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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

palm-sunday-vector-illustration.jpg

"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

Lent 5: on the ledge of light

When he saw Martha weeping, Jesus began to weep.  Then Jesus, greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."...And they took away the stone....Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  The dead man came out, his hand and his feet bound with strips of cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Unbind him and let him go."  (from John 11)

I have climbed out of a narrow darkness
on to a ledge of light.
I am of God; I was not made for night.
Here there is room to lift my arms and sing.
Oh, God is vast!  With Him all space can come 
to hold or corner or cubiculum....
 
I see Him now: a thousand acres.
God is a thousand acres to me now
of high sweet-smelling April and the flow
of windy light across a wide plateau.
Ah, but when love grows unitive I know
joy will upsoar,  my heart sing, far more free,
having come home to God's infinity.
--Jessica Powers 

If C.S. Lewis met Stephen Colbert | Terry Lindvall

by Chris Suarez for the Daily Progress -    Mar 25, 2017

 

In an interview more than eight years ago, late-night TV show host Stephen Colbert shocked and delighted the faithful in his audience by rebuking a guest’s arguments against Catholic doctrine and declaring in a censored statement that he is a Sunday school teacher.

“I teach Sunday school,” said Colbert, who then used a term that would make Oedipus blush to describe his guest that evening.

Although it may have been somewhat shocking for some to hear a Christian apologist using vulgar language in such a proud defense of the faith, Virginia Wesleyan College professor and author Terry Lindvall says vulgar wit has been commonplace in religious satire for centuries.

Lindvall, author of “God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert,” spoke at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on Saturday evening as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book.

During the talk, Lindvall shared his thoughts about religious satire today, particularly how Colbert has continued a tradition that author and theologian C.S. Lewis trumpeted through the course of his career in the early 20th century.

“Both of them have rebranded and revived Christianity for a different generation,” Lindvall said.

The lecture was hosted by Theological Horizons, an academia-focused Christian nonprofit, in partnership with the book festival.

“When I started teaching church history, I realized there’s a lot of funny stuff in here. You think of the Church as this dour, solemn place where everyone is so serious, but that was never the case,” Lindvall said in an interview after the event.

Peter Hartwig, director of operations for Theological Horizons, said, “Terry has a special angle and a very unique research interest in the way he’s trying to tie together humor and religious thought, and that’s a special thing in and of itself.”

Hartwig said his organization has partnered with the book festival in the past, but he said Saturday’s event was a departure from more rigidly theological lectures and presentations of previous years.

“It’s easy in American life to relegate the religious to the religious. The notion that people’s religious convictions are so central to their lives that it would appear in something as a-religious as humor is important to keep in mind,” he said about why Lindvall was invited to speak Saturday.

In his lecture, Lindvall shared his insights about Lewis and Colbert, presenting passages from Lewis’ novels and his life, as well as moments from Colbert’s programs where he has revealed his devotion to his Catholic faith in either a satirical or forthright manner.

After seeing Colbert, who hosts “The Late Show” on CBS, with a cross on his forehead on Ash Wednesday several years ago, Lindvall said he was interested in learning more about Colbert’s religious convictions.  Since then, Lindvall said he’s made references to Colbert, as well as Lewis, in other books he’s written. With Colbert’s name in the title of his new book, Lindvall joked that he hopes he’ll receive the coveted “Colbert bump” that will bring him more recognition.

Comparing a few of Lewis’ novels to the blowhard conservative character that Colbert played on his former show on Comedy Central, Lindvall said he likes that both men sharply have satirized and attacked a “high apostate hierarchy” in the church and faith community.  “They’re both people of faith that like to laugh,” Lindvall said. “They can see the incongruity of their life and faith.”       

   Listen to the audio of Terry Lindvall’s talk.

 

Lent 4: Tell me it's coming soon

"Prodigal Daughter" by Charles Mackesy

"Prodigal Daughter" by Charles Mackesy

"Inclement Sonnet" by Susanna Childress

Tell me snow is falling on the willows now, fat, full, unhurried,

for our bald neighbor-boy sleeps, his dark body beneath

a blanket knit brilliantly blue, his body wilted with

neuroblastoma.  Here on the couch, Emmy holds his head

 

while I wonder at what's sent from above, what we'd believe

drifts down during these months of ice, so far north we need

Easter to end winter for us--not Eostre, Teutonic myth,

vernal equinox; not eggs, red-iris bunnies beribboned

sweets.  Tell me what comes next: tires spinning, marrow

aspirating, gladiolus whispering when, when, Wednesday

ashing our brows and, for each, some coruscating stretch, most

 

Fridays not so good after all.  Last week he told his mum, I get a new

body if I go to heaven.  Tell me it's coming soon, Pascha* Sunday,

that, as they lift, our arms will ache, will awaken, with all we've lost.  

