Sarah Jean Barton

Sarah Jean Barton

Host Todd Maberry speaks with Dr. Sarah Jean Barton (Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy and Theological Ethics) about the many connections she finds in her work and life. They cover topics such as theology of disability, the intersection of occupational therapy and the church, the power of pilgrimage and prayer, and whether or not it is possible to have enough dogs named after The West Wing characters. This interview was recorded separately due to the physical distancing required during the summer of 2020.

Here is a picture of the newest of our three buildings located on Duke’s West Campus, Westbrook Building, which is mentioned on this episode:

Westbrook Building

Download the episode transcript or click below to read it.

Divcast Series 1 Episode Sarah Jean Barton Transcript


Rev. Todd Maberry: Welcome to the Divcast, the podcast that gives you an inside look into the Duke Divinity School community. I am Todd Maberry, your host for this episode, as well as a 2006 M.Div. Grad and current senior director of admissions, recruitment and student finance.


Today we are continuing our series called Essential Questions with Divinity Faculty. Joining me for this one is Dr. Sarah Jean Barton, who is the assistant professor of occupational therapy and theological ethics. She is a theologian as well as a practicing occupational therapist, whose scholarly work focuses on questions at the intersection of theology and disability, bioethics and liturgy. Her research partners with underrepresented populations and theological scholarship, particularly with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


Dr. Barton also has a joint faculty appointment as assistant professor of occupational therapy at Duke University Medical Center in the department of orthopedic surgery. She is also a lay leader in the Episcopal Church and enjoys serving as a lay preacher and lay Eucharistic minister.


Please enjoy this delightful conversation with Dr. Barton


Dr. Barton, I appreciate you taking time to have this conversation. I've known of you for many years as a former student at Duke, and then should name that your spouse, Reverend Andrew Phillips, was a kid in the youth group where I was an intern when I was a student almost 17 years ago, so I've known Andrew and his family for many years and have known of you, and our paths have crossed in some social circumstances a few times, but I've never actually had a chance to sit down and dig into your past and know more about you, so I've really been looking forward to this.


Dr. Sarah Jean Barton: Me too, Todd.


TM: Well I want to start with a question about how you got to where you are, and recognizing that none of us make it through this life alone. Who would you say are some important people, or who's the most important person that is responsible for you being where you are today?


SJB: Thanks Todd. That's a big question to start with, but a good one too. I think I'll talk about three different people and the impact they had on my life and how they got me to where I am right now.


The first people are my maternal grandparents. Their names were Chuck and Barbara Anderson. They lived in the Pacific Northwest on an island called Camano, and I spent much of my childhood with them. They were very involved in my upbringing, and we used to have cousin camp on their farm and apple orchard in western Washington on the island.


TM: Nice.


SJB: And I was the oldest of all the cousins, and I loved that because I thought I was really ultimately in control, not Grandma and Grandpa. I also thought cousin camp was something that everyone did in their families growing up, but learned in college that it wasn't. But, just really good memories and a lot of time spent together with them.


They're deep people of faith. They were actually both Methodists and they were always encouraging me, telling me continually that they were praying for me. My grandpa would write me letters every birthday reflecting on his spiritual growth and development, and also his career aspirations and his family life, in that year of his life.


TM: Wow. That's amazing.


SJB: So when I turned 25, I had a letter from Grandpa about his 25th year.


But, I think overall, they were just such deeply encouraging people and really instilled within me this notion that whatever I did, it could be for the glory of God. That my vocation didn't have to be something that was really important in society, like a physician or a lawyer, and I didn't have to get a fancy seminary degree, although I went on to get two of those, but I didn't need that to be a faithful disciple. What i needed was encouragers along the way, and not just encouragers but also people who would challenge me and be community with me and do life with me in a way that wasn't fundamentally about judgment or critique, but that was about mutual edification and encouragement.


I've said encouragement like 100 times now. But that was a huge impact. And so I think they kind of oriented me to the world and a notion of vocation, of whatever you do as a Christian is a living out of your baptism, of how you are in community, and it's in service not only to your neighbors but to God as well.


And, they didn't put limits or pressure on the way I wanted to go, and I went through a lot of different iterations of things I wanted to do and be. A lot of medical professions I was super interested in. Eventually ended up in healthcare field but being an occupational therapist. And then also just my interest in theology. And they were really excited about that. So they had a big impact on... Just being encouragers and full out supporters, no matter what.


