who he is and who he created us to be.  This example was limited in scope to a miniscule sample of the topics which could be discussed at the intersection of theology and theoretical physics.  However, as I consider sound, beauty, music, mechanics, chemistry, philosophy, economics, and mathematics, I cannot help but be led to their theological underpinnings.  (Certainly, there are an infinite number of fields aside from those listed in which one might be led to theology; I just do not happen to have explored them.)  Conjecture: all fields converge on one thing.  That one thing is Truth.

Victoria Lu is a ‘18-’19 Horizons Fellow. Learn more about this program here.

Forgiveness as a Virtue | An Interview with Goodwin Prize Winner Joseph McCrave

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

The $2,500 prize was awarded to Joseph McCrave (Boston College) for the essay, "Forgiveness as a Virtue for Transitional Justice Contexts: Towards a Constructive Account."  McCrave’s faculty advisor receives an award of $500.

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology?  

I originally entered into theology reluctantly -- it was a mandatory counterpart to philosophy in my undergraduate program. During these studies, however, I came to understand the intellectual heritage of the Christian tradition to be rich and complex; sometimes troubling yet also more sophisticated than I had previously imagined. Having experienced this look "inwards" at Christian theology, I wanted to pursue graduate study to look "outwards," at the relationship of theology to life, with two broad questions in mind. Firstly, what insights does theology present for the practical attempt to live a good life? Secondly, what is the relation of these specifically theological insights to other ways of looking at the world which are found in pluralistic societies? I.e., how should I live and who cares what I think about that? My Ph.D. program at Boston College, then, is in theological ethics, specializing in political ethics. 

What do you hope to do with your degree? 

I hope to be able to teach, write and continue to live with these questions.

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

As an "ethicist" I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "the virtues." Of course, the trouble with this is that sooner or later you have to try to embody them! Fortunately, I have had wonderful teachers who have shown me that doing so is compatible with academic life. 

Inspiring moments of faith can certainly drive me to live better and think better about how to live better. More often, I find myself readjusting and reshaping my understanding of faith as I'm challenged by encounters with new theological (and other) ideas and voices.

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

In the generation since the landmark projects of "political reconciliation" of the 1990s, such as South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, "forgiveness" has exploded as a research topic across the humanities and social sciences. The practical and social impact of forgiveness is now undoubted even as its promises and pitfalls continue to be debated. In order to understand forgiveness more clearly, both advocates and skeptics have focused on the act of forgiveness and how it may or may not work at the political level. A relatively neglected mode of analysis -- but one latent in some strands of the Christian tradition -- is to understand forgiveness first as a personal quality or virtue, which leads to action. In the paper, I suggest that in order to have a better understanding of what we do when we forgive (even in political contexts) we should first think about who we are when we forgive. What kind of people do we want to be when it comes to responding to wrongdoing? I draw on the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas and his understanding of mercy to suggest that forgiveness -- being forgiving -- is a virtue. Possessing this virtue does not mean forgiving everything all the time but rather forgiving "well", e.g.: at the right time; in the right situations; and for good reasons. Furthermore, it is a virtue but it is not the only virtue. It is interwoven with others such as justice, prudence and self-care. All of this does not answer the hard questions about forgiveness and when it is right but it re-frames the question in what I see as a helpful way.   

How might this award make a difference in your life? 

On an existential level I am grateful for this recognition and it inspires me to keep working. 

On a practical financial level, my laptop is quickly dying/journeying towards laptop heaven, even as I write this, so I'm very much looking forward to updating it! Thank you.

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

When graduate study is not all-consuming, my interests include playing football (soccer) and watching movies. When graduate study is all-consuming, I sneak in time to listen to podcasts about soccer and movies. 

Any other comments? 

I would like to thank the people most directly responsible for helping me to produce the paper. These are my teachers at Boston College, in particular professors Stephen J. Pope, Lisa Sowle Cahill and James F. Keenan. Their courses and personal feedback provided the formative influences for the content. I'd also like to thank Katia, my wife, for her constant support amidst her own demanding life as a Ph.D. student, especially for putting up with the many late nights spent writing papers such as this one over recent years.

October Prayers | Sabbath rest.

Greetings, friends.

