Sep 28 2012

Word of God Speak?

“And if we’re going to be faithful to scripture, we must learn to love it for what it is, not what we want it to be.” Rachel Held Evans

Jennifer ReadingThis might seem like an obvious statement for a seminarian to make, but I think about the Bible a lot. So much so that for a long time, the Bible had been mentally reduced to a seminary textbook which  I lugged begrudgingly  from class to class. After all, I have spent the last few years reading, exegeting, parsing, translating, exploring, preaching from, wrestling with and sometimes almost drowning in the Scriptures. And I should tell you that it is hard to love something when it’s your homework assignment.

But lately, I’ve noticed that the Bible has snuck up on me again.

Because I used to think that I understood the Bible (after all, I was the 8th grade Bible champion back in 2001). But in many ways that Bible I understood was so flat and I thought I had figured it out. I used to think I loved the Bible but I think in many ways, I had no idea what that even meant.

But now I spend my lazy Saturday afternoons with my Greek New Testament flipped open to Romans with multiple commentaries scattered around my kitchen table and I fall asleep at night thinking about Genesis creation stories and what they mean.  I struggle with the Bible all the time. I fight with it. I want it to say what I think it should say and when it doesn’t, I want to pretend that it does anyway.

It confuses me, because I don’t know what to do with Joshua…or Daniel and I certainly don’t know what to do with that story where Elijah has two bears eat all those children.

It overwhelms me, and I don’t know what to think about it. Because the claims it is making are too expansive for me to grasp.  So I just stop. I move on to Kierkegaard or Barth, but they never let me stay away for long. Before I know it, I’m back in Romans wondering what exactly Paul means when he talks about the righteousness of God.

But it also still finds ways to inspire me, like when I stumble upon verses in Jeremiah that say: “

Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

And in all this struggle, I am beginning to see that the Bible is deeper than I ever imagined. It is more complex and beautiful that I ever gave it credit for being.  And now as I read it, I hear the different voices that speak out across the generations to tell me something about what it means to be a Child of God, and about who that God is. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it in her book, The Preaching Life:

“[Because of the Bible] I am not an orphan. I have a community, a history, a future, a God. The Bible is my birth certificate and my family tree, but it is more: it is the living vein that connects me to my Maker, pumping me the stories I need to know about who we have been to one another from the beginning of time, and who we are now, and who we shall be when time is no more.”

It is a testament to who God is, and just like God, it is too intricate to be condensed into devotional or even a textbook. And so, I’m learning how to love the Bible again, learning how to love it for it is in its entirety and not just love the pieces that fit into my little ideas about God and God’s people.

And I’m learning what it means to say that this book is the Word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

-Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.

Sep 21 2012

Don’t Drag Your Buffalo

We made the move from St. Louis to Atlanta so fast.   We made the decision to come to Candler in May, and eight weeks later we were on I-24 with our entire lives packed into strategically-placed cardboard boxes.   We hardly thought about how much our lives were going to change.   Both of us were changing paths, and one of us was changing careers completely.   We were now going to be living on one income instead of two.   We had no friends here.    For the first time, we had no family remotely close to us.   We underestimated the struggle of living by two completely different schedules.   We just didn’t think about all the things we were giving up, until our car died.   That car was a part of our lives.   Our lives in St. Louis depended on us being able to go our separate ways.  If we needed to do two things at once, we could.  It was my car since high school.   It just always existed in our eyes.

The first leg of the move to Atlanta was ridiculous, even funny.   Two hours into the trip, the AC went out in one of the cars.   The choice was between driving my dad’s F-150 through the mountains (which was being fully realized with a U-Haul trailer hitched to the back), or driving a car without AC in the midst of intense July heat.   Needless to say, we decided to stop in the middle of Tennessee and stay the night.   We got up the next morning thinking we were going to start up the car and move to Atlanta, and it just didn’t happen.  The car did not start.  We finagled it in every way.  It wasn’t a battery problem, it wasn’t an electrical problem—it was a legitimate issue.   It was clear that it wasn’t going anywhere, and it sounded awful.   We called a tow truck.   Ryan sat at a mechanic’s shop in the middle of Tennessee for 4 hours.  My mom and I killed time in Target picking up those random items that go missing when you decide to pack up your life and move it somewhere new.   They took the car apart, and put it back together.   It still wouldn’t start.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  We tried really hard to save it.  We didn’t want to let it go.  They finally broke down and said it was hopeless.   The decision was between putting a new engine in it or burying it right then and there.  It was like what happens on the Oregon Trail.  When your buffalo drowns, you don’t drag it the rest of the way.  You just leave it there.  One thing was clear: our buffalo had drowned.