The second person who I think about who had a huge impact, was actually someone named Jonah. And when I knew Jonah, he was six years old. That's when I first met him. And I worked with him when I was a college student as his primary caregiver. So he was a young boy, and he had multiple disabilities. He was what my hospital colleagues and I would call someone who's medically fragile. So he used a wheelchair to get around. He doesn't communicate with words, he can't bathe himself, he can't eat by himself, he can't really get around or do much on his own. And I needed a job, and I had done a lot of babysitting. But I was also interested in healthcare and had been involved with the disability community and folks living with mental illness or other chronic medical conditions.


So, I got connected with his family and hung out. I spent 20 to 30 hours a week with Jonah for about three years. And spending that much time with someone who doesn't talk back to you is really interesting for someone who's more... I like to talk and I'm also very academically oriented, like to read, debate, and have conversations with folks. And Jonah just taught me so much about the deep inter-dependence that we all share. But then also the world of communication and human connection that goes so far beyond words. There were many times in college... The drama train of heartache and heartbreak and stress over finals and midterms and classes, and Jonah kind of ministered to me and met me where I was when I was distressed or stressed out or tired, and he really caused me to ask a lot of questions about the world.

Like, why haven't I met someone like Jonah before? I know that Jonah's not the only medically fragile child in the Seattle area. Why don't I see kids like Jonah where I've gone to church or where my classmates go to church? Why don't you see kids like Jonah at the mall with their friends?


And, those questions eventually intersected, or pretty quickly, intersected with questions of theology, especially wondering, "Hey, why don't we see folks of really diverse abilities, typically, in our churches?" And that set me on the path to asking these questions when I was in occupational therapy school and then also continuing with these questions to this day.


And, then also, just the power of human connection and the ability to be incredibly close with someone, even if you can't talk to each other.


And then, the third person was my advisor in college. I went to Seattle Pacific University. And her name was Cindy Fitch, and she passed away when I was actually doing my MTS at Duke. And she was counseling me one day in the Student Union building at Seattle Pacific. And we were drinking a latte, which is very on-point for being in Seattle, and just discussing this dilemma that I had.


So, it was my first year of college, and I'd gone into SPU really wanting to be a nurse, and then I discovered that all the nursing classes only had women in them and I didn't want to take classes with only women, and I felt like I was a little bit catty. Side note: now I'm in a career where I think over 90% of occupational therapists are women, so I kind of missed the mark on that one. But I was explaining to her that I was really thinking about occupational therapy and majoring in biology, doing a pre-health track in college, but that I also loved my theology and Bible classes that were requirements at SPU, but I was one of the weird people who was just coming alive in these courses and loving what I was learning.


And, I was kind of complaining to her and lamenting to her, like, "How can I do these two things together? I either have to be a bio major and spend all this time in the lab or I can be a theology major and do biblical studies, and I just don't want to choose and this is totally unfair. And, she just told me, "You do not have to choose." She said, "Don't choose, do both. And promise me that you will do both."


And that has really stuck with me, because now, as a dually appointed faculty member at Duke, as well as when I was a student at Duke, I was a practicing occupational therapist my whole tenure. And the vast majority of people in my life tell me, "When are you just going to be an occupational therapist? When are you just going to work in the clinic?" Or, "When are you really going to commit and just be a real academic and only do theology, and just work at a university?" And Cindy's words always come back to me and say, "Don't even entertain that option that you need to silo those two parts of your vocation off from each other."


Which, I think ties back into, really, what Jonah taught me, which was, he was raising my awareness of these questions, at this intersection. And then also my grandparents' encouragement to say, "Yeah, you're serving God through a unique and dual vocation." And they wouldn't say it like that. That's my vocation speak. But that was the result of how they nurtured me.


And so those are three people that I see having a lifelong lasting impact on where I am today.


TM: Wow. Thanks for sharing that, and knowing what I know about you, I can now clearly see how those people had such a profound influence on your life. You've named that faith is important to you, your grandparents were Methodists, and I believe that you're connected with the Episcopal Church.

SJB: Yeah.


TM: What is a moment in your life when you experienced the presence of God?


SJB: I am an Episcopalian, as you mentioned. Very proud, active Episcopalian. And one thing that a lot of Episcopalians tend to like, or at least the ones that I hung out with, or that I've been hanging out with for the last few decades, is a `revival of this Christian practice of pilgrimage and an embrace of living a pilgrim life, having a pilgrim faith.


