Nov 26 2010

The Gift of Uncertainty

Quentin SamuelsI participated in an interesting conversation with a prospective student a couple of weeks ago and, to my surprise, I gave some advice about the application and discernment process that I would not have given him two years ago when I first began this journey through Candler.  He wrestled with oft-noted questions concerning such topics as  whether this was the right “time” for going to seminary, what he would do with his degree upon completion of the Masters of Divinity Program, and what it means for God to place a specific call on his life different from people closely connected to him.  My advice to him was to embrace his uncertainty as a gift.  A divine one at that.  I challenged him to not view his uncertainty as a hindrance, but rather grounds for liberation.

Uncertainty during a process such as applying to divinity school is truly a gift from God and it took me two and half years at Candler to reach this epiphany.  Now, I know at this point, it is hard for some people to comprehend how uncertainty could be accepted as a gift.  Well, I thought back to when I was applying for Candler.  I questioned every aspect of the process.  I knew that from the point that I enrolled into the MDiv program at Candler my life would be forever changed.  But it was this feeling of uncertainty that provided access to a type of faith that I never knew existed within me.

First, uncertainty allowed me to be receptive to options for my life that I may have never considered, but ones that God had arranged for me.  Sometimes we can be so rigid in how we believe that we can serve in ministry that we impede our own ability to hear God speak to us in novel ways about our calling.  Secondly, my faith was totally dependent upon God’s direction during this process.  Uncertainty served as a gift by pulling me closer to God in previously unimaginable ways.  The process was both scary and exhilarating at the same time.  And surrounding it all was God’s grace working within me to provide peace and around me to open doors.

Furthermore, in thinking about uncertainty as a gift, my mind immediately turns towards one of my favorite Biblical prophets, Jeremiah.  His uncertainty in his call as a prophet could have stifled what God had in store for him.  But in turn, his uncertainty actually performed an alternate function in his life.  It pushed him to ask God specific questions about the worthiness of his call: questions that he might not have considered had he not experienced doubt.  What I feel has been the best aspect of this spiritual conundrum is that when we are uncertain, quite often we find ourselves asking important questions about our future, decisions, and calling that we might occasionally overlook if we are sure about what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go.  In many cases, it is through our questions that we unlock answers to this divine mystery that we call life.

So if you happen to be in a discernment process during this season, or hopefully applying to one of the programs at Candler, accept and embrace uncertainty as a gift.  It can work in your favor in amazing ways.  Uncertainty doesn’t have to be something taboo or a sign that you don’t have every aspect of your life sorted out.  Conversely, uncertainty coupled with the grace of God’s guidance, should be understood as avenues for God to lead you towards your destiny.

-Quentin Samuels

Quentin is a third year MDiv student from Washington, DC and a Student Ambassador.  He is also President of Candler’s Black Student Caucus and an active member of the Candler Baptist Community.

Nov 19 2010

Finding Strength in Intentional Moments

As we near the end of what is for some of us our first semester in seminary and for others the first semester of their second or last year, I sense a great level of stress and burn out from a number of my colleagues. Whereas many began this journey excited, eager to fulfill their call to be at Candler, and confident in their ability to think and write critically, many are now doubting their competence and are trying to cope with the fact that they may not be receiving the grades in which they are use to receiving. Have we become so consumed with academics, meeting our own high expectations, making A’s, and passing exams at the expense of our well being that we have forgotten the very thing that we should be critically attentive to on this journey? “Self.”

I along with several of my colleagues have been privileged to take Introduction to Pastoral Care and Counseling with a master practitioner and constructivist Dr. Gregory Ellison. This class has played an integral part in rejuvenating my personal faith, regenerating hope, and transforming my spiritual life. One of the most powerful components of this course is the contemplative journey that we embark upon as a class to become more self-aware and reflective as caregivers who consciously give care to self and others.  As we go on pilgrimage with individuals that we know and many of whom we are getting to know while engaging readings surrounding theories and practices of care in pastoral care and related disciplines, students are challenged to not only develop models of care for the unacknowledged groups in which we will serve in ministry, but to begin to be attentive to their own voice and establish for themselves healthy practices of self-care.