Usually about now in the semester, we start to feel it in our bones. The acknowledgement that we can't keep this pace up, that something's gotta give. And yet, the answer to our sustenance has been there all along, but 'you would have none of it' as the Lord says in Isaiah. 

Some of our Fellows were discussing the book The Justice Calling recently and remarked how unusual it is to begin a book about the urgent work of justice, only to be told to remember the Sabbath, to rest. "Can waiting itself be an act?" ask the authors Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson? The Sabbath command is a radical de-centering act into which we're invited. How might our times of prayer be different if our souls and bodies were more rested? Will you join us in incorporating Sabbath rest more into your life this month?

Read one Fellow's reflection on rest here and my review of The Justice Calling here



A deeply rich fall retreat at Corhaven for our 12 Horizons Fellows.

Greetings, friends.

Usually about now in the semester, we start to feel it in our bones. The acknowledgement that we can't keep this pace up, that something's gotta give. And yet, the answer to our sustenance has been there all along, but 'you would have none of it' as the Lord says in Isaiah. 

Some of our Fellows were discussing the book The Justice Calling recently and remarked how unusual it is to begin a book about the urgent work of justice, only to be told to remember the Sabbath, to rest. "Can waiting itself be an act?" ask the authors Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson? The Sabbath command is a radical de-centering act into which we're invited. How might our times of prayer be different if our souls and bodies were more rested? Will you join us in incorporating Sabbath rest more into your life this month?

Read one Fellow's reflection on rest here and my review of The Justice Calling here


A deeply rich fall retreat at Corhaven for our 12 Horizons Fellows.


Jerry Capps, for physical healing and health.

For a friend's children and family relations.

For a friend struggling with a broken relationship.

Alison - for work on her dissertation.

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

Our dear friend Ginny as she fights cancer.

Unspoken prayer requests

Share your own petition  


Our upcoming Capps Lecture with Jonathan Merritt.

Our upcoming board meeting.

Christy and Karen as they travel to Indianapolis for the annual CMTEV grantees gathering.

For deepening relationships between the Perkins Fellows and their community partners.


Our friend and mentor, Eric, as he faces charges for protesting alt-right leaderJason Kessler on Grounds.

Jerry Capps, for physical healing and health.

For a friend's children and family relations.

For a friend struggling with a broken relationship.
Alison - for work on her dissertation.

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

Our dear friend Ginny as she fights cancer.

Unspoken prayer requests

Share your own petition  

The Call to Rest | Reflection by Perkins Fellow Michelle Abban '20

Rest? How and why do we Sabbath? All of us Perkins Fellows recently gathered to read and discuss the Introduction and first two chapters of The Justice Calling. In a book about justice, I was expecting a hard-hitting manual on building and creating programs, on saving the world. The beginning chapters of the book instead mostly spoke of maintaining the Sabbath. You can imagine my surprise: how are we are supposed to be fighting for justice? First, we rest; God commands us to rest. 

As we sat in a circle taking a break from our usual week routine to simply sit and share, we focused on needing to rest in the Lord for all the things still up in the air. I honesty thought the Sabbath was meant for a different era, that it was not possible or even necessary in this day. How in our modern view of go, go, go can we intentionally take time to rest, to fully obey the Sabbath? Shouldn’t we do something more productive with our time? These were the questions that filled my mind because they are how we fill our culture. As Perkins Fellows, we are trying to use our gifts, to share the love of God across borders. We are trying to understand what God’s plan is for us. How can God’s plan include daily and weekly rest? 

For me, resting is hard. I want to do any and everything, to fill my schedule to the brim, to look at my calendar and say my life is full because my schedule is full. But, then it hits: the tiredness, the hopelessness and disappointment in my own failure when I realize that I cannot do it all alone. I cannot succeed in anything without God, anything. The accomplishments that I hold dearly do not mean anything if I do not know the source who gave them. I had never seen my lack of taking a Sabbath as failing to trust God and what He can do.

As I take on the rest of this semester, my community partnership with Abundant Life through the Perkins Fellowship, I need to lean on God’s strength and not my own. He brings forth completion to the fullest. Justice, community and true reconciliation of any sort does not come from me or any of us but from our Father who calls us to rest in him. 