And, because of my awareness of pilgrimage, and my curiosity and interest in it, and also just some opportunities in my life, I was able to travel to the Isle of Iona, which is off the west coast of Scotland, and it's thought to be the place where the Book of Kells was produced. I don't think they said production back then, but where the Book of Kells came into being. It's thought to be where the earliest exclusively female religious order in the western world was established. So if you've been to Iona or if you go in the future, which I hope everyone listening will, you can go to see the ruins of that religious order and the stones are almost pink. So it's a really interesting place and there's lots to be said about Iona.


But, I went to Iona the summer before I started my occupational therapy program in Boston, Massachusetts. Actually flew back the day before my grad program started, which I wouldn't necessarily recommend. But I had the chance to go back to Iona again the spring before I started my MTS at Duke. And when I went back to Iona for that second time, I was on a break from finishing out my clinical rotations as an occupational therapist. And the reason I was on a break, because usually I'm not a kind of a break person. I like to finish everything on paradigm and on schedule. But I had suffered a pretty severe soft tissue injury in my back, so my spine was not doing very well and I had been in intense physical therapy for about a month and a half, and had to actually withdraw from what I thought was going to be my final clinical placement, and I was going to have to do three months of additional placement, even though I was just a week away from graduating and taking my board exam.


So I had undergone this intense rehab process of getting my back to a spot where I could walk and get out of bed, which are things I couldn't do for a few weeks. And I planned a trip, and I went to Iona, and I also ended up going to the Taize Community in France. But Iona, there's an abbey on the island, and they have daily prayer services, and I went to a healing service there. And something to note, also as an Episcopalian, a lot of Episcopalians I know aren't super into healing services, so they were giving a thumbs up to the pilgrimage and maybe a thumbs down to the healing service.


But, I went to this healing service and I was really distraught. I thought my life was over because I had been delayed three months in my clinical training, which of course, looking back on it, I'm like, I was totally fine. I had a place to stay and I had resources and access to medical care. But I went to this healing service. And I didn't only go to a healing service. I came down at the point where they invite people to come for prayer, with all these Scottish people in residence. And it's not very busy on Iona at this point. It's early spring, so they don't have all the summer people coming, when there's thousands of people flocking to the island. It's very quiet. And cold and rainy, to be honest. Just like Seattle.



But, I came for a healing prayer. And I think that, in and of itself, was a moment of the Holy Spirit. But when I came for this healing prayer, they laid hands on my back and I sensed God's presence in an overwhelming envelopment of peace. I was not at a peaceful point in my life, and it was exacerbated by the fact that I was still in pain. Obviously I could go on a trip and was getting around in my daily life, but pain was still a huge factor for me. And I experienced such an incredible envelopment with peace from the hands of these faithful Christians, holding a prayer service at 7:00 PM, when it's dark and rainy on Iona Abbey in Scotland, listening to the call of the Spirit, because usually I would stay glued to my chair.


But, that was a very powerful encounter with God's presence, and also a powerful encounter with healing. I continued to keep up my exercise and my therapy regimen after that, but I really did not experience pain after that, at the severity that I had been for a few months. So, also God's healing presence, which, there's a few who are listening who know me, know that's hard for me to say. I will talk about God's healing all day, but to actually experience it and the surrender that that takes, is a big thing for me.


So, that's definitely a moment that comes to mind in my life, where I would have never been able to guess that that would have ever happened to me, or I would have even put myself in that kind of situation. And that's why I know God was showing up, and the Spirit was working within me because that's not something that Sarah Barton would usually do.


TM: I would like to shift and talk a little bit about your scholarship. You do a lot of work around disability theology. I'm wondering if you could explain what disability theology is to someone who does not have a theological background?


SJB: Sure. So disability theology... Explaining it to someone who isn't a theologian... I think John Swinton, who is a disability theologian and a former nurse and a former chaplain, and also happened to be the co advisor with Warren Kinghorn for my dissertation project at Duke, he talks about disability theology as attempts, as explorations, as conversations between non-disabled and disabled Christians, that reflect upon who God is, who human beings are and what lived experiences of human disability look like, as well as what does lived experience of disability help us see, or perceive, or question, or challenge, or reconstruct, or be creative about? Especially in relation to who God is, what our gatherings as Christians look like, what our education as Christians look like. How is that different because of lived experiences of human disability, in ways that wouldn't be open to us otherwise?


So, it's a great field. Of course I encourage everyone to read all the disability theology you can and get involved. But it's a fairly new field and it really does take a collaborative and really curious look at both traditional theological categories and questions related to biblical and other sacred texts, but also thinking about new conceptual models that disability opens up. So I could say disability theology is also really interested in dialoguing with the field of disability studies, which is a critical discourse, and also a field that's really rooted in activism and community engagement.


And so in that way, disability theology is usually pretty thoroughly interdisciplinary.


TM: That's really well said. And I'll just name that I think you're a person that, in addition to studying and thinking about this, you're also living it out. I remember reading about how, in the Episcopal Church, you've learned but also consulted with individual congregations on how they can be better equipped to serve people that are disabled, and you've done some of that work on the ground, it seems like.


SJB: Yeah, that's right. That's a fun part of my job, or what God has brought into my path. So I've worked with all different kinds of churches. I've had some natural connections with Episcopal churches and been able to do teaching series but then also sit down with people and go through the liturgy, or their bulletin, or their Sunday school curriculum, and ask questions about accessibility, ask questions about how we are empowering each other in our ministries, in our vocations. And it's been really fun. And to also receive questions from people who think that they have exhausted all the options, and there just can't possibly be away forward for a particular individual or a family to be involved in their faith community.


So, it's really cool work, to collaborate with folks and say, "Let's look at this from a different perspective." And I try and help people draw on their resources within their own faith traditions, and show them, "You've got a lot here already. We don't need to reinvent the wheel to do work to build towards a community that's marked by a really significant inclusion and belonging."


TM: That's wonderful. You mentioned earlier that you're also an occupational therapist at the Duke University Medical Center. What are some of the connections that you make between your work as an occupational therapist and your work as a theologian?


SJB: One big general connection that I make is that occupational therapists are really focused on enabling participation in occupation. And so I'm just going to give everyone a quick definition of occupational therapy, because unfortunately, I don't think everyone probably has, on the tip of their tongue, exactly what OTs are and what they do. But OTs are concerned with human flourishing, and they work with individuals, and also communities, and then also at the population level, to remove barriers to participation in occupation, or the activities of everyday life. And we're really concerned that people can not only participate and have access to what they need to do, but also what they want to do in their life. Things that are meaningful for them.


And, the way that occupational therapy is different than other healthcare fields, or how we go about our work as OTs is that we think that engaging or participating in meaningful activity itself, is a mechanism of health. It contributes to human flourishing. And so if I'm seeing a kiddo in the clinic who has hemiplegic cerebral palsy, so the right side or perhaps the left side of their body has some muscle tone, they're not able to move their hand with much control, I will work with that kiddo on their various occupations.


So, that's everything from, how can they sleep at night? Not only for themselves but also for their parents and other household members. How can they sleep comfortably? Do we need to make any adjustments to their bedding or their positioning? Do I need to make a splint for them to help their muscle tone get stretched out and make sure that their fingers don't get bent permanently? Can they brush their teeth with that hand?


So, I want them to participate in things like that, but I also want them to fully participate in things like social relationships. Their communication with their peers, with their family, when they're out in the community. I want them to be able to have leisure activities that are fun for them. I want them to be able to eat a meal with their family and not be in pain, and not be frustrated that they're spilling all over themselves.


So, OTs use those very occupations in our treatments. We get to brush teeth. We get to practice eating. I do a lot of feeding therapy in my practice as a pediatric OT. And I think that's what makes us different. We don't prescribe medication, we don't give you a list of exercises to do, but we give you tools and work with the clients to really improve their participation and access, even starting off day one.


So, one of the big connections I see between theology and occupational therapy is this notion of participation. So as an OT, I want to see people participate in things, do activities, occupations that they need or want to do, and that are health-promoting and that are meaningful. I think, when we think about theology, we’re also thinking about participation in the life of the triune God, and participation together as God's people, as the church, as witnesses in the world. We're participating in God's reign that is now but not yet.


And, so I see lots of interesting connections in this theme of participation and this building of relationships and communities that enable participation that is radically inclusive, and ultimately sustained by God and by the power of the Spirit working in us. I don't say that to my clients, necessarily on a daily basis when I'm in clinic. But that is one big connection I see.


The other connection I see is just that there are a lot of questions about life meaning, about meaning-making, that come to the surface in occupational therapy practice. And so I think a really good example is actually my dissertation topic and how I came into that topic, really through my work as an occupational therapist. So coming into the ThD at Duke, I was really interested in disability theology, and I thought I wanted to write a constructive theological anthropology. I was kind of doing a remix on the imago dei, or God's image, people with disabilities. PSA, a lot of people have already remixed that, but I'm sure there's still good remixes out there. But I was pretty sure I wanted to do something like that.


So meanwhile, as I'm taking my coursework in the Th.D., I'm also working part time at Duke as a pediatric occupational therapist, and I'm noticing this really interesting trend that is, almost everyone I talk to brings up, at one time or another, some issues that they've had with faith communities, or the fact that they once were regular church attenders but now they're not any more. And it really struck me, because this wasn't just a conversation that I had with one or two people. This was a conversation that I had with 23 out of the 27 kids on my caseload.


And then, I was also noticing it, not only with my outpatient caseload and people I would see regularly over months at a time or even years, but I also started to notice it when I was seeing kids who were in the hospital with more acute issues, or kids who were undergoing chemotherapy treatment or a bone marrow transplant for cancer, and wondering how they would go back to their faith communities. And these families were just desperate for answers. And I would say the vast majority of these conversations were before they knew that I was a theologian, or I was studying at Duke Divinity School, and so they were just things that organically came to the surface when you're spending an hour a week with someone for months or years at a time.


And, I particularly heard stories about... Many of the kids I worked with on the clinical side were being denied baptism. And it was surprisingly not just in cradle baptism traditions and traditions that have a really strong orientation towards an individual confession, although some kids were from those traditions. But it was also... Some kids were getting baptized in cradle baptism traditions which are typically traditions that practice baptism among infants and small children as well as adolescents and adults. And also kids who had been baptized but it didn't seem to really mean anything for their churches. Their churches still kicked them out for being disruptive. They said there wasn't a place for them in youth group or Sunday school.


And so, that's a question I took up in my dissertation and it was kind of laid bare before me as this gaping wound in the church. The church universal. And I felt that I had a responsibility to respond to that. That my work as an OT and hearing laments and hearing frustration, and just many sleepless nights and tears from whole families sometimes, about this issue, made me think, "Oh gosh. There's so many questions that are unanswered. But then there's also so many failures of the church to be the church for these folks."


And so, I recalibrated, and I ended up doing participatory qualitative research with adults with intellectual disabilities about baptism. And it was actually really awesome. I knew it was going to be awesome. But I ended up hearing all these really positive and incredible stories of how these folks, including adults with intellectual developmental disabilities who are not speakers, so they don't use words to communicate, how they were living out their baptismal vocations in their church communities and their regular communities, in their volunteer work, in their families, and really thinking about this notion of baptism and baptismal identity as our primary identity as Christians, while really resisting some people's desire to erase disability identity or erase racial identity. We can't do that. I think Paul warns us about...that's not a good idea.


But, how can a framework of baptismal location, baptismal identity, really help reframe questions about disability in the church, from like, "This person doesn't understand", or, "This person is disruptive", to "How's the Holy Spirit working in this person? And what gifts were they given at baptism?" And being expectant about their Christian vocation, their Christian discipleship, and acknowledging that we can't be Jesus' body. We are inextricably connected to this person in Jesus, by nature of baptism, and we need to act like it.


TM: Yeah.


SJB: That's my challenge at the end of the book: let's start acting like it. So, I don't know if that's a firm connection, but it's kind of how I see those two worlds being just so interconnected for me, that the questions that come up for me in clinic about my families and kids that I see are thinking about, shape the kind of questions that I bring to my devotional and home church study of scripture and participating in the worship of God together, but then also the academic work I do.


TM: Yeah, and that intersection that you're sitting at, I think, is really important and my personal family has been impacted by this. As you know, I have young girls and they've had some sensory challenges, and we've worked with an occupational therapist and she's become an important part of our family, and we have some mutual friends that has been a patient of yours. It's a little girl that has cerebral palsy, and I know you can't comment on those for HIPAA reasons, but I just know that your work has had a profound impact on their lives, so that work that you're doing is just really important.


You have been around Duke for a while. You came and did your MTS at Duke Divinity School and stuck around, did your ThD. Then you left for a little bit and were in Michigan, and you're back as of fall 2020, as one of our newest faculty members. I'd love to hear the story of why did you come back to Duke? How did you come back?


SJB: It's a good story. It's a fun story. When I left Duke to go to Michigan, I was taking a dissertation completion and post-doctoral fellowship. So it was a two year fellowship at Western Theological Seminary, focused on my work in disability. So I was like, "Oh my goodness. This is an amazing fit." And so, moved up there with Andrew, my spouse, and our tiny dog, named Jed, after Jed Bartlett on The West Wing, for any The West Wing fans out there. And we moved up there, and it was great. Had its challenges but I also was able to really grow. I finished my dissertation, which was huge. And I had amazing opportunities to grow as a scholar.

All this while I was still really connected to folks at Duke, because I was finishing my dissertation and working closely with my committee, and coming back down. My in-laws live here. I love Duke. I love Duke Basketball, so I had to come back down and see the Blue Devils play, and whenever I came back down I was in conversation with folks at Duke. There were rumblings for many years, basically from when I started at Duke in 2012, that they were interested in starting an occupational therapy doctorate program at the university. And I thought, "Wow. Wouldn't that be amazing, if Duke had an OT program and a divinity school that I love?"


And it turns out, that when I was in Michigan the university hired a program director, Dr. Barb Cooper, for the occupational therapy doctorate division in the school of medicine and the program was approved, actually just a few months ago in May 2020, and they were starting to think about faculty back in 2019, a few months after Barb had come on as the program director. So I knew of Barb and I had connected with her, and I was also keeping close with the divinity school where that, "Hey, Duke's getting an OT program. Wouldn't that be a cool thing if I could teach in the divinity school and bring my experience and expertise in the field of disability theology? There's no one at Duke Divinity who really is studying or teaching in that area. And then I could also have a dual appointment, like my advisor, Dr. Warren Kinghorn and some others, as well, at the divinity school."


And, just started connecting people. So I connected Barb with folks at the divinity school with Dean Jones with some people in theology, medicine and culture. And we just had very informal conversations about what this could look like. And so I'm grateful that the divinity school has a commitment to supporting interdisciplinary scholars. They have commitment to dually appointed faculty members. And there was an opening, a position, and I came up in November of 2019 to interview. I do not recommend a five day interview to anyone. It was rather taxing, but it was also just so exciting to present my research and do interviews with a bunch of different folks at the divinity school. And then also turn around and the next few days, work with folks at the school of medicine.


So, that's a little bit about how the job at Duke came to be. Kind of the stars aligning, I guess, with the two programs. And, having already been here for many years and having experienced such a supportive environment, especially from my work as a bi-vocational person. Folks at Duke, and I have to thank Warren Kinghorn for this. Since the beginning, back, Todd, when you were working in admissions for the first time and were trying to convince me to come to Duke Divinity School... You definitely had a part in that, I will say. But I think Warren Kinghorn was really the person who brought it home for me, saying, again, "You don't have to leave behind your work and identity as an OT. That will be welcome here and you can integrate that work with your scholarship. And actually, that's what we want you to do. We're interested in having these conversations and supporting Christians who work in healthcare."


And so, living through that and experiencing that, and how critical that was to just my own wellbeing, my own development as a scholar, my own development as someone who does interdisciplinary work, and who is really trying to put different fields in conversation with each other, and then at the same time, someone who's pragmatic to my very deepest bones, and really is concerned about, what problems are people having? What's actually happening on the ground? And being really involved in that. And I experienced Duke as a place that equally valued all those things, that was going to hold me to a high level of rigor and excellence in my academic work, but with the same enthusiasm and rigor and support was going to hold me to being an excellent clinician, and was excited about connections and excited about my work.

And so, I think my time at Duke as a student really paved the way. Opportunities I had to teach as a doctoral student, that I haven't heard colleagues at any other doctoral program in theology who had as much teaching experience and formation as an educator as I was able to have at Duke. So I wanted to get back into it, and I was fortunate enough to receive an offer and to very gladly and quickly accept that offer and start back.


And so, even though we're in the middle of a global pandemic, and I had to complete an interstate move and all the difficulties and stresses with that, it's been really good to feel like I'm coming home to a place that honors and supports and pushes me in all this aspects of who I am as a Christian, as a disciple, as an academic, and also as a clinician.


