Our Roles in God’s Story, Claire Fromke ‘FF01

Claire Fromke ‘FF01
Wheaton College

I love story work, and reflecting on my life and how God has been working through it has been one of the many joys I’ve shared in as a member of Franklin Fellows. One of the themes that keeps popping up in my life is the flexibility of roles. In every season, setting, and community, we are called to different roles at different times. I’ve played the hero, sidekick, mentor, ally, and many more. God has taught me something different about myself in each role. In keeping with that theme, I wanted to create something that properly represented my fellowship story. Just as I have played many roles, so have my classmates played a diverse cast in my life. I’ve created a graphic that lists each fellow’s role in my story so far. I’ve included brief descriptions of each role below, and I am incredibly thankful to each of them for the parts they’ve played in my life. 

The guardian: one who loves and protects
The storyteller: one who captivates and expounds
The apprentice: one who supports and plays
The conscience: one who guides and cares
The ally: one who befriends and advocates
The competitor: one who revels and spars
The artist: one who creates and empowers
The bard: one who amuses and amazes
The scholar: one who knows and shares
The sage: one with insight and empathy
The captain: one who trailblazes and motivates
The wayfarer: one who explores and delights

Staying Awake in Threads of Grace, Grace Westfall, ‘FF01

Grace Westfall, ‘FF01
Graduate of Vanderbilt University

The one with the cream cardigan taught me to delight in and embrace my own mess.

I am now a little quicker to smile. The one with boots made for the rain taught me how to honestly show up for myself. I hope I am a little more open. The one with the mullet taught me to stay awake to the world around me. I want to cross every threshold with presence and find rest there. The one who had an affinity for figs taught me to rise joyfully and with thanksgiving. I pick up my dragging feet, get on my toes and act my way into a new feeling. The one whose imagination soars far above what the eye can see taught me to dance and dream and approach everything with curiosity. I hope I look a little longer at the world around me. 

In four months we’ve navigated new beginnings over and over again, and I have picked up lessons along the way from my newest friends. Welcome to Franklin, Tennessee where life has been flipped on its head and strangers have become roommates and visitors became hosts. So how do we stay grounded in the hustle of it all? We pick up pieces of those with whom we interact, collecting threads of wisdom and mercy whenever and wherever we can because we will never stop moving, but we might get caught in the web of grace set before us to at least slow us down. As we invest our lives in learning the life of Christ on Thursdays in class, we have also learned to invest in the lives of others, the anchors of that very web I hope to fall into. To do this, we have to stay awake.

As souls in human skin, we wake up with the sun and fall asleep when it, too, passes below the horizon. What we know about God, though, is that the day began in the evening. Genesis 1:8 says clearly “and there was evening and there was morning, the first day,” and it goes on to repeat this pattern five more times. More importantly, our life really begins in the darkest hour the world has ever witnessed as the cross pierced the ground, crushing the serpents head, securing our victory. Our biggest victory is recognized in the break of day, before the sun rises as faithful women with oils in hand visit the hole in the earth to find it empty, without a body to anoint. Here, an echo of Eden presents itself with the rise of the sun as Jesus stands in the Garden with a woman, proclaiming a new, restored creation has come and is still coming. This is not only a biblical pattern founded in the beginning of time as we know it but a pattern that persists in the Hebrew tradition.

As souls in human skin, we sleep. Eugene Peterson puts it this way, 

“We go to sleep, and God begins his work. As we sleep He develops his covenant. We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action. We respond in faith, in word. But always grace is previous. Grace is primary. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn. Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day. Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the world he initiated. Creation and covenant are sheer grace and there to greet us every morning.”

As Creator God, before there was light, there was darkness, and He began the making in the absence of the day. It was in the cover of night that Daniel rested safely in the den with lions, leaving unscathed at the break of day because of God, our Deliverer (Daniel 6:19). Staying awake is two-fold. It is both the not falling asleep to the work of the narrative arc of redemption, as in the garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James and John, and it is the wakeful revelatory dreams of Joseph, Daniel, Solomon, Jacob, Laban, Samuel, Joseph, and John.