“Failure to rest reveals that we are relying on our own work and reflects a lack of trust in God’s provision and grace” (51) The Justice Calling

Announcing the 2018 Goodwin Writing Prize Winners!

Announcing the 2018 Richard & Louise Goodwin Prizes for Excellence in Theological Writing

The board of directors of Theological Horizons is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Goodwin Prizes.  Awards are given to graduate students whose essays demonstrate creative theological thinking, excellence in scholarship, faithful witness to the Christian tradition, and engagement with the community of faith.

The $2,500 prize has been awarded to Joseph McCrave (Boston College) for the essay, "Forgiveness as a Virtue for Transitional Justice Contexts: Towards a Constructive Account."  McCrave’s faculty advisor receives an award of $500.

The $1,000 prize has been awarded to Bryan Ellrod (Emory University) for the essay, “The New Romantics: Authority, Authorship, and the Fragment’s Place in Christian Ethics”.

Chris Hazlaris (Yale Divinity School) has been awarded $500 for the essay, “Redeeming a Sinful Theology of Nature.”

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

We are deeply encouraged to see young scholars of such promise and commitment and we offer our warm congratulations to all who participated in this year’s competition.

A note about the process: All submissions were cleared of identifying author information and evaluated by three independent judges.

September Prayers - The call to lament

The beginning of the year for us always falls at the end of August. There is so much freshness and excitment. It's easy to gloss over the real wounds and pain we carry,  individually and collectively, as we eagerly march forward with new backpacks and sharpened pencils. 

And so, during our Perkins Fellows Plunge this past week, we began with lamenting the pain of August 11/12 and our ongoing divisions. We watched a powerful documentary about our city and then we stood together and recited a Liturgy for those who weep without knowing why.

And finally, we went out to visit with the courageous non-profits around Charlottesville that work daily to bridge the divisions between black and white, richer and poorer, between those with access to fresh food and those without, between those with citizenship and those without, and between God and each person.

Please join us in lamenting...and moving forward with renewed focus and hope.


Over 100 students came to our Wahoo Welcome Lunch!

Our 10 Perkins Fellows (6 new!) and their 7 community partners.

Back to school mercies.

Summer rhythms and gatherings with friends and family.

Is your nest emptying? Guest post by Susan Yates

This is a guest post by the author/speaker Susan Yates. Email this post to a friend and CC us ( and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of Susan and Barbara Rainey's book for both you and your friend!

Are you getting ready to send a child off to college or preparing to send your youngest to all day school? Or have you just had a wedding? If so, you may be an emotional mess. The empty nest hits us in different ways, at different times, and often when we least expect it!

How well I remember dropping our last child Susy off at college and beginning the long drive home. The week before, we had left her twin sister Libby at another college so not only was I sending off my last two at once, but it was the first time the girls, who are very close, had been separated. My husband John thought this would be a celebration of sorts for us! All those years of daily parenting five children would be finished and now we could focus more on us. So he planned an overnight on the drive home at a romantic lodge in the mountains. Ha.

As we pulled away from the college campus my tears started to flow. I felt like my life was over. My main job of parenting was done. What was my purpose to be now? I ached for the sadness the girls were experiencing in being separated. It had been their idea to go to different colleges but none of us anticipated the pain this would cause. In the midst of my tears I tried to explain my feelings to my husband. Feelings I couldn’t even understand. I felt lonely in my misery. I felt guilty. After all, this was a good thing! And I had a great husband who was trying to please me. Yet I was miserable. Needless to say our romantic getaway wasn’t very romantic!

You may not experience sadness at having just sent a child off. In fact you may be thrilled. Each one of us is different and we never know when the emotions of the empty nest will hit us. It may not be until your last child is married. Or you may grieve when they begin high school. This season is not neat. It’s messy. And there’s not much written about it to guide us through it. But God does have a new plan for each of us as we approach the empty nest. And it is exciting.


