Considering Mass Trauma: When Public Conversations Converge

September 27 at 5:30 p.m. ET

Horizontal graphic of Headshot of Rev. Dr. Kimberly Wagner next to her book "Fractured Ground" and headshot of Cody Keenan next to his book "Grace".

When the stories of mass trauma are so great in number—from shootings to catastrophic climate events, to global pandemics—how do we find the right words...again?

This event places Dr. Kimberly Wagner’s recent scholarship on narrative fracture and preaching in the wake of mass trauma in dialogue with how political leaders respond to the same traumatic events. Her conversation partner, former Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan, brings experiences deeply resonant with the theological formation we take on at Princeton Seminary but with entirely new vantage point, creating space for a wider-ranging audience to engage with critical themes of lament, hope, reconciliation, forgiveness, and more.

Headshot of Cody Keenan for Considering Mass Trauma, next to his book "Grace", the graphic reads "Author, 'Grace'; President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America, Political Advisor, and Former Director of Speechwriting for President Barack Obama".

Cody Keenan has been a speechwriter for President Barack Obama for nearly a decade, rising from a campaign intern in Chicago to Director of Speechwriting at the White House. Through times of challenge and change, Keenan has helped President Obama craft remarks on every topic for every audience – from tiny backyards in Iowa to the biggest stadiums in the country; from sermons on the National Mall to the State of the Union Address. Over eight years in the White House, their collaborations were compared to the works of Abraham Lincoln, described as the “‘I Have a Dream’ speech for the 21st Century,” and categorized even by prominent Republicans as “speeches that every child should read in school.”

Together, their efforts resulted in some of the most unforgettable addresses of our time. From Tucson to Newtown to Charleston, Keenan helped President Obama fill his role as Consoler-in-Chief. From commencement addresses to Selma to Obama’s Farewell Address, they redefined the essence of the American creed and charted an inspiring, optimistic course for a new generation’s active citizenship. In 2017, Obama asked Keenan to continue their partnership, and today, Keenan serves as Obama’s collaborator on his upcoming book, and as his post-presidential speechwriter.

Educated at Northwestern University and Harvard University, Keenan’s passion for public service was sharpened as a young aide to the legendary Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In 2014, Northwestern honored Keenan with its “Emerging Leader Award,” presented to a top alumnus under age 35. In 2015, Keenan’s commencement address at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service was highlighted by the New York Times and the Washington Post as one of the year’s best. And in 2017, CNN’s critically-acclaimed documentary “The End” highlighted Keenan as one of the central characters in the final days of the Obama White House.

Headshot of Rev. Dr. Kimberly Wagner next to her book in the graphic which says, "Author, 'Fractured Ground, Preaching in the Wake of Mass Trauma', Assistant Professor of Preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Dr. Kimberly Wagner serves as the Assistant Professor of Preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary. She received a B.S. in Secondary Life Science Education from Miami University (OH), a M.Div. from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and her Ph.D. from the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University.

Though she has served among the Lutherans and was educated among United Methodists, Dr. Wagner is ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Previous experience on the pastoral staff of a PCUSA congregation in Virginia helps fuel and inform her present scholarship and teaching. She is passionate about supporting students’ formation and helping clergy and communities navigate the realities of an ever-changing world and church.

Her current writing and work focus on preaching and ministry in the midst and wake of trauma, particularly thinking about collective trauma, the role of the preacher, and the resources of our Scriptures and faith to respond to these moments. Dr. Wagner’s book, Fractured Ground: Preaching in the Wake of Mass Trauma, offers guidance for preaching in the aftermath of communal trauma, including mass violence, natural disasters, and public health crises.

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