Friday, April 27, 2007

Profile: Matthew McMahon

Matthew graduated from Vanderbilt in 2006.

1. Tell us about your life. Are you married? Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in the Hartford, CT area, the oldest of ten children. My father is a Pentecostal pastor, Christian school principal and music teacher, and my mother has been a teacher as well as full-time homemaker (emphasis on full-time!). My home church started a Christian school in our basement when I was starting second grade; the school added a grade level each year until I completed high school. (By that point, thankfully, we had a building!) I married my college sweetheart Carissa in 2002, before my second year of graduate school. We have two children, Bethany and Andrew, both born while I was completing my Ph. D.

2. Tell us about your education. Where, when, and in what have you done coursework?
My undergraduate work was done at Drew University in New Jersey, and of course I attended Vanderbilt for grad school. I majored in physics at Drew and achieved my doctorate in physics at Vanderbilt.

3. Tell us about your faith journey. How did you come to faith in Christ, and how has your faith been strengthened/challenged by your academic calling?
I was raised in the church, and am thankful to say that I can't remember a time when Christ was not a part of my life. I "asked Jesus into my heart" at five years old after listening to a Jimmy Swaggart tape for kids, famously telling my father that I was not going to bed that night until I had done so.

I found that my faith was challenged much more directly in undergrad than in grad school. This is partly due to the fact that we studied such virulently anti-Christian writers as Carl Sagan as part of a course on pseudoscience at Drew. It is also partly due to the fact that my graduate adviser is a religious man and encouraged me quite a bit in my faith during graduate school. While we would disagree on quite a few particulars of doctrine!, we had some basic metaphysical common ground. I would say that most of the faith-challenging features of the academic world came from sources outside Vanderbilt, in the wider scientific community, where philosophical materialism is rampant.

4. Tell us about your involvement with GCF. How has GCF encouraged you in both your faith and your calling?
GCF was a critical part of my spiritual life in graduate school. I became involved right from the start attending the Friday night meetings and attending a book study. I was greatly encouraged to find a community of serious Christian scholars who were unflinchingly committed to Christ and their education. It provided at once a place to think deeply about Christianity and a place to retreat from the pressure of grad school, especially in my first couple of years while I was taking a full courseload. It also provided a regular musical outlet, as I led the singing for those first couple of years.

5. If, based on your journey in faith and academia, you could tell the Church one thing, what would it be?
We must remember that Jesus did not come to save the smart; at the same time, we must remember that we are called to serve the Lord with all our minds.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Would you like to host a dessert?

As I've already shared with you, I'm currently raising support for the 2007-2008 academic year. GCF's projected budget is $70,300. Currently, we've estimated $31,900 in committed support for the year, which means we're still trying to raise the remaining $38,400.

One of the ways we raise support for the Graduate Christian Fellowship is by hosting desserts in people's homes or churches. GCF provides coffee, cheesecake, toppings, cookies, and a presentation aimed to introduce people to the work GCF is doing at Vanderbilt. Generally, hosts help put together a guest list, follow-up on the invitations we send, and offer a few words both before and after the presentation. These can be wonderful times of fellowship and are a great way to introduce others to what God is doing among graduate students and faculty at Vanderbilt University.

If you'd like to host or are curious about hosting a dessert in your home or church anywhere in the continental US, please post a comment here or email me at We want to see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world-changers developed. Let's partner together to make it happen.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

An action-packed week

Graduate Christian Fellowship and I were really busy this past week! It went something like this:

Monday night: Graduate Christian Fellowship Fundraising Dessert--we raised $1200 toward next year's budget. Thank God!

Thursday morning: GCF Prayer Meeting on campus--it was our first, large prayer meeting, and we hope it will be a model for regular (bi-monthly or monthly) prayer meetings starting next semester. A student and her husband (I haven't asked their permission to publish their names) led the prayer time as a reflection on God as the source and giver of wisdom. We prayed with Scripture in hand for ourselves, for the campus, and for the world. Two pictures made it out of the event, and they're in this album on Facebook (There are also pictures of other GCF and InterVarsity events in that album).

Thursday afternoon: Office Hours at Panera Bread. I had a couple of students drop by, and we had a lot of fun.

Friday afternoon: Lecture and Lunch discussion. We took a group to hear the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson (Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire) speak at Benton Chapel on campus and then retired to Panera Bread to have lunch and discuss the talk. I might post more extensive comments on the talk in a later post, but I wanted to share some of the pictures that I took at the lecture and then at the lunch afterward.

Saturday night: GCF Game Night! We had dinner together and then played Pit, Go Fish, I Doubt It (think B.S.), and the Great Dalmuti. We got to meet new students and were joined by some friends from NW Arkansas. The pictures are hiding here.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to slowing down a little bit this week! Thanks for supporting GCF through praying and giving!

On Conspiracies

Today, I spent some time watching a movie (posted here) that explains how 9/11 was not ultimately planned and executed by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists but by the lease holders of the WTC somehow sponsored by the U.S. Government. It is a wickedly interesting conspiracy theory that makes a haunting amount of sense.

