Finding Love Among the Ruins | Reflections by Courtney Zerrenner '17

My final two years of undergrad at UVa were marked by many firsts: my first death in the family, my first major declaration, my first experience living in another country, my first heartbreak, and my first crisis of faith. Prompted by a challenging summer spent studying in Morocco, I questioned my upbringing, my purpose, and my worth. Raised in a religious household and steeped in the teachings of the Christian faith, I was all too familiar with the parables and the vocabulary of faith. I was fluent in this language, yet I felt like a fraud. For over a year, I wrestled with the accursed questions that I had never allowed myself to entertain. Who did I want to be and what did I want to value? What did the world tell me about myself and what of that did I believe? Why did abject despair exist in a world in God allegedly loved each being? Were women equal partners in the dissemination and interpretation of the Christian faith? How could marginalized and distressed populations believe in a gospel that for centuries was used as a tool of marginalization and terror? And how could I reconcile the coexistent beauty and the pain of the world that seemed so inextricably intertwined?

My final year at UVA spent as a Horizons Fellow with Theological Horizons invited me into the complexities of these questions. In this space, I was made to feel welcome despite my temporary unbelief, encouraged to ask hard questions that I had long denied, and compelled to honesty and vulnerability. Between the Fellows retreat, the monthly meetings with Christy Yates and other fellows over assigned readings on calling and social justice, and bi-weekly dates with my mentor, I was both pushed and comforted by the faith of others around me and the vitality of their belief. I came to recognize that a faith worth believing in was a faith that could withstand my questions. Whereas before Theological Horizons, I had felt unwelcome in faith based settings, I now relished in the peace that came with these meetings. As I spent more time engaging with my questions, one of the courses that I took in my fall semester allowed me to meet weekly with residents of a maximum security facility outside of Richmond to discuss Russian literature. Through this course, I began to simultaneously question my presuppositions on justice, crime, and racism in my own nation. I found in Theological Horizons a home for both of these genres of questioning.

I learned that my understanding of Christ’s redemptive love should and does influence my understanding of redemptive justice and that my belief surrounding the value that God assigns to each being is directly related to how I address institutional racism. Connecting my newly interrogated faith to my broad politics and to my own vocation was a point of clarity for me. Without Theological Horizons and the Fellows program, I would not have been able so easily to reconcile myself to the estranged faith of my childhood, which now is bolstered by the knowledge that it - the Christian faith - is intimately concerned with how I order my life and the lives of other around me.While I still have questions - and I suspect that faith means I always will - I am immensely thankful for the opportunity that the Fellows program afforded me to practice the process of working out my faith and engaging with my world.

After graduating UVa in May 2017, Courtney has gone on to teach in a French public high school system, focusing on working with immigrant students.