"Mother with Dead Child" by Kathe Kollwitz

"Mother with Dead Child" by Kathe Kollwitz

You free us
from the dread of death,
and make this life a door.  
You grant our very flesh
a fallow season,
then gather all
at the last horn's blast.
You sow the earth
with these our bodies,
shaped by Your own hand.  
You bring
the harvest in,
transforming death into
abundant life,
all defect into beauty.

--Macrina the Younger (adapted by Scott Cairns)

Lent 3: When nothing seems to be happening

Roots by Pamela Casper  

Roots by Pamela Casper

 

Because we expect Lent to be a time of transformation, we look impatiently for signs of improvement. We want to believe we are getting somewhere. We make demands of God & of ourselves.  But all the while, the seed of grace is planted deep within us, quietly nurtured by time & devotedness.  We will see the fruit of God's work in our lives.  In time.

"The Dreaming Tree" by Christian Schloe  

"The Dreaming Tree" by Christian Schloe

 

The Doubter’s Prayer
by Anne Bronte (1820-1849)

While faith is with me, I am blest;
It turns my darkest night to day;
But, while I clasp it to my breast,
I often feel it slide away...

What shall I do if all my love
My hopes, my toil, are cast away?
And if there by no God above
To hear and bless me when I pray?

Oh, help me, God! For thou alone
Canst my distracted soul relieve,
Forsake it not; it is thine own,
Though weak, yet longing to believe.

Lent 2: Dizzying and dazzling

"Transfiguration" by Alekasndr Ivanov

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white...The disciples fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid.  And when they looked up, the saw no one except Jesus himself alone. Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration by Fra Angelico

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.
--Malcolm Guite

Have you ever experienced God and been awestruck? Terrified? Transformed? Today many Christians recall the dazzling, dizzying trip Jesus takes with a trio of his disciples.  Peter, James and John glimpse Christ in his glory and then head back down the mountain with him, back to their ordinary lives, and, too soon, to the horror of the Cross.

When Glory
A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday

That when glory comes
we will open our eyes
to see it.

That when glory shows up
we will let ourselves
be overcome
not by fear
but by the love
it bears.

That when glory shines
we will bring it
back with us
all the way
all the way
all the way down.
--Jan Richardson

Transfiguration by Lewis Bowman

Lent 1: Wake up & choose mercy

On their long trek through the desert, Moses invited the children of Israel to choose life.  

Along our Lenten journey, God offers us the gift of mercy---ours to receive if only we will wake up, open our hearts, and confess, asking God to cast out what cannot remain in the same room with that life-giving mercy.  

So lift your eyes. Where might you discover God's grace in disguise?

"Holy God, our lives are laid open before you: rescue us from the chaos of sin and through the death of your Son bring us healing and make us whole in Jesus Christ our Lord." {Common Worship, Church of England}

If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it? Maybe it's because grace is not gentle or made-to-order.  It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.  {Kathleen Norris}

Lenten Resources

Here are some of my favorite resources for Lent.  Share your own in the comment area!

ONLINE

Sacred Space Scripture and Daily Prayer to read online

You can get the print version of Sacred Space book for Lent on amazon. It's only 1.75!

Pray as you go daily Scripture and music podcast. Download the app, too.

Wonderful collection of poetry for Lent and Easter

Common Pray for Ordinary Radicals online -- you can get the hard copy of the book, too

Painted Prayer Book -- Jan Richardson is a painter and writer with some wonderful reflections, images poems...

BOOKS

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter my favorite Lent and Easter book ever

Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days by Trevor Hudson

Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent by Richard Rohr

Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings by Henri Nouwen

LENT: Return with your Whole Heart

ASH WEDNESDAY: THE INVITATION TO RETURN

You and I drift away from our true home.  We forget that we are God's beloved.  We forget that we are not God.  We succumb to the temptations of money, sex and power.  We ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters. We focus only on ourselves.

During Lent -- the forty days before Easter -- God calls us home. God invites us to remember who we are.  To let God be God in our lives.  To respond to our suffering neighbor.  To begin again with God.