If you are about to drop off your college freshman here are 4 great tips:

  1. Before you go to campus research the fellowship groups on the campus. Groups like Cru, RUF, Christian Study Centers, Navigators, IV. Find out when and where they meet and tell your child that you want them to visit two at least twice and then join one. The same thing applies to church. Visit 2 and then commit to the one that feels right. This should be a clear expectation, similar to going to class. You are likely financing some of their costs and you have a right to make this a condition. They should commit to a fellowship group and a church within the first 2 months. Statistics show that the first 10 days of college life are crucial in determining what “group” your student will hang out with. We want to encourage our kids to seek healthy relationships.
  2. Many college fellowships have move-in day luncheons. Sign up to attend one. You and your child will meet other believers and hear about fellowship groups on campus. The Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville, VA has one such lunch that my daughter Libby and I helped start nearly 20 years ago! 
  3. When you move in wear a t-shirt from a Christian camp or some logo. When our daughter Libby moved into her dorm she had on a Young Life t-shirt. Another girl moving in recognized this and the girls realized they were both believers. This was a huge connection for their first day!
  4. Be positive, even if you are sad and your child is too. Communicate to your child that he or she is about to begin a great adventure and it is good! And continue to pray daily for them and for their friendships.

Barbara Rainey and I wrote a book which deals with various challenges of the empty nest including loneliness, redefining marriage, how to let go of your child, etc. The book contains a 4-session group study. We hope you will invite some friends to join you in an Empty Nest book club.

New Guys' Discipleship Group

The aim of this group is to illuminate the Gospel and to examine Jesus’ life as a way to reveal righteousness (right relationships) that leads to abundant life. After laying a foundation, each week we will study Jesus in relationship to a person or (group), principality, or power, and consider how his “way” can inform our own life. This group will primarily use supporting material from The Bible Project.

All guys welcome!

Day/time is TBD but it will be a weekday morning at Bodo's before classes.

For more information, contact: Garrett Trent

Garrett Trent is a UVa grad, a former campus minister with UVa Greek InterVarsity, and he's worked for the last 4 years with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. He also directs The Perkins House, an interracial, intentional community for undergraduate students in partnership with All Souls church and Theological Horizons.

Welcome Beth Wright, new Manager of Ministry Operations!

We are so thrilled to welcome Beth Wright, our new Manager of Ministry Operations!

Here's a little more about Beth:

 1) Tell us a little about your story. How did you end up in Charlottesville? Where else have you lived and worked?

My husband and I both grew up in rural communities and had always considered moving back to a small town at some point. Having spent most of our adult lives in the Washington, DC area, however, we had become accustomed to many of the amenities that urban living provides.  When our nest started emptying, we began to explore other locations that might be a good combination of urban and rural living.  Ultimately we decided that Charlottesville would be a great home base for us and our two sons, who are in graduate school.   

2) What drew you to work with Theological Horizons? What are you excited about?

Actually, I had not heard of Theological Horizons even though I was working down the street from the Bonhoeffer House until one of my friends mentioned that there was an opening for a Manager of Ministry Operations. Once I started researching TH, I immediately was drawn to its mission and after meeting with Christy, Karen, and board member Anthony, I got very excited at the prospect of working here and sensed that this might be a perfect fit for me. I truly feel that I can make a positive impact here with my professional skills and personality - and enjoy the process!   

3) What else are you up to these days?

Golf!  We just started golf lessons, and I have to be honest, so far I’m finding it a bit frustrating…yet somewhat addictive! I’m also preparing for a mission trip to Haiti with my church and trying to learn Creole - or at least a few phrases. Generally, I spend a lot of my free time traveling, reading, hiking and watching every BBC murder mystery I can!    

4) A lot of our work is wrestling with big questions about faith and what it means to be human with students and the community. What's a big question you wonder about? 

A close friend of mine was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness so I am again wrestling with the old, familiar question of "why do bad things happen to good people?”  I have about decided that the big questions never really get answered completely - at least to my satisfaction - but it’s important to keep pondering and praying.  We really do see through a glass dimly and I struggle to be comfortable with having questions with my level of understanding feeling limited.

Thanks, Beth! Feel free to welcome her or reach out with any questions -

Words, the Word and Silence. Reflections by Kendall Gunter '18

Words always seem to be slipping away from my good intentions. Consider: determine: I determined the number of M&M’s in the jar. What am I saying of myself? Have I actively controlled the quantity, or have I passively discovered it? Try a different word. Perhaps I can make certain that he hears you. What now? The “making” sounds causal, assertive, as though I were deciding reality, but the phrase often denotes verification of someone else’s actions. Am I ensuring this to be the case by enforcement or by investigation? Another go, then: what about ensuring? Or perhaps I can realize the solution to my problem? Even here, ambiguity continues. Have I learned the answer or enacted it? Does the solution proceed from me or from some unknown source that I merely receive?