As souls in human skin, rest is vital to be awake to the new mercies God has spoken over us. We can get swept away by the unrestrained and untamable swell of knowledge hidden in the Word, or we can be caught in threads of grace spun out by our Creator whose web is wider than we imagine. So I’m learning over and over from my friends, also souls walking – but often running – in human skin to stay awake and absorb their little daily wisdoms. 

Who are these people who have taught me such profound measures of grace? Preschoolers. Staying awake means seeing pom poms glued onto graham cracker houses as both a piece of abstract art and a means by which we carefully and thoughtfully create experiences for a child who is learning to pinch thumb and pointer finger together for what I might classify as a normal, daily maneuver. Staying awake means disciplining a child who cannot verbally disobey because that respects their dignity. It means accepting “I’m sorrys” and hearing every quiet moment of confidence – and championing them. Staying awake means being caught in webs of grace because preschoolers may be better kingdom builders than some Bible scholars. Staying awake doesn’t mean become exhausted and numb. Staying awake means beating through the waves of COVID-19 (yes, I tried to get through this without mentioning it, but here we are), holding our breath through the unzippering of our nation through an election, and pretending momentarily that things will go back to normal. 

But life didn’t go back to normal after the first advent, and we wouldn’t want it to. When we stay awake, we might just realize our life is a movement from advent to advent, and normal was never something to be attained anyway. With the first advent, the people who were walking in darkness saw a great light, as promised in Isaiah 9:2. The beginning of a new day, the sunlight that pierces the night, brought our first advent. The first advent mirrors our deepest longing in the place no one sees – no one but God – a longing for the break of a new day. 

Malcolm Guite reminds us in Waiting on the Word,

 “Advent falls in winter, at the end of the year, in the dark and cold, but its focus is on the coming of light and life, when the Ancient of Days becomes a young child and says, ‘Behold I make all things new.’”

A young child says, ‘Behold,’ and we listen, staying awake. So, I’m listening to those preschool children around me, the voices saying, ‘behold,’ the voices extending me grace, the voices carrying the Kingdom of Heaven.

Seeking God’s Presence in the Time of Covid, Grace Tinsley ‘FF1

Grace Tinsley ‘FF1
Graduate of Wheaton College

This fall – where to begin?! So much has transpired, sometimes living in Franklin feels like a dream. It has been a sweet provision to have the opportunity to live, learn, and be present with one another and our broader community here in Franklin during this season. Our time together as a cohort has been such a gift to me! 

Our sense of cultural busyness has remained consistent. We’re bees, buzzing from flower to flower, collecting life-giving nectar. It’s both our work and our lifeline. Working, serving with student ministry, taking classes, and investing in our cohort are incredibly life-giving, and keep our schedules busy. While our routines are consistent (with the occasional spontaneous adventure), the world’s overall sense of normalcy remains in a state of constant flux as the virus continues to spread. 

Yet, in the midst of it all, I am learning. 

I am learning the liturgy of practicing slowing down in the moment. It’s the only way to interpret the unpredictability of our days as a signal to seek out God’s presence, and in that, choose joy. 

While we have had a sweet time together as a cohort, I often am reminded of those for whom this season has been more difficult. I am grieved. Grieved for the sick, the lonely, the unemployed, the fearful, and the vulnerable during this time. How can I rejoice genuinely in light of those realities? 

Before I get to that, let me start with a verse. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you also may rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed… Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:12-16, ESV). 

Peter’s first letter was written to five churches in Asia Minor who were undergoing persecution. He encourages them to see trials as sharing in Christ’s sufferings, and to rejoice in that fellowship. In Acts, it says the apostles rejoiced because they counted themselves “worthy to suffer for the Name” (Acts 5:41). This is one of the most striking paradoxes of the Christian life.

