Higher calling 

On the road, Sue Witty finds her way home

Cross-country road trips often inspire musicians to write new songs or change old ones. Singer/songwriter Sue Witty found the inspiration to change her life while driving from gig to gig. "When you are by yourself for extended periods of time," she says, "you can't help but turn inward and reflect on life."

Witty enjoyed the vagabond lifestyle of touring the country and sleeping in her van, but she says, "I felt like I wasn't really giving back to society or being very productive with my life."

So last year, Witty began taking theology classes at the Candler School of Divinity Emory's. "It was a pretty slow decision-making process," she admits. "And I wanted to be sure because it is such a big commitment to make."

After much thought and prayer, Witty decided last summer to enroll at Emory full time. "I finally realized that just dabbling really wasn't being committed enough," she says. "The main reason I came back to school was to just be more productive and develop some leadership skills to be more productive to society."

Now in her first year of Candler's Master of Divinity program, Witty isn't exactly sure if she's headed to the pulpit. "I don't know yet if I'm ordination bound and on the track to becoming a pastor," she admits. "But I'm very interested in being involved in social justice issues and basic human rights. I think that in a capitalist society, people can be sort of be negligent of others because they are so interested in themselves and self-promotion, so I just want to bring all that to people's awareness."

This life-changing direction wasn't Witty's first big shift. In 1997, she gave up a five-year career teaching learning-disabled middle school kids in her native Durham, N.C., to devote her life to music. Still, something was missing. "I felt like there was a reason all these feelings were tugging at me, and I believe this is finally what God wants me to be doing," she says.

But Witty isn't planning to leave music behind. In fact, she says her studies are injecting her musical career with a much-needed focus. Currently working with producer/guitarist Rob Gal on the follow-up to her Hyroplaning Ragamuffin album, Witty says her newfound direction will be featured more directly in new material. Her current course load -- which includes studies in civil rights, the Old Testament and Christian philosophy -- is a virtual primer for the socially and spiritually aware folkie.

"This quarter has certainly opened my eyes to a lot of injustices going on," Witty says, adding that, with the additional knowledge she's gaining, she believes she can make a difference in every aspect of her life. "When I was on the road full time, I didn't study enough -- I just didn't learn enough."

Witty enjoys both the interactive nature of "songwriters in the round" shows and the longer, less formal solo performances she frequently presents at coffeehouses and bookstores. "When I do shows at Borders, for example, I have an hour-and-a-half or two hours to play," she says. "I can do some covers and show people not only my work, but where I'm coming from with my influences as well."

Live, her quietly introspective singer/storyteller approach -- buoyed by a good-natured sense of humor -- often aids in getting her spiritual message across. "Reaching people with a musical story is one of the oldest methods of communication," she says. "It's part of my reason for being here, and I am thankful to be able to share it with as many people as I can."

Sue Witty performs Sat., March 30, at Borders Books, 1705 Mall of Georgia Blvd., Buford. 8 p.m., Free. 678-482-0872.

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