In everyday speech, these words typically retain their distinctions without a problem. But they stand in strange proximity to contradiction. Each can signify in precisely opposite directions, yet we comfortably say and write them daily. These words wink at us. As much as we may ascertain or discover through language, as if liberated from ignorance, we also decide and invent with it, shackling reality to our words. Language both reveals and establishes the real.

These are not merely obscure musings about language in the abstract. They have real bearing on action, even on daily ethical decisions. For example, a well-known psychologist, Carol Dweck, warns elementary school teachers never to call kids “smart.” On her account, praising children’s “inherent” intelligence could prove detrimental. (I like to tell people this fact—the only one I remember from my brief stint in the School of Education — and watch their eyebrows zigzag in confusion.) These teachers are not trying to deprive their students of affirmation, of course. They are avoiding the ossifying power of description. To praise a child’s intelligence is to praise her innate, static, born-that-way qualities, an option that may still sound valid until that “smart” kid encounters a problem she can’t solve. What is she then? Is she still smart? She has nothing to draw on but her unlearned capabilities, which used to seem so easy and natural. In the face of a question she can’t answer, she ceases to be “smart” and becomes nothing at all. But have no fear! If, on the other hand, her teacher praises not IQ but effort and strategies, tangible actions, she will know how to handle any enigma. In this instance, the teacher has shifted the student’s center of gravity from a state of being to dynamic behaviors, which she can calibrate and reconfigure to any task at hand. Existential crisis averted.

These conclusions hold true beyond education theory. Something similar seems to happen, for both describer and described, when we say things like “He’s mean” or “She’s nice.” These designations bound over their own extraordinarily confined moment of perceived meanness or niceness to designate a whole person, for their whole life, with a single attribute. But such snappy personal characterizations are only fit for prey to profile predators. Could we speak this way among neighbors to be loved? (We’ll remember it is the undesirable Samaritan who loved truly, even though we know how those people are.) My actions have been arrogant and careless, saintly and brilliant, but none of these impressions is who I am. And I don’t mean to invoke the language of “identity.” That kind of talk helps many people orient themselves in the world, but I find it too stable. Who am I? I look inside and outside, at my actions and my thoughts, and I find a walking contradiction.

A quick detour, a return to the subject, then we’re done: Of all the obscure facts I collected in my years at UVA, the most enlightening to me has been negative theology. What a revelation! Suddenly, amid all of my anxieties about speaking and writing, some paradoxical solution. Negative theology, or apophasis, uses language to unsay itself, to undermine its absolutizing force. Mystics, theologians, and believers of many stripes have turned to apophasis as they fumbled for words to describe the I AM, whose ways are higher than our ways, whose thoughts than our thoughts. What could be said about such a being, a being beyond being, except what he is not. After all, there is, between God and creation, what Barth and Kierkegaard called an “infinite qualitative distinction,” so that linguistic references no longer work when it comes to God. And yet, he sees fit to let all that he has made participate in him—“in him we live and move and have our being.” Even more, he has made us in his own image, a thing too wonderful for me. Gregory of Nyssa said that being made in the likeness of such a God renders us incomprehensible, even to ourselves. To gaze into space or into myself, then, is to behold God’s mystery, everywhere. And again my words prove insufficient, but now helplessly, infinitely more so. Yet this same God calls himself the Word, entering our finitude and embracing our language, to celebrate, to judge, to mourn, to comfort. I cling to those words, when God spoke with a young man’s tongue like mine, when he wrote in the dust. He who is the A and the Z, the Amen in whom every promise is Yes, he welcomes our words. But in view of these wonders, I rest in quiet praise.

Coming to College? Tips for you

anna and elizabeth
anna and elizabeth

Are you starting college this fall?  This post is for you!  It’s full of practical advice and insider info from Rachel Tripp of Winchester, Virginia.  Rachel graduated from the University of Virginia in 2014. 