Theologian Willie Jennings writes, “Joy is a defiant act of resistance against the forces of despair.” 

I remember after a particularly busy day back at home this year over Thanksgiving, my dad and I were sitting in the car. He gave me a good fatherly word as we processed the day, “I’ve learned over time on days like this, where it’s confusing and chaotic, God is very present.” 

It reminded me of a devotional entry I often return to in Streams in the Desert (Cowan). The gist of the message is: instead of seeing rain clouds as lack of the sun, they rather are evidence of its presence. The rain clouds remind us to hope for the sun; they remind us of how much we desire and need sunlight. Similarly, difficult seasons are not the lack of God’s presence, but rather provide evidence of our desire and need for Him in our hearts. This analogy has transformed the way I think about my days, myself, and God. 

This pandemic is our current reality. 

This also is our current reality: 

God is fully sovereign. 

God is fully present with us. 

He is walking, weeping, and rejoicing with us. 

So back to slowing down… I am learning that in shifting my mindset to see Jesus in the midst of our days, I often find Him right in the middle of it. He is in control. Fixing our eyes on Him takes the focus off of ourselves, and frees us to experience His peace and Presence. We can and should rejoice in the uncertainty. And we can do so without diminishing the difficulty of our days. We can rejoice in hope that Jesus is sovereign, understands us, and is with us in and through it. This is not a weak joy that lives in denial – it’s powerful and freeing. 

Not only can we find peace in fellowship with Christ individually, but we are especially encouraged to seek Christ within community. A few verses earlier in 1 Peter, the apostle writes: 

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to

serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:8-11, ESV). 

We are to rejoice in all circumstances, and also are to continue loving others well with gratitude and joy. This has held true for me this fall. While the twelve of us come from different backgrounds, our group is intentional, supportive, fun and down-to-earth. We all seek to love each other well. I am learning what it means to love my neighbors deeply, genuinely, and joyfully when I feel out of control of my circumstances. Now I see this season as a gracious opportunity to do just that. 

What the world may see as a roadblock, whether it is a small inconvenience or a pandemic, we know that redemption is the final word. The work has been finished, we have only to wait. And God has provided and continues to provide Himself for us during this time – He is enough to weather the unpredictability of life. And weather it with power and joy in community.

Seeds and Rain, Graham Pergande ‘FF1

Graham Pergande ‘FF1
Washington & Lee University

Most of my prayers this year begin with a plea – to open my mind and my heart to what God may be teaching me, where he may be guiding me during this time. I’d like to share with you about two days in my first semester of the Franklin Fellows Program when the Lord broke my heart open.

October 10th – Hutchmoot
Hutchmoot is a Christian Artist’s conference (but so much more) put on by Andrew and Pete
Peterson’s Rabbit Room. “The Rabbit Room fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual
formation through music, story, and art” (from their website). This community and ministry reaches from Cambridge to Los Angeles, from London to Nashville – gathered in worship of God’s creativity and our belonging to that community.

So, three Franklin Fellows, Elly Anderson, Grace Tinsley, and I met Andrew and Pete to volunteer at their refurbished cabin in the woods. The weekend was full of kazoo’s and laughter, songs and worship, grief and tears. There was a pervasive sense of longing to be together, reflecting on all that was lost in 2020. Andrew Peterson performed Saturday night. It didn’t make the video, but he read a Luci Shaw poem before he sang:

Planting
seeds
inevitably
changes my
feelings about
rain.