Only when the fierce love of God, fully revealed in the Crucified One, pierces our hearts, do we truly return to the God who longs for us.      {adapted from Trevor Hudson}

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
   you Easter parade of newness.
   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
   Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

---Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)

Rejoice in the Trials | Reflections by Fellow Christina Fondren '17

Each season of life brings new joys, new trials, new hardships, new experiences – new ways in which the Lord reveals Himself to us. I’m currently going through a season of much confusion and trial, and I feel the genuineness of my faith being tested. This trial is particularly hard because it involves me having to trust the Lord with how He is leading the heart of someone I love very much, and at the moment that’s away from me. I’m having to faithfully relinquish control of the situation and fully trust the Lord is with this person. In the midst of such storms and deep pain, it’s hard to trust that God is truly sovereign over our lives. We feel lost, alone, alienated. We feel stripped of our security and comfort. We feel naked. We feel distant from the power of the Holy Spirit. In these storms and trials, we feel abandoned and hurt by our Creator. We begin to question. We grasp for control – something to hold on to.

We often forget to take time to reflect on the almighty power of our Lord and Savior. We need to remind ourselves that God created us perfectly in His image. Our truest and purest desires always reflect the Lord’s desires for us because He placed these desires on our heart when we were created. These are inextricably connected and cannot be separated. Amidst the storm, when we aren’t sure if the Lord is listening to our pleas and prayers, we can trust that He longs for our heart’s deepest desires to be fulfilled because He himself placed them there. Deeper than any of our worldly desires is our yearning to be in perfect communion with our Father – to continually be purified and strengthened to more closely imitate the life and heart of Jesus Christ. So when we doubt that the Lord is listening to us or at work in our lives, we should find rest because our God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that He is leading us to Himself. Whatever trial we are enduring, we must have faith it is part of His greater plan even when we cannot yet see its purpose.

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know … your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to me” (Psalm 139:13-15).

How amazing! The Lord knows us better than we can ever know ourselves. He saw us before we were even created and He beautifully fashioned us together. He knows our heart’s truest desires because HE created them! He knit us together perfectly in our mother’s womb – not one mistake was made in our creation. Every fear, doubt, and anxiety concerning our present and future state can be cast away because we belong to a God who directs every step of our life. Because of this, we can find rest and joy. His plans for us are far greater than we can ever imagine. Not only are these plans greater than anything we could devise for ourselves, but also are divinely ordained by our God, who is leading us to eternal life with Him.

Amidst the hardest of trials, we must trust that this trial has been divinely planned since before our creation. There is not a day or moment in our lives that goes unplanned: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23). The Lord not only is sovereign over every big event that will happen in our lives, but He also delights in every detail of our lives; He knows every windy road and beaten path we will take and every trial and obstacle we will face along the way. As Christians, we can trust that our Father in Heaven has divinely ordained our path, however messy and painful it appears. 

We are incomplete, flawed sinners in this world, but one day we will be made perfect saints. God won’t rest until His work in us is complete. “[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Our life is a continual journey and a progression towards entering the Kingdom of Heaven to spend eternity with our Savior. The trials and tribulations of this world are temporary, and in that we can rejoice.

These times of suffering are also opportunities for us to share in the suffering of our Lord, Jesus Christ. On this earth, Jesus endured the utmost suffering – dying on the cross – for each and every one of our sins, so that one day we can have eternal life. Amidst these trials and suffering, our lives begin to take the shape of the life of Jesus. “But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Peter 4:13). What an honor that the Lord has divinely chosen us to endure these trials, so that we may grow closer to entering sainthood and becoming more Jesus-like.

When we encounter such trials, the genuineness of our faith is truly tested. “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-8). The Lord declares that these trials are put in our lives by the Lord to strengthen and purify our faith, preparing us for eternity with Him. However, during these dark and painful trials, we are not alone. We can rejoice because not only are we being prepared for eternity with God, but because in this very moment we have the Lord of the Universe on our side. Even if we have nothing, we have everything because we have the Lord.

“There is an appointed time for everything… a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).