Here's my best advice, taken from my first year experience.  There were both things I think I did right/glad I did and things that I learned from:

NOT helpful: naps. They made me feel even more tired throughout the day. I averaged around 5 hours of sleep in my first semester and it caught up with me. I need at least 6 solid hours of sleep to function normally and not feel groggy throughout the day.  Get enough sleep!

 Meeting new people when and where you can is fun, but it’s also important to intentionally make 3-4 friends that are close to you and that you can get along with. That way you can begin to make deep relationships (that you could live with next year) rather than a width of friendships where you feel lost as to who to hang out with.

And I also learned that it is OKAY to take time away from people. The common term of FOMO "fear of missing out" is so true! My first year I was so afraid to be alone ever, and always had this anxious feeling that I was missing out on something. As a result I did not get good sleep and found myself competing in how many people or friends I knew. Too many friendships that you try to deepen can wear you out!

In an hour or so by yourself from time to time do something simply for the pleasure of it. That can be playing around on a guitar, drawing or crafts, or taking a run/walk around grounds. Take time to do something simply because you want to!

 Get creative with where you study. I enjoyed my first year trying out all the amazing scenery and fun nooks and crannies to study in! Sometimes I would study by the Tennis Courts if I was by Memorial Gym. Sometimes I would study in the Amphitheater, a place conveniently located near the Dumplings truck! Sometimes I would study in first floor Clemons or stacks of Alderman. There are also the gardens by the Rotunda, benches by the Dell, and so many more fun places to study. This can make homework a little more exciting by mixing up the location and bringing a friend along if you enjoying studying with others!

 As far as grades and classes go, establish your routine of how you take notes as early as you can. Try out different techniques. Some people record notes or write down everything either on paper or computer. If you record notes this can allow you to simply listen if that works for you. Handwriting notes worked best for me, to also be able to make diagrams or draw out the concept. I would get too distracted by my computer and the temptation to go on other sites like facebook.

In my first semester I would sit in the back and as a result fell asleep in many of those classes. In order to really pay attention and not get distracted sitting up closer really does help! Even sitting behind someone on facebook can be highly distracting, and has been proven by research to distract other students to the point of really hurting their grades! Also going to class with friends that you sit by that want to go to class is important. I went with a friend that would want to skip the majority of the time, as a result I skipped that class more and did not do as well as I could have.

Study groups worked very well for me. I never did or needed them in high school, but they are highly helpful in college. I would study on my own first and then study in a group. With a group study, you can clarify confusing concepts from a class and double check any notes that you missed if the teacher talked too fast.

Amidst all this studying and learning, there will be many many fantastic clubs and groups to join. You will probably sign up for every other group that sounds highly interesting to you. What I did was sign up for a wide variety of groups to 'trial and error' where I could fit in. Ultimately, however, you may find that a maximum of 3 clubs is more than enough. For me, I picked one main organization that I really wanted to devote my time and heart to: Chi Alpha. I had tried University Dance Club, Nursing Student Without Borders, Oluponya Records, International Justice Mission, and Abundant Life. Eventually however I have limited myself to Chi Alpha and International Justice Mission, so that I can enjoy other various social/active opportunities at UVA.

Plan fun breaks or spontaneous ones with friends as you venture the grounds of UVA. Grab a group of friends to check out Observatory Hill, go to the Corner together, buy groceries from Barracks together, or go to a football game! Once we went out at 2am just to throw a glow-in-the-dark frisbee. It is so easy to find or grab people to come with you on an adventure if you have an idea! Along with fun group hangouts, it also makes it fun to invite other halls or floors to make for co-ed hangouts! We would try to do weekly dinners with some girls in our hall and some of the boys on the floor below us! It is so important to see the game group of people at least on a weekly basis in some form to help make you feel connected!

Peer pressure does exist! I learned this from 'trial and error', I found myself doing things I never thought I would do. Streaking the lawn was fun, but hangovers from alcohol was not so much! It was so important for me to make friendships outside of the party scene, because that is where you can have a relationship based on more than enjoyment of alcohol. If you think 'everyone' is doing it, think again and try out meeting a different group of people if you find your current friends pushing you in a direction that you don't want to go.

