May 17 2011

Looking Back to Help Others Look Forward

They say all jokes have a hint of truth in them. That’s what makes them funny. There was a joke I heard when I started seminary three years ago that goes something like this:

Seminary is much like the Easter Story. The first year they’ll crucify you and things you believe in. The second year they’ll bury you in the tomb of major classes, lots of reading and papers. And the third year you’ll finally be resurrected.

It seems like yesterday I was in my first semester of classes at Candler. I can remember the conversations about classes, professors, and all of the work required to pass. If I think about it really hard, I can remember the feeling that three years would be an eternity. Graduation wasn’t even on the horizon—it was nowhere close to conceptualization.

Over that year, I can remember seemingly endless hours of reading and writing. I can remember assignments that made no sense at all and being asked to write papers on matters I could hardly spell, much less articulate with any sort of coherent or precise thought. All the while I was asked to sit through some of the most uncomfortable, and seemingly unending, sessions with people I did not know from Adam’s house cat (I’m from South Georgia so you’ll have to forgive the colloquialism) as we reflected on things we were experiencing at our Contextual Education sites or in the classroom.

I can remember the first time I was asked to critically consider some of the quant Sunday School lessons of my childhood in a classroom setting. It was as though someone had the audacity to walk right up to me and ask for the cloak off my back. How dare they ask me critically examine the stories of my childhood! But engaging in such critical thinking caused me to have a wonderfully scary encounter with foundational beliefs beginning to crack. I intentionally mean that it was both wonderful and scary all at once. It became clear early on that who I was when I came to seminary was not going to identical to who I would be after the rigors of the program. And that was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.

By my second year I began to experiment with trying on various voices. Amid the burying underneath mounds of materials and thinkers, one begins to find that some of the thinkers resonate with them. Some have special qualities that tickle the fancy of budding theologians in such a way that often, you try their voice on for size. It’s okay to do that. Some voices fit better than others. Some you will quickly outgrow like a child can outgrow clothes in a single season. Others stay with you, like old friends. Either way, the array of voices has the ability to cause mass confusion in the life of the “in-process” seminarian. But you continue to listen for in the middle of the confusion are sometimes subtle, yet profound moments when they surprise you and sing in a melodious chorus together.

And then comes the glorious possibilities of being in your final year. By this time you have successfully questioned and re-questioned much of what you came to seminary believing and thinking. Some you have kept because, after all, Candler will never take the easy road of simply telling you what to believe. You will form relationships with professors and peers and, dare I say it, you will enjoy classes. As the end of seminary comes closer and closer you will even have days where you’re sad that what seemed like such a distant possibility is slowly, but surely becoming an all-too-close reality. You are, all at once, a bumbling mess of mixed emotions. Job possibilities hang in the balance. Ordination pressures arrive. The end of school means the exciting end to deadlines and never-ending papers. And then it hits you—you will soon no longer be able to hide under a guise of safety at Candler. You will learn that you will soon have to enter the world and do this ministry thing on your own.

You realize a couple of important things after your time at Candler is finished. First, after I realized how scary it will be to finish and “do this ministry thing on my own,” I remembered, “I’m not on my own at all.” God is with us no matter where we go. And we have the opportunity to be a valued member of a division of the “communion of saints” at Candler. And so you are never, ever alone in the world. Secondly, there will come a day that you will speak and it will not be the voice of Barth, Luther, Luke Timothy Johnson, Tom Long, Carol Newsome, Athanasius, James Cone or Howard Thurman. It will be you. And it might scare you the first time you hear it. It will sound like you, but not the you that you once knew. And it will also sound like those wonderful conversation partners you developed in your studies, but not exactly because none of them will ever be a perfect fit. It will be a you that is not finished developing yet. In fact, you’ll realize that seminary is only the beginning this new you.

But don’t let me spoil the ending too much. Enjoy your ride and know that you have a community of saints, both past and present, lifting you up in prayer through the deadlines, pressures, all-night study sessions, and exams that will ultimately lead toward a transformation that you never thought possible.

Maybe folks are right in that all jokes have a hint of truth in them. Maybe seminary can and will reflect a smaller version of the grand and glorious story of redemption in the lives of each and every student ready to embark on the journey.