If that isn’t a concise summary of this year. We have been witness to a torrential downpour. But
there have been seeds planted. Like when my best friend and Trinity Fellow’s alumni Heeth
Varnedoe told me in February when I was trying to decide on whether to apply to a Fellows
program “Graham, what would it look like to use the gifts God has given you to glorify Him instead of yourself?” Like when Heeth and I hiked through snow in July to summit the Lost Man Loop. Like when we prayed out loud next to a half frozen alpine lake for healing for his mother, for our aching world, for guidance as he stepped into law school and me into Franklin Fellows. Like when I heard Andrew perform that night. He sang:

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And all that rain had washed me clean
All the sorrow was gone

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could finally believe
The king had loved me all along

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
I saw the sower in the silver mist
And He was calling me home

So, there I was, crying. Because as a Christian, we believe in that Jesus “loved us all along” that “He was calling me home.” So, we wait, we look east toward the “burning edge of dawn,” for our savior to return. But while we are here, especially this year – we are grieving. What I found so special about Hutchmoot, what broke my heart open that weekend, is that those believers made room for naming that grief, moving toward it instead of away from it. 

Earlier that day I watched Mark Meynell interview Malcolm Guite, a brilliant poet and passionate believer. On C.S. Lewis’s poem “Reason” Guite offered that the reader needs to be as imaginative as Lewis, that “the poem shimmers into being in the meeting of poet and reader.” And how in the same light, Samuel Taylor Coleridge realized that to perceive creation as divine, we humans must inherently contain some of that same divine imagination within us. Guite said, 

All the time that God has been reading the divine poem to us, we have been making footnotes about the color of the ink. That’s why we need the artists, to wake up the imaginative perceiving. The imagination is there to help us perceive the great poem of our existence in its height and depth.” 

He of course is drawing upon Ephesians 3:17-19:

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

I believe this height and depth of God’s imagination includes poetry. Nashville knows as well as any other city, creativity is a powerful tool to bring people to Jesus. Here, we have a church on every corner, and worship stages filled with talented artists using their gifts for God’s glory. Heeth was right, this is where I am supposed to be. And as a poet, I aspire to use my gifts like Andrew Peterson, or Malcolm Guite, Luci Shaw, or Scott Cash. He’s a part of the next day.

Thursday December 17th – Seminary Classes and Leadership Lunch

Thursday at Franklin Fellows, we open with a devotional, then have two seminary classes split up by a leadership lunch. This Thursday our leadership lunch was with Scott and Michelle Cash. I asked Scott how he struck a balance between scripture and creative license – does he start every song with a bible verse? He said, 

“vulnerability is the gap between truth and creativity.” 

I think Andrew and his friends at Rabbit Room model this, as does We the Kingdom. They hold the grief of 2020 and joy of creative worship of our Almighty Creator in tension, together.

That same day Dr. David Michelson, a beloved professor at the Vanderbilt Divinity School and generous member of C3, taught us our last class of a course on early church history. Our reading that week was from “Treasure House of Mysteries: Explorations of the Sacred Text through Poetry in the Syriac Tradition.” The introduction addressed a fourth century Christian poet named Ephrem who stated on the reading of scripture

“Who is capable of comprehending the extend of what is to be discovered in a single utterance of Yours? For we leave behind in it far more than we take from it, like thirsty people drinking from a fountain…A thirsty person rejoices because he has drunk; he is not grieved because he proved incapable of drinking the fountain dry. Let the fountain vanquish you thirst; your thirst should not vanquish the fountain! (Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron 1:18-19).” 

This passage reminded me of the humility with which I need to approach God’s Word – to be grateful for the ways that the Gospel has come alive in my life instead of mourning my failure to fully comprehend its infinite wisdom. To rejoice in all the ways that art has been a light in my life, that the Gospel has been illuminated through creativity. 

I am reminded of a quote that Pastor Cassidy told us, “The Gospel is shallow enough for a babe to wade in, and deep enough that the wisest theologian will never reach the bottom.” Thank God for that duality. That God is both present with us, and beyond our comprehension. That Jesus gives us direct teachings, but that his parables continue to reveal themselves to us over time. 