Seminary should be a time in which we begin to foster and nurture a rich life in which we can draw strength. Self-awareness and self-care is critical to how pastors and leaders best serve others. One puts themselves and others at risk when self-care is not a priority. In carrying out our preoccupations whether in ministry, studying, or other work, we can divert our attention to the point where there is literally no time for the essential experience of being attentive to self. Yet, the truth is that in order to flourish in our studies, ministry, and other endeavors, we must make time for the experience of centering down and caring for self.

The journey of a Seminarian does not solely involve thinking critically and theologically, wrestling with difficult texts, and developing and critiquing arguments, its also involves one’s intentionality to create moments where they participate in leisure activities and develop spiritual disciplines that will empower them for the tasks above.

For those who are in Dr. Ellison’s course, we know that we are on the last part of our journey where we are returning home, which is symbolic for returning back to familiar places and familiar material, but looking at it with a different perspective. Some of us return home with a profound appreciation for some of the things and people that we left behind on the journey. As I return home for the holidays, I would like to share some of the wisdom that I received while on pilgrimage in this course. Hopefully this will help the rest of my fellow colleagues endure the race until the end of the semester.

  • Our greatest glory is not in ever falling, but in rising every time we fall. (Confucius)
  • It is one thing to be informed about the things that heal you, but it is another thing to give yourself liberally or freely to them.
  • Vocation is a response that a person makes with his or her total self to the address of God and to the calling to partnership. (Katherine Turpin)
  • While ability is important, ones willingness and capacity to be tenacious is what helps them to succeed.
  • So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap a harvest time, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9)

Remember to care for yourself!!!

-Ashley Thomas

Ashley is a first year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.

Nov 12 2010

The Seminary Cycle

Over the past few weeks, many first-year students have been following Dr. Strawn, and his TA staff, on a journey through the Old Testament. Most recently we were lectured on the Pentateuch, tested on the Pentateuch, and many breathed a sigh of relief that we were finished with the Pentateuch.

Lecture. Test. Breathe.

Today, we turned our attention to the Former Prophets. Although we have gone through a large portion of Israel’s history – Abraham & Sarah, Moses & Miriam, Joshua & Caleb – three things remain the same. (1) The Children of Israel just don’t seem to get it. They continue in their cycle of disobedience, punishment, and repentance. (2) Theologian, Martin Noth, just won’t pipe down: he has something to say about everything! His theories go through their own cycles of being presented, disputed, and sometimes refuted. (3) For students, the time we have to breathe is very limited. By the time our tests are completed, and breaths taken, the cycle quickly begins again.

Lecture. Test. Breathe.

From Genesis to Judges, the Children of Israel engage in the same cycle of disobedience, punishment, and repentance. Judges concludes with the following verse: “In those days there was no king in Israel…” In today’s lecture, Dr. Strawn indicated that this verse sets the stage for Samuel and the monarchy. Will the coming of the monarchy change things? Will Israel finally find the courage to obey Yahweh? Will the cycle be broken? Although I have a few projections, I’ll save those projections to live with the question: Will the cycle be broken?

In many ways this question speaks to the life of this theology student. As my first semester at Candler nears its close – papers, tests, and presentations mounting – I am moved to a place of reflection. From this place, the so-called seminary cycle is, indeed, broken: I realize that this semester has been filled with so much more than just listening to lectures, preparing for tests, and gasping for air. Yes, these things have been a part of my Candler experience, thus far. But there is also a certain amount of preparing, practicing, and playing involved.

Prepare. Practice. Play.

Each week I begin by spending a few hours at my Contextual Education site, The Emmaus House.   Here, the rubber meets the road, and I am able to put the things I am learning in class into practice; playfully engaging in various activities, attempting to find out what works and what does not in various settings. Furthermore, I share my week with the best group of colleagues one can imagine. We all are engaging in preparation for and the practice of ministry, together. We even play together occasionally – occasionally meaning, every Tuesday at 8:00pm (GLEE!).

Although tests, papers, and lectures have been a part of my semester, they are not the dominant force shaping my experience. It remains to be seen if the Children of Israel will break their cycle – I’m sure Dr. Strawn will tell us next Tuesday – but I know that I have broken mine. Today I commit to a new cycle of preparation and practice, and I vow to play a little more, as well.

Prepare. Practice. Play.

