Dr. Samantha Miller is an assistant professor of the history of Christianity in the School of Theology and Christian Ministry. She received her bachelor’s degree from Hope College, her Master’s of Divinity from Duke University and her PhD from Marquette University. She has been teaching at AU since the fall of 2016.
Q: You grew up in Michigan. What was that like?
A: Michigan was great. I grew up in a small bedroom community near Lansing. I have nothing but fond memories. I mean, all children scrape their knees and stuff. I once jumped out of a treehouse when I was eight and lived, didn’t break anything.
I had summers running around in the backyard, playing catch with my friends and my parents and my brother. I chased him around. It was great. The middle of the state is beautiful; it’s more wooded and slightly more hilly than this part of Indiana, but it’s very similar. I loved it there. It’s home. What do you say about your home? It’s what you know.
Q: What was it like for you to transition from home and then to Duke, to Milwaukee and then to Anderson?
A: Transitions are an interesting thing; I’ve thought a lot about them lately, but especially every three years or so when I make them. Duke was the most interesting transition. I had gone to Hope College for my bachelor’s, but it’s still Michigan. When I was 21, I moved to North Carolina and discovered this whole other place.
I had traveled a lot as a kid, so I had seen lots of different cultures and places, but it turns out, when you live in one, it’s totally different. The south is a beautiful place, but for someone who had never been that far from home before, it was hard. It’s hard to pick up on social cues and to figure out what’s going on. It’s a time you learn; you spend more time with God, honestly. You learn to grieve what is not dead in moving. You leave a lot of community. For me, it’s been a couple of different transitions of leaving places and people that I love and then discovering joy in new places.
Each one has been a lesson in change. It’s terrifying because we think things are going to be worse because what we have is so great; but it turns out that sometimes where you’re going is even better. I could never have expected that the next step was going to be better.
I loved Milwaukee; I thought that I wouldn’t because I’m not a city person, but it was fantastic. I had a really phenomenal community among my grad school cohort, and so I didn’t mind leaving Duke. I still miss those friends, but I’m discovering friendships here and have a small group that I love, classes and students that are amazing and new friends. There’s an abundance of riches in this world, and I’ve been blessed to see a bunch of them.
Q: What sparked your passion for the early church?
A: John Chrysostom. In my middle year of college, I was taking an advanced Greek class where we were reading the desert fathers and mothers in Greek. We had Gerald Sittser visiting, and I was part of the pre-seminary society. That particular time, he was talking about stuff that he was doing at Whitworth, and he was talking about the pastors in his area. He had just read Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood” with them and said, ‘Oh, you guys should read this, it’s a great manual for pastors.’ Being the student I was, I got it from the library the next day, and I loved it.
I felt like a kindred spirit with Chrysostom. I thought, ‘This guy gets it; he knows me, he knows how much you should be afraid of being a pastor.’ I thought I was going to be a pastor, but I didn’t want to. He got it, and I loved it. It was the same thing with the desert fathers and mothers. I thought, ‘These guys are Christians. They know how to do this.’ There’s something in them that was calling out to me. I think it was the Holy Spirit in me recognizing the Holy Spirit in them and saying ‘I totally get this.’ I love hanging out with them.
Q: You’re teaching courses in the new Spiritual Formation complementary major. What has that experience been like for you to walk with your students as they’re learning about the history of spiritual formation?
A: It’s been pure joy. It’s delightful to watch them discover these things, some of them for the first time. To introduce the students to modes of prayer that they’d never heard of, but which some of them have been really taken with.
The Ignatian prayer grabs a lot of people, and they’re so connected to God in a lot of these things. I sort of get to set the students up on a blind date with God in this class. I get to introduce them to the ways the Spirit tends to transform us, and I get to watch little bits of that happen. I get to watch little bits of my students come alive during this class.
I love getting a glimpse at the discovery and the joy they’re experiencing, because we don’t get to glimpse enough of that in ministry.
Q: You’re leading a summer Tri-S trip to the Adirondacks this summer, and you’re returning to Camp Fowler where you used to work. What has Camp Fowler meant to you and what do you hope it means to the students you’re preparing to take there?
A: Camp Fowler to me has been a sense of home in a lot of different seasons. I worked there for six summers as a wilderness guide. It was all through seminary and the first half of grad school. There’s a lot of life that’s happening in that time. It was 21 to 26, and a lot of transitions happen. It was a place of stability that I got to go back to every year.
One of the things it is most to me is a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. We joked about it being a bog, because bogs are places that are fringe-like and play by their own rules, and Fowler very much is fringe-like and plays by its own rules. It’s not like other places. And so we joke about it being a bog in the Kingdom of God.
It’s the place that embodies grace to me. Everything I learned about in seminary and about what the world is supposed to be like, you see reflected really well at camp. It’s in glimpses; it’s not perfect, but you see it in the way that kids know to laugh and play and be full of life. In Wendell Berry’s poem “The Mad Farmer,” the last line says to ‘practice resurrection.’ Camp Fowler is a place that practices resurrection, and I hope that’s what students see when they go there.
The first time I was there, I went as a student. It felt like I breathed deeply fresh air that was different—sort of like Narnian air. I want students to breathe that deeply and experience God as fully alive, not as someone who is broken and angsty. I want them to get out of the angsty tone and breathe and bound and galumph, to have a full-bodied practicing resurrection sort of aliveness to them.
Q: When was a time that you saw play and resurrection active in your life?
A: The moment that embodies practicing resurrection to me was my second summer as a wilderness guide. It was a pads and paddle trip, so it was half canoeing, half hiking. We were in the hiking portion. I had two 14-year-old campers on my trip, Tim and Caleb. Tim was one of my favorite campers. He asked me on that trip if I could teach him to memorize something because I do a lot of biblical storytelling where I memorize scripture and tell it like story.
Tim was so taken by this. He’s 14, a swimmer, full-out jock boy, and for some reason he thought I was cool. And so we spent three miles on the trail where I taught him the prologue of John. He learned it and was so excited. He kept reciting it.
We get to camp that night and have got things set up, and my co-leader and I are trying to make dinner, when we look over and Tim and Caleb are jumping off boulders with these sharp sticks in their hands. They were going after a bee’s nest with the sticks, and they were reciting the prologue of John while they were doing it.
That moment is still nothing short of beautiful to me. They didn’t see any incongruence in these activities. To them, it was just all life. It was this moment of being fully alive, both fully in Christ and just being 14-year-old boys. That moment is practicing resurrection for me.
Q: And you love it?
A: I could not see myself without having music in my life. Teaching is a wonderful gift, and I think that being a teacher is something you must love and be passionate about, and I love it. My performing is not every day, it’s usually in the spring and in the fall. I cannot live my life without having this; it’s part of who I am. It’s really a major part of my life.