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What two months at VTS taught me about learning

By Isabella Blanchard

Editor’s note: We are currently grieving the impending departure of our fantastic summer intern, Isabella. She’s been working with us and with the Very Rev. Ian Markham, our dean. For her final blog post, we asked Isabella to reflect on what she’s learned with us.


Isabella has helped revitalize our presence on Pinterest. Oh yeah, and she launched our Podcast Study Guides program. And edited two books for Dean Markham.

To compile a list of the things I’ve learned in my time at VTS would be a near-impossible task; it’s been an incredibly informative two months. A list of the things I’ve learned about learning is more manageable, and more helpful:

  • How to publish a book. However lengthy and frustrating a process you may have thought it to be, trust me—it’s worse.
  • How to create a website. It’s possible, even for the technologically faint of heart.
  • How to write a blog post. There’s a learning curve, but I’m on my way.
  • How to learn everything there is to know about a tiny corner of the universe. And consolidate it into two concise pages.
  • How to make a to-do list thirty items long. Without tearing all of my hair out.
  • How to prepare for a meeting. After one meeting without any questions to ask or a pad to write on, I had to have a serious talk with myself.
  • How to memorize an entire seminary’s worth of phone extensions. If you work at VTS, you may not know me, but I know you.
  • How to resist the pile of candy that’s been sitting five inches away from my face for the past four days. Again, learning curve.

More importantly, though, I learned about people, and about myself:

  • How to find peace in the work that I’m doing. Publishing a book may be a lengthy, frustrating process, but it’s enormously satisfying and surprisingly cathartic.
  • How to take compliments from the most unexpected places.
  • That sometimes it’s more important to learn about someone’s troubles than it is to learn about what can be done about installing security cameras.
  • That making a to-do list, while daunting, is enormously satisfying.
  • That I love meetings. The opportunity to sit down and learn what people are good at is both educational and inspiring.
  • That staffing a welcome center is a juggling act. But it’s worth it for all the smiling faces and the new acquaintances.
  • That, sometimes, it’s okay to eat a root beer barrel or two. Because they’re my favorite.


Did you meet Isabella this summer, either at the center or online? Leave her some love in the comments.

Podcast review: God Complex Radio

By Isabella Blanchard

Editor’s note: This is the second in an ongoing series of podcast reviews and study guides produced by the CMT and our partners. New to podcasts? No problem! We want to be your guides to the Christian podosphere.

You can find all our reviews and study guides at the Podcast Resources page on our website.


Title: God Complex Radio

Tagline: “If you’ve got a God complex, you’d better get over it.”

Creators: Carol Howard Merritt, Derrick Weston, and Rob Dyer

Genre: Interview

Frequency: Every 1–2 weeks

Availability: iTunes, RSS, Streaming

Study Guides: Yes


What are they up to?

Exploring faith issues with innovative Christian leaders and authors. Each episode includes an interview and discussion and lasts about an hour.

Who are they looking for?

Anyone with an interest in faith and big ideas. The conversation is informative, engaging, and fun. Accessibility to a broad audience seems to be an editorial priority (no advanced theological training required).

Where are they coming from?

The hosts are both Presbyterian ministers with a wide range of church experience. The tone is deliberately ecumenical with a decidedly progressive bent.

Why do we love it?

The guests on the show are the sorts of people I’d like to run into at the pub after class; they’re frighteningly intelligent, well-read, awash in life and ministry experience. The hosts ask great questions, and their commentary is always well-informed.

How can you use it?

Listen for current book recommendations, accessible conversation, and interesting theology. Or use with our accompanying study guides to convene a podcast discussion or kick off a book group.

Final verdict

Excellent. I’m always awaiting the next episode; and I always come away with something to think about.


Do you listen to God Complex Radio? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Learn more on our Podcast Resources page.

Thank God

By Isabella Blanchard


There is a great whirlwind of public opinion which overtakes us in adolescence as we seek to become the people that God intended us to be. Like this, eschew that; wear this, not that; be this, not that. Perhaps my proximity to that storm gives me more perspective, or perhaps less, but whichever it is, I feel the pull acutely.

The mistake that I made so often through my high school years was not to deny the beauty of thingsindeed, I’ve always been proud of my ability to engage deeply with things of great beauty. Rather, it was to deny the validity of those things which seemed counterintuitive to me. I loved (and still love) walking in the afternoon, Chopin’s music, philosophy, reading sad books, and sailing in the Fall. That said, I cannot understand the appeal of hunting, chemistry, sewing, scrapbooking, writing code and a great many other things.

My mistake was not in choosing to do the things that I prefer, but rejecting the things that I didn’t understand. It is no coincidence that all of the above mentioned skills are ones which I most assuredly do not possess. As I struggled through chemistry in my junior year, I enlisted the help of a good friend who was, in math terms, ~400% better than me with the subject. I told him, as we sat down (I reluctantly, he bravely) to study for my mid-term exam that I thanked God for his ability where I was so clearly lacking.

That stuck.

I thank God for your ability.

I thank God for you.

I thank God.

I look at people with the Browning logo proudly displayed on their trucks next to well-stocked gun racks, and I thank God that they have the patience and strength to lay in wait as their prey approaches, and the fortitude to pull a trigger. Those traits must make them excellent in whatever job they do.

Every time I shampoo my hair, or put one potion or another on my face, or drink a soda I thank God for chemists. I would be a sorry sight to behold without their passion.

As an uncommonly tall, leggy girl, I’ve often had occasion to bemoan designers’ misunderstanding of my frame. The ability of my local seamstress is exceptional in that regard. Her talent and dedication help me dress as confidently as I feel. She has given me a gift with her expertise.

I could go on, but I’d rather hear what you’re thankful for. Do you hate reading? Despise driving? Shudder at the thought of spending a day in a museum? Tell me about it. Or better yet, tell someone that you know who’s passionate about it that you acknowledge their passion. In fact, you thank God that they exist.

Photo by Penn State News via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Faith makes anything possible

By Isabella Blanchard

Editor’s note: We asked our summer intern, Isabella, to reflect on her first month or so of working in our faith formation resource center. Here is her story. Cross-posted on the e-Formation blog.


Never have I clung so desperately to a cliché as I did to “faith makes anything possible” in the first week of my work at the Virginia Theological Seminary. In that week I was, in equal parts, social media guru, help desk coordinator, catering organizer, and coffee girl. Small tasks, no doubt, but ones requiring some modicum of knowledge nonetheless. Suffice it to say, I knew nothing.

Thankfully, that was a non-issue as far as the conference coordinators were concerned. At that point, Kyle Oliver, Lisa Kimball, and John Roberto knew two things which I did not: that the community at VTS is kind, knowledgable, and efficient and that, in fact, I could do the things they asked of me, if only because of the aforementioned community. I was torn between the unshakable faith that Kyle, Lisa, and John had in me and my own tentative faith in myself. No job was too large, no task too complicated, no responsibility too great. And I’d only known these people for 24 hours.

The e-Formation 2013 Conference began on Friday, May 31. My work at VTS began on Thursday, May 30th. I worked long days, and I learned as I went, and it was the best new job training I’ve ever had. The recurrent theme in every interaction of the weekend was kindness. I was consistently impressed by it; kindness permeated every workshop, service, and interaction, and it was under such friendly auspices that my work at VTS has been blessed.

If the e-Formation Conference was rushing rapids, the weeks following have been a meandering brook. Gone are the frenzied moments between sessions, and no longer is my presence required in more than one place at a given time. The kindness, though, has remained.

As both a Northerner and a Roman Catholic, hospitality is not unfamiliar to me, but I am certainly accustomed to a less effusive brand of it. As such, it’s jarring to have such broad displays of affection directed at me, and so frequently, but truly it has been an unexpected blessing. I will always appreciate the taciturn nature of my native Vermonters. When I attend Mass with my Grandmother in Massachusetts, I will make no attempt to sit closer than ten rows from the altar. But none of that will stop me from reveling in the exceptional kindness of the wonderful people at VTS.

I am, slowly but hopefully surely, becoming more used to the blessings bestowed upon me, the thanks for difficult tasks, the smiles on the sidewalks and the kind words. As I grow into this community, I realize how remarkable it is. To experience the glowing hospitality of the entire Seminary is a rare treat; it informs my decisions outside of VTS as well as within, to the extent that I believe that everyone ought to have it. Kindness the likes of which exists here is a human right.

As I think back on my first weeks at VTS, I wonder how I managed to find these people; these wonderful, kind, thoughtful people have made a home for me among their ranks. Have you ever felt the same warmth in a new job? Found gratification not only in the work that you do, but also in the people you’re working with? If not, your light is coming; seek it out. If so, make it your job to transfer that warmth to your coworkers. Bring that light with you wherever you go.

Often times, e-Formation is a thankless task. There’s so much to weed through on the Internet that it’s difficult to imagine that anybody could be seeking out your blog (but they are… or at least I am, it’s kind of my job). Without the faith that Kyle, Lisa, and John had in me, I would have snoozed my alarm and shut the blinds on May 31st, desperate to avoid the reality of e-Formation insanity. But they were there, and they believed in me, and so I was there and I believed in myself. Give that gift to your faith formation friends, volunteers, employees, and conscripts. In keeping with the theme of terrible clichés, be the wind beneath their wings. You can do it. I have faith.