Until, I think, one hears the 'other side' of the story as told by Popular Mechanics. I listened to their podcast that aired around the time their book Debunking 9/11 Myths hit the market. While there are always ways to wrap rebuttals back into the tight circle of the conspiracy (see the comments on the podcast), I feel they answer some of the biggest questions that the original movie raised.

That said, one thing struck me about the whole affair. At the end of a movie that implicates people in orchestrating a conspiracy to murder thousands in order to either make money or gain grounds for launching an attack on the Middle East, the question arises naturally, "Who would do such a thing?" I think that is one of the psychological effects of conspiracy theories, that we feel better about ourselves because we believe we could never do any such thing.

As Christians, however, we must stand back. One point of the Christian doctrine of sin is that, all other things being equal, every human being is capable, in and of themselves, of committing any sin. It is only by God's free grace that the majority of people in the world are born into circumstances in which they are not able to commit vast and damaging sins (only those petty sins that destroy the lives in their immediate vicinity). The result is that, if there really was a vast American conspiracy to destroy the WTC and attack the Pentagon, if you or I were put into the same situation as the conspirators, only the grace of God would keep us from making the same decisions they did.

St. Paul, talking to the first century conspiracy theorists who were concerned about the inclusion of the Gentiles, put it something like this: For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God... (Ro 3:22-23). The Jews felt righteous because they kept the Torah better than the Gentiles. How sinful we must be to gravitate to gigantic theories that maximize others' sinfulness in order to minimize our own.

Monday, April 09, 2007

2007-2008 Program Budget

Tonight, I'm hosting a fundraising dessert for the Graduate Christian Fellowship at Vanderbilt University. I'll be sharing with them GCF's program budget for the upcoming academic year. I wanted to post it here and ask you to consider partnering with GCF to see grad students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world-changers developed in and through the good news of Jesus Christ. The budget itself is broken down by each of our Four Commitments: Spiritual Formation, Community, Evangelism & Service, and the Integration of Faith, Learning, & Practice.


Our Commitment: Our desire to help graduate students integrate their lives under the Lordship of Christ begins with our commitment to Spiritual Formation. We believe that with the faithful practice of individual and corporate disciplines like prayer and Scripture study, students’ lives are transformed to continually express a growing faith, love and dependence upon God.

Our Projects:

Regular Prayer Meetings

Total Project Goal: $3,000

Fall Retreat

Total Project Goal: $3,500

Sponsor a day: $1,750

One-on-One Ministry

Total Project Goal: $9,300

Sponsor Student Coffees: $300

Sponsor Student Lunches: $600

Sponsor a semester: $4,650

Small Groups

Total Project Goal: $16,200

Buy Books for a Small Group: $500

Sponsor a Small Group: $1,500

Sponsor a semester of small groups: $8,100


Our Commitment: We want grad students to know what it is like to participate in a transformative community that has experience with their specific struggles and also spurs them along to faithful stewardship and academic excellence.

Our Projects:

Annual Kickoff Picnic

Total Project Goal: $700

Community Events

Total Project Goal: $4,000

Sponsor a community event: $500

Sponsor a semester: $2,000

Large Group

Total Project Goal: $5,000

Buy food for a large group: $150

Sponsor a large group: $650

Sponsor a semester: $2,500


Our Commitment: Spiritual Formation happens in Communities directed towards Evangelism & Service. GCF is committed to publicly displaying the person and work of Jesus Christ both in word and deed through public forums, practical service, and intentional evangelism. We want to see our campus renewed.

Our Projects

Neighborhood Work Projects

Total Project Goal: $2,000

Sponsor a project: $250

Sponsor a semester: $1,000

Faculty Dinner

Total Project Goal: $4,200

Sponsor a Dinner: $2,100

Underwrite the project: $4,200

Veritas Forum

Total Project Goal: $16,200

Sponsorship: $2,000

Leadership Gift: $7,500


Our Commitment: The Integration of Faith, Learning, and Practice points to the truth that Jesus is Lord of every part of human life. We seek the truth about God and His world through critical reflection, open conversation, and challenging dialogue, and in so doing pray a world-changing prayer, “Thy Kingdom come….”

Our Projects:

Food for Thought

Total Project Goal: $3,200

Sponsor a meeting: $275

Sponsor a semester: $1,600

Sponsor the year: $3,200

Social Sciences and Humanities Discussion Group

Total Project Goal: $3,000

Sponsor a meeting: $375

Sponsor a semester: $1,500

Sponsor the year: $3,000


Projected Budget $70,300

To-Date Committed Support $25,000

Dollars Needed $45,250

To reach this goal, Graduate Christian Fellowship is seeking:

Leadership Gifts ($5,000-$25,000 yearly)


$24,000 yearly ($2,000/mo)

$12,000 yearly ($1,000/mo)

$9,000 yearly ($750/mo)

$6,000 yearly ($500/mo)

Major Gifts ($1,000-$4,999 yearly)


$3,000 yearly ($250/mo)

$2,400 yearly ($200/mo)

$1,800 yearly ($150/mo)

$1,200 yearly ($100/mo)

Sustaining Gifts (under $1,000 yearly)


$900 yearly ($75/mo)

$600 yearly ($50/mo)

$300 yearly ($25/mo)

Please consider partnering with us to see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world-changers developed to the glory of God.