Grace and Peace,

- Rev. Ben Gosden, 11T

Ben is a 2011 MDiv graduate from Candler and the Associate Pastor of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, GA. He blogs regularly on issues of faith, life, and being a young adult pastor in a postmodern world. You can find his website at www.mastersdust.com.


May 11 2011

Unique Perspectives for Common Good

A few weeks ago, as the final project in our oral speaking class taught by Dr. Rubin, international students at Candler held a “Mini Symposium.”  The title of this symposium was “International Student Perspectives on Resolving Conflict in and through the Church.”  The presenters in our symposium consisted of six Korean students, including me, and two African students.  We felt wonderful community support from Candler faculty members (Rev. Ellen, Dr. Kraftchick, and Dr. Jenkins) and American students who came to listen to our presentations, and we had a great time sharing unique perspectives based on different social contexts and on resolving conflicts.  One purpose of our class was to enhance our ability of oral speaking in English, but as an international student at Candler, I also learned the importance of my presence at Candler.  Sometimes in my first year, I felt difficulties due to my different cultural aspects and social context from my American classmates.  However, through this symposium, I found that my differences contributed to diversity at Candler, and this diversity can serve to give unique insight to the dominant culture.

The topic of my presentation was a lesson from inter-religious dialogue in the ministry of Rev. Won Yong Kang.  First, I introduced a social conflict raised by some conservative Christian groups in South Korea.  In 2007, Christians Youth Union held a massive prayer gathering for the destruction of Buddhist temples; this gathering caused a serious social conflict among religions in South Korea.  In order to resolve such a conflict among religions, I suggested following the pattern of inter-religious dialogue among six major religions in South Korea like that led by Rev. Won Yong Kang in 1965 as an alternative in relationship among religions. (Rev. Won Yong Kang was a Korean Presbyterian pastor and studied at Union Theological Seminary, so he was greatly influenced by Christian Realism)  Rev. Kang emphasized that believers should transcend the issue of salvation for members of other faiths, because this issue often cause violent behaviors to other religions.  Rev. Kang hoped that through inter-religious dialogue, believers can be more morally and spiritually mature by learning from other religions and serve the common good, especially social justice and peace.  While preparing my presentation, I found that there is a “Christian Dialogue Academy,” which keeps alive the spirit of Rev. Kang’s ministry, and this organization leads inter-religious dialogue to seek the common good. For example, one project involved gathering leaders of various religions to discuss a way to revitalize the rural economy in South Korea.

Even though I could not search all the specific aspects of Rev. Kang’s ministry, I found one possibility to make peace in society as well as among religions. When we consider the relatively short history of Korean Protestantism (about 100 years), Rev. Kang’s leadership is very striking, and his ministry was a prophetic ministry which attempted to give alternatives to the dominant culture (according to Brueggemann’s definition). Social conflict among religions is not a problem of only South Korea.  This issue is prevalent throughout the world, and I am confident that a Korean Pastor’s peaceful and active ministry can be one example for resolving the social conflict.  Similarly, as a Korean student at Candler, I want to keep contributing to Candler’s diversity by introducing unique perspectives based on different social context from American’s.  For me, this contribution is one of best my “joys” at Candler.

-Won Chul Shin

Won Chul is a rising second year MDiv at Candler from South Korea.


May 6 2011

Candler Student Jason Meyers, “Why Church?”

Young Leaders of the Church is a series from Day1 designed to highlight the young talent of today’s churches, and their ability to reach the next generations.   Candler MDiv student Jason Meyers was selected to share a short message about “Why Church?”

This series is being done in partnership with The Fund for Theological Education, for more information please visit http://fteleaders.org and Day1 today!

Jason is involved in a variety of activities at Candler – including Creation Keepers and his work as a writing tutor – and in the greater Atlanta community.  He is also an accomplished poet, and regular blog readers may remember his Lenten Meditation, “Thinking of Romans” from a few weeks ago.


May 4 2011

Tim Moore on Candler

This week’s post comes from Candler Coordinating Council President Tim Moore.

Tim is a 2nd year MDiv student at Candler and President of C3. He is originally from Witchita Falls, TX and is a graduate of Hastings College.