Out last class of the semester, and the last poem of this blog post, came from Pastor David Cassidy. He taught our class on the Life of Christ with vigor and wisdom and humor. Our last day, brought him and the rest of us to tears, he read a poem that reminds us of the central duality of our faith, that Christ is fully human and fully God. 

Mary’s Song – Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfied
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

Growing Pains, Keri Bumgarner ‘FF1

Keri Bumgarner ‘FF1
Graduate of University of Virginia

I’ve always been tall. I towered over my classmates on the playground, refused to own a pair of
heels, and I am still relegated to the back row of every group picture. I’m currently resting at
5’10 and to get there, I went through several growth spurts. While sometimes I could get by
without realizing I had grown, most of the time it was, literally, painfully obvious. My knees would be sore, my back would feel tight, my hips felt like they were grinding on each other. I would ache all over for days at a time as I grew. I never asked to be tall and it seemed unfair to deal with consequences. But then it would stop, and I would be that much closer to resembling the ultimate design for my frame.

When I thought about applying to a Fellows program, I did not consider the possibility of growing pains. I was looking for community and professional development. The rest was secondary; I felt pretty secure in the other facets of my life. I wanted to know the grand design for my life and my vocation, to be at the end of the process when I was just beginning.

But that isn’t real life.

In just a few months of this program, I have already seen such “growth.” Growth, in the sense of learning. I never stopped to think about how Jesus probably only looked like Mary and not
Joseph. I never knew the word for the pity Jesus felt is actually “splagchnizomai,” which means
a gut punch of compassion. And I had hardly considered the difference between the early
church being subversive versus revolutionary. The Bible calls us to “bear fruit in every good
work and increase in the knowledge of God.” What an unexpected delight it has been to grow in
relationship with God through knowledge.

Growth, in the sense of refining. I came into this program trying to be open handed about
myself, but in reality I was comfortable with where I was and was not looking for change. The
Lord quickly revealed to me the areas where I struggle and sin. He pointed me to the resistance
I have in new friendships. He uncovered some unhealthy habits I like to fall back on. He brought back some old fears and introduced some new ones. He even made sure to remind me that I am not always right through the casual revelation that my long held enneagram number was actually something different. We are promised that we will “groan inwardly” as we wait for our souls to be fully realized. I still have a long way to go, and God has been lovingly casting my heart into the fire to refine it into something greater.

Growth, in the sense of formation. Navigating adult friendships is not for the faint of heart.
Admittedly, being thrust together with 11 other strangers in a new town did not sound like an
ideal situation in my mind. Everyone brings their own expectations, presumptions, hardships,
joys, and beliefs into the mix. Navigating group maturation as well as learning how to care for
each other can feel overwhelming, even frustrating at times. But when you enter into a Fellows
community, you enter in a covenant with each other, founded on a mutual love of Christ. That
covenant includes sharing embarrassing stories, Spotify playlists, favorite movies, family
dynamics, catchphrases, and so much more. Sharing life is daunting but the more we do the
more we grow in love for our community. And if we are abiding in love, we are abiding in the
Father. So when feelings are hurt or words are harsh or disappointments are felt, they are not
permanent disruptions. Being in Christian community in the real world means there will be
periods of painful formation, but they too will pass.

Being tall has its perks. I can reach any shelf at the grocery store. I can see over crowds at
concerts. And my length has certainly been the source of victory in more than one swim race.
But I cannot forget the miserable grinding of bones that had to take place to get there. The God
who loved me enough to knit me together in the womb would not be satisfied with a stagnant
life. This same God has offered each of us the chance to not settle for something less than what
the Lord has prepared us. As I look at the knowledge, refinement, and formation that has
already occurred, I can see the mess and debris it has left behind. But then I ask, just as Job
did, “Which of all these things does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (12:9).
Yahweh is not finished with the Franklin Fellows yet. He is not finished with this town. He is not finished with me.

And I am thankful the reminder of this truth is seen most clearly in the growing pains.