Thursday, November 09, 2006

Aaron Simmons--Profile

[This is the first of a regular series in the blog: profiles of people who have been or are involved in Graduate Christian Fellowship at Vanderbilt University. The first comes from Aaron Simmons.]

Profile for Aaron Simmons

1. Tell us about your life. Are you married? Where did you grow up?

I was born in 1977 in Cleveland, Tennessee. My father was an art professor at Lee University there in Cleveland. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in the back of my father’s college art classes and while he was up lecturing or working with other students on their paintings, I had my own easel in the back of the classroom where I would create artistic masterpieces. My mother is also an educator and has taught almost every level of primary, secondary, and higher education. I have two brothers (Evan and Nathan) and one sister (Merinda). All of them are now in graduate school. Evan is finishing a masters degree in music, Merinda is finishing her Ph.D. in literature and Nathan is finishing a masters in psychology. I should say that when we get together as a family for holidays, our dinner table conversation is a conglomeration of the latest research in D.H. Lawrence and Levinas, frustration with the state of contemporary music, and discussions regarding which of the James Bond video games really is the best. There was never a dull moment in my childhood, which, as anyone from a large family will agree, can be both a blessing and a curse. I have been married for a little over five years to Vanessa. She is a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and we have one other member in our family – our Siberian Husky named Tacoma. I am an avid trout fisherman and greatly enjoy spending as much time as possible engaged in outdoor activities.

2. Tell us about your education. Where, when, and in what have you done coursework?

I have a B.A. in History from Lee University, an M.A. in Humanities from Florida State University, an M.A. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University. My main areas of specialization are contemporary continental philosophy and philosophy of religion. I also do quite a bit of work in environmental philosophy, ethics, and political philosophy. Last year I was on faculty at The University of the South and now I am a lecturer at Vanderbilt University.

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 am the grandson of a Church of God (Cleveland, TN) minister. With that said, I have been raised in the church. Nothing much of interest occurred in my faith life until I went to graduate school. There I met with such stringent objections I decided that the only way in which I could continue to affirm such beliefs was to thoroughly investigate the criticism of them. So, for about two years of my early graduate career, I actively read everything I could get my hands on that challenged Christian faith. In other words, I tried to become an atheist. The problem was that I continued to find the arguments and evidence against God simply inadequate. This is not to say that my faith did not undergo radical transformation, however. Perhaps the most important impact on my current understanding of Christianity is the work of Søren Kierkegaard. I have been greatly influenced by Kierkegaard’s conception of the existential component of faith as related to one’s own singular identity before God and others. Moreover, the work of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Marion, Vattimo, Caputo, Westphal, and especially Levinas has been crucial for helping me navigate what faith can look like on the other side of the deconstruction of metaphysics. What is so remarkable is that I have found postmodernity to not be a challenge to Christianity, but simply to be a challenge to certain ways in which Christian faith has been appropriated and interpreted. Importantly, I do not believe that the real point is that we must reconceptualize God in light of postmodernity, but that postmodernism allows us to better understand the real insights of Christianity itself – especially as expressed in God’s kenotic relation of love to the world.

4. Tell us about your involvement with GCF. How has GCF encouraged you in both your faith and your academic calling?

I have been involved with the Vanderbilt Graduate Christian Fellowship ever since my first few months here at Vanderbilt. I have found it to be an invaluable space of fellowship, support, encouragement, and community. Some of my most cherished friendships have developed out of the conversations and activities of GCF. Further, being a married graduate student, GCF provided a place where my wife and I could both become involved with others who were roughly at the same stage in life and with the same academic intentions.

5. If, based on your journey in faith and academia, you could tell the Church one thing, what would it be?

I think that I would tell the church two things. First, the truth of the Christian narrative should not be confused with the cultural and historical framework in which it is always located. This does not mean that we should somehow relate to faith outside or beyond our cultural embeddedness. Quite the opposite is the case. We should constantly recognize that there is no relation to God except through the lenses and layers of existential situatedness. What this should bring about is a much more humble relation to our own understanding of the faith and also to others both within and outside of the Christian community. Indeed, I find Christian ethics to be fundamentally about gratitude and invitation. We should express gratitude to God for the opportunity to care for others, and should continue to express invitational hospitality to others as both our neighbors and our critics. The second point follows on the first: the church must overcome its limited vision of Christian morality. As Jim Wallis rightly asks, “when did Jesus become a selective moralist?” Of particular importance to me are issues related to social justice and environmental stewardship. I believe that if we really attempt to imitate Christ, then our relationship to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger (and we must not forget the poor and the environment) must display an expansive relationality rather than the all to frequent expression of hostility and fear to those we don’t understand or that we don’t find to agree with our otherwise narrow vision of sociality.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Amazon Associate

If you’ve scrolled down the sidebar recently, you’ve noticed a new feature of the Currently Reading pane: Amazon pop-ups. Last week I signed up for the Amazon Associates Program. That means whenever someone buys a book from one of my blog links, I receive a percentage in gift certificates.

So, if a book I’m reading or have reviewed looks interesting, be sure to use my links to get a copy from Amazon. You’ll help support my reading habit and this ministry in the process.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Friday Night Bowling

Last Friday night we took a group of six to Hilldale Strike and Spare, a bowling alley west of campus. This was one of our social events that helps us fulfill our commitment to building Christian community among graduate students on campus. I've included several pictures from the evening here.

A very satisfied Chris, who just happened to win both games we played that night. Who also just happened to bring his own ball and bowling shoes. Doesn't he look happy?

Alan should look happy. He just bowled his very first 100 point game! Congratulations, Alan!

This is me with Chris' bowling ball. It was an amazing bowling ball. I'm surprised he let me touch it. It glowed with a holy aura of bowling-good-ness.

Looking completely disinterested (or jealous) is Roger.

This is the closest we came to a group photo, but at least it shows our other two companions, Linda and Mary. Since it was close to Halloween, we all chose character names for our bowling. Linda chose "Princess Leia" and Mary was "Pirate." I gave a dollar to Alan who was able to pinpoint which character "Max Rebo" (the name I chose) was in the Star Wars saga. Can you guess it?