So when trials and hardships come, we can weep, but we also have hope, because we have a Lord who loves us and knows us deeper than we can ever imagine. In this we can rejoice and experience a joy inexpressible that can only come from the Holy Spirit living within us. We can have hope because every trial and hardship we face is the Lord – our all-knowing and loving Father – refining us to become more Christ-like. We can rejoice because we know that this world is fleeting and the trials here are only temporary. Our citizenship is in heaven and one day we will return home. Through these trials and the testing of our faith, we are being prepared for our eternal home – heaven – where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Revelation 21:4). We can rejoice in the fact that one day, we will dwell with God in eternity. 


Learn more about our Fellows Programs, year-long vocational discernment opportunities for undergraduates at UVa.

The new Perkins House | Reflections by Isabella Hall '19

Last September, I met UVa alumnus Garrett Trent through a mutual friend and over the course of our very first conversation arose the question, “Who is my neighbor?” We talked at some length about what it means to be a neighbor, to love ones neighbor, what this looks like in each of our lives. As students, our lives orbit around the University and for many, this means never leaving the familiarity of Grounds and missing out on the opportunity to be a part the city of Charlottesville. Many students feel disconnected from the larger community which surrounds the University and in this disconnect, there is an opportunity for reconciliation. Garrett shared about his experience of moving to the 10th and Page area and living with intentionality in a neighborhood that is multi-ethnic, economically varied, and complex in many ways. Garrett offered up the idea of creating an opportunity for undergraduates at UVa to live with the same sort of intentionality and learn what it means to be a good neighbor.

Garrett also shared that he was a member of All Souls and mentioned that the All Souls community was deeply concerned with justice, mercy, and racial reconciliation. A couple of days later, I attended All Souls for the first time. I remember feeling deeply moved as the congregation kneeled and prayed in solidarity with the men and women of Charlotte, NC in the midst of violence and protest. I saw a church passionately seeking shalom.

 Over the next few weeks, with the counsel of Christy Yates, Brendan Jamieson of All Souls, and several other individuals, the vision of this project continued to be developed with prayer and careful consideration. The name of the Perkins House was selected in honor of John M. Perkins, a civil-rights activist, minister, and theologian. John Perkins excelled at developing communities and founded the Christian Community Development Association, as well as the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation. Inspired by the work of John Perkins, the newly named Perkins House has increasingly become devoted to the tenets of faithful presence within the neighborhood through building relationships with residents and practicing Sabbath. When the vision was shared with students, there was an encouraging amount of interest, not only as prospective residents, but as partners in prayer and supporters of the vision of the Perkins House. Since that time, the Perkins House has become a reality and next fall will mark the inaugural cohort of Perkins House ladies.

Throughout the past few months, as all of this has unfolded, I have become increasingly humbled by all that the Lord has provided in this process and the realization that the Venable neighborhood has so much to teach all of us who are becoming a part of this community. On behalf of all the Perkins Ladies, we are unbelievably excited and deeply grateful.


For more information about the Perkins House, please email Garrett Trent or Christy Yates.

Race and Christianity: Where do we go from here? | Reflections by Fellow, Cameron Fleming '17

It wasn’t until I started school at UVA that I realized what friendship and Christian community should look like. I started going to a fellowship in which I was one of two Black first years that joined, and although two people of color seems like a sad statistic, it was thrilling to me. I was used to being the only Black girl in the room, now I wasn’t alone.

The community I found first year with Christians and non-Christians was such a sweet gift. In addition to having a friend who looked like me and wanted to follow Jesus, I also made friends who helped me realize the diversity in Blackness. We were all so different, but also there was a deep understanding in my friendships with them that I hadn’t experienced with anyone else. It was a breath a fresh air to have close friends who didn’t ask me a million questions about my hair while simultaneously avoiding drawing attention to my Blackness as if it was a bomb in the room that would go off. I didn’t have the same kind of warm and fuzzies from my Christian fellowship, but it gave me warm and fuzzies all the same: my Christian friends loved me well, asked good questions, and pointed me Jesus. The time I spent with them was pure joy.

But then the summer of 2014 happened. When I came back to school it was if nothing had changed, but over the summer my sense of security about who I was, my role in the world, and the value of my Blackness had evaporated. Of course I had always known the world was less safe for me than it was for my White peers. But the relative safety of my neighborhood, homogeneity of my education, and support and devotion of my parents had shielded me from that reality. The Civil Rights Movement was something they had grown up with; my future was secure. But the death of Michael Brown and the national hysteria that ensued shattered any illusion I had of my safety. I had conversations with other Christians who assumed the guilt of Black men that died at the hands of police, rather than consider the possibility that their skin tone had played a role in their unjust deaths. I was shocked. I was in mission with people who I knew loved me, loved the Lord, and desired to bring His Kingdom to Earth, but they didn’t seem to see the same value in Michael Brown’s life that I saw. They wondered why “Black lives matter” needed to be said at all.

I was so angry, hurt, and confused that it was paralyzing. All I could do was sit in that anger. I knew that something constructive could and needed to be done, but I had no idea what. I knew the Lord could use my passion, but I didn’t know how. I could talk until I was blue in the face, but I couldn’t force people involved my ministry to consider or care about racial issues.  I was spending all my time with people who saw themselves as God’s hands and feet in Charlottesville, going into broken places to bring hope and healing. We were in mission together, but it was clear that racial reconciliation was not something they were interested in. (I realize now that maybe they did not intend to be apathetic, they were just uncomfortable. Even so, I had little sympathy. As a Black girl who lived in a culture that valued Whiteness above all else, I had lived my whole life uncomfortable.) Their apathy was confounding to me, and it seemed like the hits just kept coming. After Ferguson there was Baltimore. After Baltimore there was Flint. After Flint there was Martese Johnson, one of our peers at UVA. This one hit particularly close to home, literally. I realized the disillusionment of my safety had been hypothetical, far away from the bubble of my college town. But this was no longer the case.

When we discussed it, my friends again jumped to the conclusion of his guilt, rather than acknowledging the perception that all Black men are a threat. Therefore, even a license holding, of age, Black young man cannot enter a bar or have a conversation with authorities with the same confidence or safety his White peers can. Again, their hypocrisy was bewildering to me.  Did Jesus not command us to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)? To seek justice (Isaiah 1:17)? To bear each other’s burdens? (Galatians 6:2)? Couldn’t they see that any of the Black kids they ministered to could easily be the next hashtag? For me, our mission to share Christ with others was not separate from racial reconciliation; it was inextricably bound to it.

By not caring about these issues, what was communicated was that my White Christian friends didn’t care about me. I didn’t hear God telling me a solution, so I stifled my anger, my hurt feelings, and my confusion at the apathy that surround me. I spent all of my second and third years of college grappling with my anger at Christian apathy in the face of racial issues. Which, now that I reflect on it, was exactly the wrong response. I let myself be silenced. I let Christians not care about the death of their Black brothers and sisters. In retrospect, I am in awe of God’s grace towards me. How silly of me to think that I am the Holy Spirit, with the ability to convict people of the peril their Black brothers and sisters live in. My friend once told me that my heart for these issues was important and didn’t go unrecognized by her, but also, if I was able to solve all the world’s problems I wouldn’t need Jesus. Sharing my experiences and perspective could help people understand, but I cannot force them to care. I cannot break their hearts for the things that break mine, nor can I change them in the ways I deem necessary. Only God can do that.

Since then I’ve learned that Jesus loves and desires justice more than I ever will, and I regret that I lived the majority of college amiss at what I should do. In the Horizons Fellows Program, I met men and women who not only affirmed my passion and rejected the passivity of their White peers, but also believed that the Lord had given me an ability to do something about it. Karen and Christy gave us a space to contemplate God’s heart for the world and what we should do in response. Along the way I have learned that God is not intimidated by my anger and doubt. He feels the same anger towards sin and injustice, that’s why Jesus went to the cross. He doesn’t love me any less for asking big questions or grappling with the concepts of justice and race in the Church. Instead, my questions have helped me better understand His heart for me, for justice, for the world.

At our last meeting of 2016, we discussed how as followers of Christ we all have a shared mission. Garrett Trent and Nathan Walton, the pastor of Vineyard Church, joined us to talk about how they have seen God’s heart for racial reconciliation in their own lives and friendship. Nathan told us that community comes from mission, not the other way around. In other words, something has to be important to everyone before they can be bonded to each other. I’d experienced this first hand: I had tried to make people care about the very particular mission of racial reconciliation that concerned me, and I was alone. The American Church has very real and deep wounds surrounding race and justice, but in order to begin to heal them, we must first recognize them. Ta-Nehisi Coates says it this way: we must be “conscious citizens of this terrible and beautiful world.” That consciousness begins with a reflection of the ways in which we have privilege, and the ways in which we are impoverished.

I am privileged in that I come from a family in which attending college is the expectation, not the exception. I am privileged in that my parents make sacrifices to give my brothers and I everything we need and most things we want. I am privileged because by God’s grace, I know that ultimately my hope is in heaven and not in anything of this world.

I am impoverished because my life experiences hinder my empathy towards Black girls raised in different circumstances than mine. I am impoverished because I am Black woman operating in educational and economic systems that weren’t created for women or people of color to succeed. I am impoverished because my blessed assurance does little to assure my safety and security in my daily life.

Christ is our greatest example of how to enter into suffering but also how overcome it. He sacrificed the perfect intimacy he had with the Trinity because he trusted that it would glorify the Father. He entered into our human suffering and went to the cross we deserved. Emulating Christ’s example, we must also have the courage to surrender our privilege to glorify our Father and the faith to wield it to benefit others.

In the wake of a divisive election season and administration that threatens the human rights of the most impoverished among us, it is more important now than ever (was it ever unimportant?!) for Christians to be witnesses of Truth, goodness, and hope to the world. The question is how, and the answer is this: talk to each other. Why? Because Christ got uncomfortable. Christ was willing to be misunderstood. Christ engaged with people who were different from him with love, mercy, and forgiveness. He calls me to do the same, and it is not audacious to expect my brothers and sisters in Christ to join me.

I am beginning to see their willingness. I am seeing hearts soften, including mine. The Lord is redeeming my community in ways I never thought possible. My temptation is to point out that there is much work to be done, but as fate would have it, redemption occurs on His timeline, not mine. But I do know that “colorblindness” is not the solution. After all, God wasn’t colorblind when he knit me together as a Black girl. The solution, if I can even call it that, is to witness. To contemplate our privilege and our poverty. To ask questions. To listen. To humbly share our perspective, our hopes, our fears and ask others to do the same, because you can’t love your neighbor if you don’t know them. 


Cameron is a Horizons Fellow, a year-long vocational discipleship program we run for a select group of 4th years. 

 

Do you struggle to trust God? | Susan Yates

I do.

I suspect that at this very moment each of us has at least one big concern on our heart that we are praying about or trying to fix, while at the same time trying to trust God with our issue. It might be a concern over a child, a health crisis, a difficult marital situation, financial stress, job dissatisfaction or a decision that has to be made for elderly parents.

As I contemplate my “issue” I’ve realized how easy it is to let it become bigger in my head than my God. I get frustrated. I worry, and I lose perspective.

Some time ago I began to worry about one of my children. The more I thought about this child the more anxious I became. Scary “what if…” phrases began to plague me. I tried to read my Bible and to pray but it did not help. Finally in desperation I cried out to the God, “Help Me Lord.”

Two simple words came into my head- words that were from God, words that would change everything.

“Remember Me.”

I realized that I had let my concern for this child grow and grow. It had become so big in my head that the problem itself became my focus. And I had forgotten who God was. I had forgotten how very much He loved my child. I had forgotten that He knew my child much better than I did. I had forgotten that He was working in ways that I could not see. He was in this issue. He was totally involved and His love was perfect. He was so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. It wasn’t that these concepts were new to me. It was more that I wasn’t living day in and day out in the assurance and knowledge of how BIG he is.

This insight has led me on a quest to discover in fresh ways how very Big our God is. It’s a life long journey that will not end this side of heaven but it’s exciting.

Along the way I’ve learned a few things: 

Your ability to ruin your child is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem him.

It’s not all up to us! At this very moment Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father praying for your child (and you!) What a relief. (Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34) 

God gives us the exact kids we need, not merely so that we can raise them, but that they might be His tools in our lives to grow us up into the women He has created us to be.  It’s helpful to ask, “what are you teaching me through this child O Lord?”  

Natural growth involves becoming independent. However, spiritual growth involves becoming more dependent. God loves it when I fall on my face and cry out to Him in great need. He will always answer – in His time and in His ways. He does what is best not necessarily what is fast, and He’s working while we are waiting.

God is so much bigger than I realize and He longs to reveal Himself to you and to me. Will you join me on a journey to discover more of Him? As we begin to see more and more of Him we will find that our issues begin to diminish. They don’t completely go away. We are fallen people in a fallen world. However, we can begin to see our concerns from a healthy perspective.

In my new book, Risky Faith, Becoming Brave Enough to Trust the God who is Bigger than your World, I sharemore insights from my journey.


Susan Yates has written 13 books and speaks both nationally and internationally on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and women’s issues. Her books include And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children; And Then I Had Teenagers: Encouragement for Parents of Teens and Preteens; Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest (with friend Barbara Rainey) and Raising Kids with Character That Lasts (With her husband John).

This blog was previously posted on Ever Thine Home and Susan Alexander Yates. Listen to her talk with us at our Women's Tea here

Spiritual Direction Series with Dorothy Tullmann, PhD, RN

By the practice of the presence of God . . . the soul comes to a knowledge of God, full and deep.
— Brother Lawrence

A Q&A with Associate Spiritual Director, Dorothy Tullmann on her new Spiritual Direction Series through Theological Horizons.

What is Spiritual Direction?

Spiritual direction is an ancient practice whereby a trained person assists another person in developing a more interactive relationship with God and learn to discern the invitations of God to a fuller awareness of and experiential knowledge of God.

The terms “spiritual direction” and “Spiritual Director” imply that one individual “directs” the other in making decisions about life. But spiritual direction is not therapy or mentoring. Rather, the process of spiritual direction is for the Spiritual Director to listen carefully to the directee’s stories and help the seeking person discern what God—the true Director—is communicating through the directee’s life and experiences. The ultimate goal would be for those seeking spiritual direction to become increasingly aware of God’s presence and movement in their lives.

What happens during a spiritual direction session?

We will begin with a period of silence to provide space for both of us to set aside the typical busyness of everyday life and intentionally prepare ourselves to be open to God’s Spirit to guide us during the hour. You will begin talking whenever you are ready and I will listen very carefully, asking questions along the way to better understand you and your story. Depending on the situation we may also discuss activities for you to consider to assist you in your spiritual journey.

What preparation have you received to be a Spiritual Director?

I have been receiving spiritual direction since 2004. In the fall of 2015 I began the Associate Spiritual Directors Training Program at the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality (WVIS)  and am working on my final assignments to receive certification from WVIS as a Spiritual Director. While my spiritual path is and has been as a follower of Christ, my invitation to assist in spiritual growth is open to anyone.

What else is involved?

Finding the right “fit” in spiritual direction is important. For that reason we will commit to meeting monthly for three months then re-evaluate to determine whether or not we will continue the relationship. A suggested donation for a spiritual direction session is $40 - $75 with checks made out to WVIS. The Associate Spiritual Director Training Program requires supervision so—with your written permission—I will be recording our first few sessions and transcribing part of each session to be reviewed by my supervisor. Your identity will not be disclosed.

What is the series you're offering through Theological Horizons?

During the sessions, we will draw from the book, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and participate in group spiritual direction. This practice brings together individuals who share a desire and longing to know God more intimately. The Spiritual Direction Group will meet for five Thursday evenings:

More info coming soon on the days and times. Location will be the TH office upstairs @ Common Grounds, 480 Rugby Rd., Charlottesville

The cost is $20 for the sessions and the book. Space will be limited, so register early!

More about Dorothy...

Dorothy Tullmann, PhD, RN, CNL is an Associate Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, an elder at All Souls Charlottesville, an Associate Spiritual Director with the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Center for Christian Study. She is a native Californian, the seventh of nine children, raised on a dairy farm. Her undergraduate degree in nursing is from California State University, Chico and her master’s and PhD degrees from UCLA.  Dorothy has practiced as a nurse (critical care, hospice, sexual assault nurse examiner) for many years as well as being an academic. She and her husband, Bob, live in the woods of White Hall where she enjoys, reading, knitting, walking, spiritual direction, keeping the house warm with the wood stove, and eating Bob’s amazing homemade waffles on Saturday mornings. Dorothy and Bob have three adult children and two grandchildren in California: Deb (and Jack) Sylvan, a film maker and mom with Zoe Rose in San Francisco, Hans—an elementary school technology coach—(and Alina) with Jonas Luke in Bakersfield, and Heidi in Oakland, an artistic sign painter, activist, and proud auntie.

Please don’t hesitate to email Dorothy with more questions or to register for the series at dftullmann@gmail.com.


God-Glory Concentrate | Cary Umhau

Reposted with permission from Spacious.org

Scripture says that people are the greatest manifestation of God’s glory, even more than nature, which Psalm 19 tells us reveals who God is. I love a quote by author Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He says that cities have the greatest concentration of the image of God per square mile by virtue of having so many people in them.

I often think of that when I’m on the subway, crammed in with many people, often too many for the space. I pray to see those people the way God sees them and not as interruptions to my agenda (a quiet ride with plenty of space around me). I pray to notice the variety and beauty of the people whose thighs are touching mine, whose armpits waver above my head.

If I don’t ask to see people through God’s eyes, I’m my usual ornery self, thinking of life as a play in which I’m the star, and the extras aren’t playing their parts right.

But when I do ask God to show me how he sees his people, riding on the subway, sitting in a movie, hanging out on lonely street corners, He is more than willing to share the love that he has for every one of them.

And then it’s more than I can stand to take in the sight, to imagine all those stories just waiting to be told and heard, to contemplate all the talent and imagination and potential, and to bathe in that much glory.


Cary Umhau is an author and speaker. She is sharing with us on Friday, February 3rd from 1-2pm at Common Grounds. All welcome and free lunch included!

Reflections on the World Missions Summit by David Varghese '18


Overall, I thought the World Missions Summit was a fine catalyst for people critically considering missions. I decided to attend with a hope to cultivate a heart for the nations, and spent hours listening to stories from the Live Dead missionaries. Live Dead is a church planting movement that interacts with 4,095 unreached people groups in five regions of the world—Africa, Arab world, India, Iran, Silk Road. 

There were a handful of gatherings, in which speakers shared some of their insight into their heart of missions. Pete Bullette, director of Chi Alpha at UVA, shared that our standard of giving should determine our standard of living. This motivates stewarding our finances well with the heart of Christ in mind.  

I really appreciated the way Sevo, Chi Alpha international director, humanized the experiences of many international students. "Over 1 million international students have been sent to study in the U.S., over 1 million international students sent here to know Jesus."

Perhaps at times, it is easy to get carried away with an over-sensationalized ‘go somewhere’ mentality, emphasizing international outreach over domestic development. Sevo reminded us that there are hundreds of international students representing a diversity of communities who attend our college campuses and who desperately seek fellowship, and yet there are instances where these students are overlooked. After-all, the mission field is where our feet are. I am encouraged by the potential of a ripple-effect that including these students can have, especially as they return to their families and communities abroad with a newfound heart of Christ. 

What WE'LL be, Will Be | Reflections on the Election by Cary Umhau

This is reposted with permission from Spacious.org

The day after the U.S. presidential election, I shared this by email with our subscribers. I wanted to share it with more of you because so many share our desire to DO something positive for this beautiful land and its people:

Well, it happened. And it’s over.

And because the point of SPACIOUS is to connect beyond the usual boundaries, to step out of the usual silos, we SPACIOUS people see this election, this “morning after,” from various vantage points. Some of us are thrilled with the outcome, and many are devastated. And even afraid.

Like many of you, I didn’t feel like there was a candidate for whom I had enthusiasm. Yet I still felt my hand shake with the wonder of the democratic process as I filled in the bubble on the ballot among neighbors.

As a Christian who puts my ultimate hope far beyond the vagaries of any man-made system or structure, I am not in despair. I can say, “God is still in control.” And I believe He is.

What will be, will be, right? That can be a form religious resignation, a passive dependence on an abstraction of God.

But actually, because God invites us to co-create, to act in His power, to pass on the grace He gives us, to a degree it’s more accurate that what we’ll be, will be.

And that raises questions like these:

What can I learn about the hurts and grievances of a huge portion of our country that I may not have known before?
Why didn’t I know?
What am I uniquely gifted to do that would be part of the redemption of the mess that is America?
What resources and social capital do I have that I could throw at the dilemma of one other person?
Where should my energy go these next four years?

If those seem too lofty, let’s start here:

Whose face have I seen, and can I learn their name?
Whose name do I know, and will I ask their story?
Who’s never been at my dinner table, and when will I invite them?

We are the ones to listen, love neighbors, effect change, dive in.

Yes, what we’ll be, will be. Ideally together.

Cary Umhau will be sharing with us on Friday, Feb. 3rd from 1-2pm at Common Grounds, 480 Rugby Rd.

Call for Applications: Summer Internship in Lived Theology

The Project on Lived Theology is now accepting applications for the 2016 Summer Internship in Lived Theology, an immersion program designed to complement the numerous existing urban and rural service immersion programs flourishing nationally and globally by offering a unique opportunity to think and write theologically about service.

The internship is open to UVA undergraduate students in any field of study.

Find more information at: http://www.livedtheology.org/summer-internship/

 Follow the conversation and our interns' summer work on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/livedtheology) and Twitter: @livedtheology #PLTinterns