TM: Well I'm thrilled that you're back and I think your faculty appointment is at the heart of who we aspire to be, certainly at Duke University and definitely at Duke Divinity School.


Sarah, I want to end with, maybe something that's a little fun. I want to end with a lightening round where I'm just going to throw something at you and just real quick, one or two word answers. You ready for this?


SJB: Oh yeah.


TM: Okay.


Do you consider yourself as an early bird or a night owl?


SJB: Early bird, 100%.


TM: What's the best book you've read recently?


SJB: The book, Wonder. It's a young adult novel.


TM: Nice.


SJB: Can't remember the author.


TM: Nice.


I think I know the answer to this question, but dogs or cats?


SJB: Dogs. Definitely dogs.


TM: You gave a shout out earlier to Jed, who I think is a malti-poo?


SJB: Oh yeah.


TM: And Jed has his own Instagram account. Do you want to give a quick shout out to that so we can get his followers up?


SJB: Oh yeah. @Jedthemaltipoo. That's his handle on Instagram. I'm actually off social media at the moment, but I think I will be making a return. Jed follows my social media pattern, so he's also on a digital minimalism kick at the moment.


TM: Okay.


SJB: I will say that he's going to have a dog sibling very soon, C.J. the malti-poo, to follow on... Jed is named after Jed Bartlett in The West Wing, so he's going to get a sister malti-poo who's named C.J. after C.J. Cregg. So stay tuned for those dogs in the upcoming pictures.


TM: What's the last movie you saw?


SJB: Oh my gosh. I don't even know. I saw Little Women in the theater a few weeks before we went on lockdown in Michigan.


TM: Yeah, back when people saw movies in theaters. Wow.


I think I know the answer to this one too. Duke basketball, UNC basketball or you don't care about basketball?


SJB: What? How is this even a question for me? Duke basketball all the way. I will talk to anyone about Duke basketball. I'll watch old Duke basketball games with you. I'll analyze them. That's been one of my COVID leisure activities, occupations, is old Duke basketball games. And as a student, I was on the basketball committee all seven years, and I actually ran the lottery, which I can say now. I couldn't say at the time, but I was in charge of the lottery, which graduate students got basketball tickets.


TM: Nice.


And I think you live in a household that's divided. I don't know, how do you do that?


SJB: We live in a very divided household, but luckily Duke Divinity was how my spouse and I were introduced, so I think Duke wins at the end of the day. That's only because Andrew can't talk on this podcast right now.


TM: What's some recent music you've listened to?


SJB: I still listen to music on Pandora which I've been informed is not cool. I have a paid Pandora account. I listen to Felix Mendelssohn, piano radio, when I write. And I have all the curate stations so the two stations that I listen to just for fun if I'm doing chores, that I've really focused on curating during COVID, have been the Avett Brothers, North Carolina natives, I think, and Lizzo.


TM: Wonderful.


Last one here. Something weird that you love.


SJB: That's a good question. I wish I could hear other people's answers to this to get my mind going.


I love dinosaurs. I don't know if that's weird, but I really, really love dinosaurs. I have a lot of dinosaur decorations and if you bring your child to my house, either when it's safe for us to hang out in person, or socially distanced, there'll be a myriad of dinosaur toys for them to check out. I don't know if that's weird or not. And, that's also probably because I'm a pediatric OT.


TM: Yeah, there probably aren't a ton of people that have dinosaur toys. Certainly there's a niche for that but I would say not everybody does.


SJB: For sure. Maybe my next theological project.


TM: Well, Sarah, this has been a delight. I really appreciate you taking time out of the many hats that you're wearing to stop and have this conversation.


SJB: Yeah, thanks so much for inviting me, Todd, and for asking such great questions today.


TM: Thanks for spending time listening to the Divcast. Be sure to subscribe to our feed, available anywhere you find podcasts. You can send us feedback and questions by emailing


TM: Our executive producer is Morgan Hendrix. Sound design is by Brandon Holmes. Special thanks to Evelyn Archer and Leah Reed, both M.Div. 2021 for working on the foundation of this podcast and providing research help. Our music is from Christian DaPonte, M.Div. 2021.


We will always end with a 'Div did you know?', which is a fact or interesting aspect about Duke Divinity that you may or may not know. Did you know that the newest building of the divinity school, called the Westbrook Building, opened in 2005 and is 53,000 square feet?


I hope you will join us again on the Divcast.