Let this cycle continue on…

- Brandon Maxwell

Brandon is a first year MDiv student from Nashville, TN and a Student Ambassador.

Nov 5 2010

Candler Class of 2011: Reflections on a Global Education

Maria in MexicoSome call it wanderlust. Others tell me it’s the result of growing up in a small town. My parents’ conclusion is that they let me watch the Travel Channel one too many hours as a child. Whatever the reason, I’ve never been able to sit still for long. Whether it’s backpacking across Zimbabwe, studying Ancient Christianity in Greece, or even just climbing on my bike to get out of town (and into some of the amazing trail rides outside of Atlanta), I’m usually found wherever the rubber meets the road.

During my undergraduate years, I learned how to put my thirst for travel to good use. I felt a strong desire to seek an education influenced by classroom learning and on the ground experience. Beginning my freshman year, I came to understand academia not as an ivory tower set apart from the world, but as the ivory composing the tusks of the elephants that live as part of our world. I traveled to Mozambique, Turkey, Ireland, and other locales, seeking practical application for all that I was learning. In the process, I met people who challenged me to speak, think, and care in diverse and life-giving ways.

View from MozambiqueWhen I decided to apply for divinity schools, my number one priority was finding a university where education wasn’t limited to the classroom. I looked at many places that viewed theology as an integral aspect of a global community, but Candler stood out as a place already engaged in the world even from its home space. Atlanta is a city where global NGOs converge with refugee communities, where church is not limited to local neighborhood, and where a school of theology utilizes the international perspectives all around it. Because of these reasons and more, Candler became the obvious choice.

Moving through AustraliaTwo and a half years later, I enter my last semester of divinity school having spent almost as much time inside the classroom as outside of it. Hours of contextual education in a women’s prison, three and a half months of the summer working for a development organization in Africa, two weeks at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia, and an additional summer in Mexico are all opportunities that were made possible to me because the faculty, staff, and students at Candler believe that education is at its best when it is inclusive of global perspectives. Thanks to Candler, I am equipped for leadership in the real world, and it feels bittersweet to be preparing to leave an institution that has supported my passion for a global education.

- Maria Presley

Maria is a 3rd year MDiv student from Mississippi and a Student Ambassador.

Nov 1 2010

Cloud of Witnesses

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 11:1

I have been told that Halloween is every Candler student’s favorite pagan holiday. Now, there are a few comments that could be made about this. (For instance, only at Candler do people tend to distinguish between pagan and religious holidays). But that conversation will have to be another blog post, because in all honesty, I’ve never cared much for Halloween. I mean, I appreciate it, but mostly, it is has served only to signify that Christmas is less than two months away. (Though I did just learn that if you go to Chipotle dressed like a burrito, they give you a free burrito.)

But Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, which means many churches will simultaneously be celebrating All Saints Day. This holiday, which is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic tradition, serves as a day to remember those saints who have gone before us in this Christian journey, to remember those Christians who have served as an example and a guide to us in our own struggles. In the Catholic tradition, this function mainly to celebrate the literal saints, but in Protestant circles, it has been broadened to include all believers.

Pitts Theology LibraryNow, this is a holiday I can get on board with, even if doesn’t get me a free burrito. The esteemed Dr. Ellison teaches in his pastoral care classes that every person has a community of saints who helped get them where they are today. People who prayed and worked and dreamed so that we can be where we are right now.

They are our very own cloud of witnesses, and we should remember them.

It’s easy to overlook them, I think, especially in a society where independence is so valued and the mindset is that if you want something you have to get it yourself.  Christianity tells us otherwise. We are not supposed to do it on our own, and in fact, we can’t. Some of our community we know. It’s our parents and our grandparents, our mentors and our pastors, but some of them we don’t. For instance, the mere fact that I’m at a seminary right now means that women who I won’t ever know worked to earn me that right.

I often study in the Pitts Theological Library, which at one time served as the entire theology school. The main area is where the old chapel used to be, and when I study in there, I can’t help but be drawn into the community there that’s greater than myself and the class of 2013. It is a holy place. People have been praying, worshipping and studying here for a long time. The questions that I am wrestling through have been wrestled through many times there. But they persevered.  And their perseverance gives me hope, and thus I can run the race set out before me.

How did you remember your saints, both known and unknown, this year?

-Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a 1st year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador