Rachel Toombs will be joining the YTI faculty this year as Professor of Theology and Old Testament. She will be accompanied by her husband, Lance Green, who will also be a lecturer at YTI. Rachel is currently completing her Ph.D. at Baylor University on the writing of Flannery O’Connor and Hebrew narrative. She and Lance have two pit rescues, Rosie and Eowyn—yes, named after characters from Middle-earth.
Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I did my undergrad at Bethel University in St. Paul. I majored in youth ministry there, so when I finished I worked for three years with at-risk youth outside Minneapolis in a nonprofit parachurch organization. While I was there, I realized that I like working with teenagers, but I got most excited when I was teaching them or even helping to train the other staff members. I went to Regent College in Vancouver where I completed a M.A. in Old Testament. But while I was there, I realized that while I love Old Testament, I also think like a theologian—I ask questions like a theologian, and I felt sometimes more at home having theological conversations. So when I realized I wanted to keep going with school and applied to programs, I was encouraged by one of my mentors to apply to at least one theology program. I did that, and I got into Baylor in theology. I told them that though I was super excited, I wanted to continue my work in biblical studies as well. They were flexible and willing, so I’m doing research in Old Testament even while working on a theology dissertation.
How did you become interested in studying Flannery O’Connor?
I came to Baylor intending to write on theological interpretation of the Bible. And then I read Flannery O’Connor. I had read her before, but I read her in a class and I realized there is something about the way she tells stories that I really appreciate and I didn’t know how to articulate. What I love about O’Connor is that she tells stories about ordinary, sometimes freakish people and encounters with grace—supernatural grace, divine grace—in these ways that aren’t sentimentalized, and aren’t comfortable, and aren’t at all what we would think encounters with God would be like. They are painful, they’re often raw, and they’re narrated in a matter-of-fact way. And what I realized is that O’Connor invites her readers into discovering meaning without doing the work for them. It rings more true, it’s more authentic, it’s more honest about what it means for a human to encounter God.
You and your husband, Lance, will both be joining the YTI faculty. What’s it like to look forward to being involved at YTI together?
We met and fell in love in a graduate school atrium, so it suits our narrative that we’re doing this together. We complement each other and we push each other. I know I have an advocate in him, but I also know that as we think about inviting students into these ongoing theological conversations, I have a good counterpoint in him. So, I’m excited to see what comes out of it. I’m excited to have a shared thought world together. You’re reading the same things or you’re reading parallel things, so your conversations are so much more than “What’s for dinner?”
Tell us about some of your hobbies and interests.
I’m boring with hobbies. Lance goes mountain biking and does all these epic things. I like to read fiction, especially bad fantasy fiction, and I like to bake. That’s the one hobby that I’ve been doing for long enough that I actually feel like I can bake pretty good bread, and I have standard recipes that I’ve tweaked over many years. I remember when I was first learning to bake the process of taking flour, water, salt, and yeast and making things out of it was the most magical concept. It still gets me. I love it. But I’m boring. I like to start crafty projects and never finish them. I try gardening, but I don’t have a green thumb. But I try, because I love the idea of planting something and nurturing it and growing it—and then you eat it. To me, growing up in the city without a backyard of my own, that’s the most amazing concept.
What excites you about moving to the Northern Rockies?
Bozeman is almost halfway between where Lance and I are from. We’re from Oregon and Minnesota, and so there’s this feeling of us coming home in a way. I lived in Vancouver for four years doing my Master’s, and I’d never been around mountains before. I grew up with lakes, so it was beautiful, but there’s a wilderness invitation when you look at the mountains and when you enter into them, and I’m excited to have that at my doorstep again. I’m a Tolkien nerd, and I’m excited for the invitation to wander and explore. For my husband, this is where his heart is, where he comes most alive, and I’m excited to bring him somewhere that I know he can thrive. I’m also excited for the local feel of Bozeman where you have all these things that kind of foster local living. We’re excited about winter, for sure. I grew up in Minnesota, I can handle a Montana winter.