Stephen Owens spoke at a Belmont Chapel on Friday, Feb. 6, telling about his journey from resentment to forgiveness as his mother sat on death row for playing a major role in the murder of his father.
When Owens returned from church one morning as a 12-year-old boy, he found his father lying in the kitchen floor. Soon after, he testified against his mother, left the court room to live with his aunt and would not see his mother again for more than 20 years.
During this time, Owens went on to graduate college, get married, become a teacher and live a resentful life toward his mother. A series of life events followed that led Owens to understand God’s plan for his relationship with the woman he had grown to hate.
When Owens and his wife made the move from Memphis to Nashville, he could not find a job. After working an odd-job, he accepted a position teaching in prison, which Owens said was the first thing that began to change his heart. Later, he accepted a job teaching in Gallatin, and the headmaster referred him to a position at Christ Presbyterian Academy. Once there, a co-worker recognized his name and said that Owens’s mother had been a part of his prison Bible ministry for 15 years. It was then that Owens recognized the path God had led him down, and he began to seek God’s plan for forgiveness.
Belmont University held a number of notable events during the past two weeks to celebrate and honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., including a visit from keynote speaker Taylor Branch Friday morning. A Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Branch wove comments on the recent film Selma into his remarks. Teaching on historical movements and the catalysts that spark them, Branch said movements are started by moments that move an individual to act, speak up and believe in something. “That’s what a movement is,” he said. “It’s something like the language of emotion, connecting you to things that are an emotional challenge to you.”
Branch said that people do not learn from abstract analysis, which is vague and reprogrammable, depending on the content. People learn from personal experiences that spark something inside of them. “Personal experiences move us in ways that scramble our ideas of what’s real and possible,” he said.
These moving moments resurfaced as Branch discussed several scenes from Selma. For instance, Branch describes Dr. King’s call to end the march and go back to the church as the “peak of his leadership.” Even though many did not agree with the decision, Branch said, “It shows you the complexity of ideas involved in keeping a movement going to engage in larger possibilities. He kept alive the possibility of a voting rights act.”
Josh Turner, Belmont alumnus and double-platinum selling country music artist, returned to campus on Wednesday to speak to a packed auditorium of students, faculty and staff. With his most recent single released on iTunes and a new album coming out in Spring 2015, Turner spent his time discussing his hit “Long Black Train,” his family, his faith and his love for Belmont.
During his time at the University, Turner reflected on a walk he took from the Lila D. Bunch library to Hillside, his on-campus apartment at the time. During his walk, he was struck with the idea of a long train and the temptation to hop aboard. The inspiration turned into a night of writing, where he created three of the hit’s verses, as well as the chorus. The next day, he wrote the fourth and final verse. “Long Black Train” would become the song that landed Turner his first record deal.
Throughout his career, Turner said the song has changed lives and pulled people out of very bleak places. It is these stories that continue to remind him of his calling to write and sing country music. He said he feels “obligated to go out there and use the talent God has given me to change people’s lives for the better… The Lord gave me this song, he’s been using it and I think he’s going to continue to use it.”
Belmont’s College of Theology and Christian Ministry (CTCM)hosted a Regional Festival for the Academy of Preachers on campus Oct. 24-25. The Academy of Preachers is an organization that seeks to inspire young adults ages 14-28 to explore their call to gospel preaching. The Academy hosts three regional festivals throughout the country and one national festival each year.
CTCM Dean Dr. Darrell Gwaltney said, “We welcomed 20 young preachers to campus who preached on the theme ‘Tell Me a Story,’ received feedback from evaluators, and encouragement from peers in preaching circles. Among the young preachers were CTCM alumni Larry Terrell Crudup (’10) and Sarah Garrett (’13) and current CTCM students Julia Crone and Brooke Pernice.”
All four Belmont students and alumni will likely participate in the national festival in Dallas in January.
In addition, the young preachers participated in peer group conversations about preaching and listened to sermons from Gwaltney, as well as professors from Sewanee: The University of the South, Trevecca Nazarene University and Vanderbilt Divinity School.
Dr. Karen Swanson spoke to students, faculty and staff about lessons to be learned from worship in prison at a convocation event in the Chapel on Monday. Swanson is director of the Institute for Prison Ministries (IPM) at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
She began her presentation by challenging the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the imprisoned.
“Use your imagination as we enter into the world of incarceration,” she said.
She then described the harsh conditions of both national and local prisons and the unfortunate circumstances that lead to most of the inmates’ incarceration. She explained that many of these inmates turned to crime as a last resort to provide for themselves and their families. Because of the lack of resources, these individuals lacked opportunity and therefore turned to criminal activity for solace. She continued by stating that Christian worship, when done well, can help these inmates encounter God and transform their lives.
When these inmates were asked what “worshiping behind bars” meant to them, they responded, “I’m looking for mercy, not forgiveness.”