If you do decide to go out, be sure that the person you go with can be trusted to stick together. Several times I would be left alone, and learn the hard way that some people can abandon you at a party. Trying to find your way back when you don't know where you're going is not fun! Have a phone number of an upper classman that you know very well that has a car, so you can call them if anything happens!

Have a fantastic first year at college!

Community & The Haven | Reflections by Perkins Fellow Abby Deatherage

On a pre-hurricane rain-soaked morning, I volunteered at the Haven, Charlottesville’s day-shelter for homeless and low-income men and women. I almost didn’t go–I was nervous for my first time working the Welcome Desk, a job that requires memory of where things are, which I’m bad at even on a good day, and general knowledge of how the systems of the Haven work, which I’m still grasping. To add to this general fear, I was sick, coming down with what everyone else has had in this pre-fall season. And it was only my second time volunteering, which meant I wasn’t a regular presence, and might not be missed. But if I didn’t go, I wouldn’t be back for at least another week, and I’m trying my very best to be consistent. So, freezing cold and soaking wet, I went in for a 2 hour shift.

I coughed my way through; I asked questions and found razors and shaving cream and towels and washcloths; I dialed phone numbers and handed out laundry detergent. I don’t think I actually did anything correctly, or even helpfully. But what surprised me was the easy environment in which I existed. I expected to feel shamed for not knowing things; after all, I’m the volunteer, right? The guests knew exactly where things would be; they teased me kindly about my lack of knowledge. I developed a cough a few minutes in, and they asked how I was and told me to make sure I stayed dry.

Here’s the thing: I am just dipping my toes into these waters which so many have swum before me, speaking about concepts and truths I’m learning that so many can articulate with much more clarity. So many go before me for whom this is not a 2 hour per week commitment, but rather years of work, a vocation, a life’s work, or even a reality. What I’m doing here isn’t offering answers or new discoveries; rather, I’m processing the reality I’m learning, showing you my own journey of baby steps.

So, what surprised me? This: in all honesty, I don’t think anything I actually did felt like volunteering, or even like helping. Requests for different items or phone use were minimal; everyone knows the systems in place, and seems to respect them well. In reality, most of my time was spent listening, meeting, talking to people.

I am a newcomer to this community, and each person who passes the welcome desk notices. They stop, they introduce themselves: staff, volunteers, guests. They ask me my name, if I go to UVa, what I study, what I like to do. And they share their stories, too. It’s a precious thing, community, and I’m amazed at how easily they extend their hands and open their arms to me, a nobody, a student who’s only there two hours a week and will graduate within eight months. But they do, and I am so grateful. I don’t know what more I will learn, what else the year has in store with me, but I’m beginning with what everything must grow out of: community. 

*This reflection was kindly re-posted from Abby's wonderful blog. To learn more about the Perkins Fellows program that Abby is a part of, click here.

Politics & Faith: Reflections from an AEI Conference | Julia Scoper '17

I have always shied away from politics, especially Conservative Evangelical Christian politics because I immediately would think of yelling, pointing fingers, religious agendas, and disregard for others. Therefore, politics have always intimidated me because of the intense views I heard and read on the news, whether an extreme liberal or extreme conservative, they both end in hateful bickering on the screen or paper. Fortunately, after the mere welcome address at American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) summit in DC on “Values and Capitalism,” these misconceptions of Conservative Evangelicals were slowly broken down for me.

During the first panel, “Religious Freedom and Human Flourishing: Current Challenges and Prospects,” the concept of religious freedom was explained as the limitation of the power of the state- not allowing the government to tell citizens how to live morally. Religious freedom was a concept I definitely did not understand before this conference. One of the panelists, Russell Moore, emphasized how this religious freedom extends to all religions, not just Christianity. This means allowing mosques or any other types of temples to be built wherever, whenever. It was beyond refreshing to hear this when in the past all I have heard is extremist Christians complaining and rebuking anything that’s not a church soaked in holy oil.

Christianity in politics seemed to put down people and coerce faith into being. Instead, advocating for religious freedom for all is not some sort of manipulative strategy for Christians, but it’s something that Christians should truly believe. It’s not about advocating our own privilege. Third panelist, Stephanie Summers put it best, stating, “Let’s not kill each other over the will of God... You can’t advocate religious freedom and evangelize while you’re also driving your neighbors out of town.”

During lunch, Samuel Rodriguez, the president and CEO of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, spoke about, “Righteousness and Justice: In Pursuit of the Lamb’s Agenda.” He vibrantly preached about how we are not promoting a Christian nation, but a nation of free religion. I found myself furiously writing down every word of his one line zingers that soared straight to the heart. Some of my favorites were, “It’s not about the donkey or elephant agenda, it’s about the Lamb’s,” “Evangelical does not mean angry white male,” “Justice flows from the high to lift up the low,” and “Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity.” He challenged us not to be afraid of politics or speaking the truth of the Bible.

My perceptions of Evangelical Conservative Christians in the political arena completely transformed. Instead of anger and self-righteousness, the panelists spoke of equality, peace, redemption, and above all else, the love of Jesus Christ. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Perhaps our job as Christians is to sift through this world of extremes and find the common ground among people while also finding our personal rock foundation in Jesus Christ. There need to be more deep and personal relationships among all different parties and beliefs if politicians want to get anywhere positive. I left this summit at AEI, refreshed, encouraged, and inspired by these influential Christians who have let Jesus lead the way in their lives and workspaces. I pray now that I can let Jesus reveal to me the broken places within my own heart and within my community and nation, and let Him sharpen my gifts and bring me to these places of need... even if that does mean Capitol Hill. 

Reflections on John M. Perkins' Visit to UVa | Cameron Strange, '16

John Perkins’s legendary reputation precedes him in such a way that I was afraid at the thought of potentially meeting him;  this fear of meeting him only further solidified when I heard him speak at the Common Grounds dinner and then the Capps lecture. I contemplated the ramifications of being face to face with John, and I figured my fear wasn’t so much a fear of there being something to lose as it was a fear of there being something all too great to gain. I feared that, if I introduced myself to him and shook his hand, he might impart some sort of prophetic call over my life that I would not be ready for – I feared that God would use him to speak to me words from God Himself. 

Shortly after I became aware of these fears, I realized how silly it is to place any man on a pedestal such as this, to the extent that simply meeting him would be a fearful encounter. Moreover, I think John himself, if he had known there were people like me who think in ways like this about him, would do his best to dismantle the pedestal and deflect all exaltation to God. Even still, while I acknowledge that putting John on a pedestal was absurd, perhaps my fear in meeting John was not founded solely on pure absurdity – perhaps, it was partly founded on an underlying sense of respect for what he preaches. For, I must say, he preaches words that carry an air of optimism– optimism to a great extent but also to an appropriate extent, considering he uses the Gospel as the basis for what he preaches. 

The vision that John implores us to move towards is lofty in nature, yet it entails a God-given purpose that is so worth living for. The Gospel deserves nothing less than visions for a future world that are seemingly impossible to achieve yet so awe-inspiring and captivating that we can’t help but be sucked into its mission for seeking God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Oddly enough, I think that John did speak to me words from God himself. But, with no disrespect to him, I realize that the message underlying these words weren’t necessarily anything I hadn’t heard before, nor were these words only meant for me. John merely re-cast the vision of the Gospel in the specific context of our present day struggles on the journey towards racial reconciliation. 

His message was a refreshing reminder of the Gospel’s purposes which God has called us ALL to pursue in His strength and by His grace. I felt John inspiring me to become implicated in the world’s brokenness and our every-day struggle for reconciliation, to take responsibility (as he would say) for the world that God has given us to care for.  Part of the good news, however, is that while I am personally convicted by this call to take responsibility for a world that I am often apathetic towards, I am also entangled with my brothers and sisters in Christ, such that I don’t have to “take responsibility” alone. Meanwhile, we also have a sovereign God working on reconciliation’s behalf with us, such that we mere humans do not have to “take responsibility” in vain and for a hopeless cause.

Even having said all of this, I would still probably be somewhat afraid to meet Dr. Perkins (perhaps for fear of inadvertently saying or doing something that disrespected him). But if I did have the guts to say one thing to him in person, I think I would tell him, “Thanks for the reminder – I hope to pass it on to those of my friends who unfortunately couldn’t be here to hear it.”