From the Chaplain’s Desk, February 2021
The power of story is important to the work we do in Religious Life at Vanderbilt. Each one of us has a story that we tell ourselves and others about who we are and how the world works, which helps us to understand the world and where we fit into it. We also inherit, claim, or adopt the stories of others—the communities of which we are part, the communities that we join—and integrate those shared stories would our own, and our individual stories into the larger whole. For us in Religious Life, this practice encompasses a vast array of religious, spiritual, and secular perspectives, wisdom traditions, and worldviews. Finally, one of the most important ways we understand our own stories and acknowledge and celebrate others’ stories is by listening, learning, and seeking to understand the stories and experiences of people and communities around us.
Sharing stories is a non-sectarian and yet personal way to make connections across lines of difference, which is one of the reasons we find storytelling so helpful in the work Religious Life does in a diverse community like Vanderbilt. This month our Narrative4 student group hosts a story exchange with students from Brandeis University, even as our staff use the Narrative4 tools to promote empathy and inclusion in partnership with campus offices and departments. The Project Dialogue “This I Believe” program partners with Millions of Conversations for the first of a significant new series on the potential and limits of the truth and reconciliation process practiced in post-apartheid South Africa. And the Vanderbilt Interfaith Council continues to share the varied experiences of individuals and communities through its bi-monthly Dialogue Dinners.
This month, too, we remember and celebrate the stories of the African-American and Black community—stories that some of us have ignored, hidden, or denied for too long. In addition to supporting the programming of our sister center, the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, Religious Life is offering some complementary programs. We invite you to join Nashville Public Television and us in an online panel discussion of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s new documentary “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.” Later that same week, we join the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality and other campus partners, to host a series of events highlighting the black transgender experience by marking the publication of The Black Trans Prayer Book. Finally, our #DoTheWork discussion group concludes conversations on Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be an Antiracist and looks forward to continuing to explore the ways we confront racial injustice in our society.
So, what is your story? I look forward to hearing it.
Grace and peace,