We took a hard look at the situation, and decided to bury our car in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.   RIP, Dodge Stratus.   When Ryan made the call to tell me about the car, I broke down in the middle of Target.   I was that girl you saw losing it in the Housewares Department.   At that point, it hit me.   I realized we were giving up much more than we had originally thought; we had taken things for granted.   After we buried our car, we went on with the move to Atlanta.   It seemed odd leaving what was such a valuable part of our lives behind in a random town.   We had seriously lost something we had taken for granted, and it clued us in to what was actually going on in our lives.

I tell this story to remind us that something will be lost along the way.  Deep friendships are not instantaneous.   Family interactions are left only to phone calls.   A church home is not easily replaced.   Changing paths sometimes means living on less.   And you don’t become good at being a one car family quickly.   What Ryan and I have learned as a result might be one of the most grace-filled lessons of our lives.   It has been a lesson in living a life that involves sacrifice, and as a result, sometimes need.   We’ve learned that we do not live lives apart from community.   We needed friendships and a church family.   But we had to be realistic about our material needs, too.   We needed scholarships, loans, and support to afford seminary and a move across several states.   We had to humble ourselves enough to accept the generosity of others.   But we also had to be observant and responsive to abundances that would arise in our own lives, and we had to learn to practice generosity to those around us.

The result of dramatic changes in our lives in order to make it to this new place has been a rewarding experience.   It was definitely worth losing a car, amongst other things.   We have been blessed here in so many ways.   Though friendships were not immediate, we have found those with whom we feel deeply connected.   Though we are away from our families, our appreciation for our time with them has increased rapidly.   Though we left a loving church family, we have been able to be a lasting part of a brand new church in a totally different setting.   We were thrown into so many changes that we didn’t quite expect, but we were sustained and supported, and we have learned great things.   Our sacrifice has been richly rewarded, and we are so thankful.

 - Ashley Kirk

 Ashley is a second year MDiv student from St. Louis, MO.

Sep 5 2012

If Only To Be, More Fully

Mat and students at Wesley Resource CenterWhen I am asked the question, “What did you do this summer?” most people laugh when I reply, “I served churches in the Bahamas.” They want to know how the beaches were (pristine) and the water (crystal clear), but those topics only have so much depth. Pastoring in paradise presents challenges to the budding minister on all fronts. This summer I worked with Rev. John Baldwin 09T 10T, overseeing five churches on three different islands, building a Family Resource Center with the help of youth mission teams, and being present in the five different communities we served. I learned that with the right outlook and the proper orientation, one begins to see how God has been moving and is moving throughout a community.

Before coming to the Bahamas, I had had nominal experience with the Black church. I knew that this would be a difficult transition—which it certainly was—but I had no idea that it would be so transformative.

In the first week I preached three times, led a bible study, tore out a wall in our house (intentionally), and attended the funeral for a matriarch of the community. The quick pace forced me to keep up. I thought to myself, “When do I get a Sabbath rest?” Ha! I soon realized that you can take a break, but when you come back, the action has not slowed down, only become backlogged.

I learned the meaning of “concentrated rest.” In what will be the first of two plugs for Dr. Gregory Ellison II, Dr. Ellison preached a sermon last year around midterms. With the papers due and the exams approaching, taking a Sabbath would have been both wise and unrealistic. So Dr. Ellison instead encouraged us to take “concentrated rest.” To take time where you focus on your health—spiritually, emotionally, physically—knowing that that period of rest will be short-lived. While I could not take a full day off in the Bahamas, I learned to practice “concentrated rest” in my morning and evening time. Mornings became a time of preparation, not requiring much energy, but rather like the sprinter pausing on the blocks before the sound of the gun. Likewise, my evenings became a time of rest as John and I debriefed on our day.

This personal transformation in my private life began manifesting in my public life. My practices of rest at home gave me energy and clear vision when I went out into community. Dr. Ellison said in Pastoral Care, “Once you see, you cannot not see.” My eyes began opening to the unique needs within the communities I served.

I saw that young children needed safe places where they could come to get away from abusive or unsafe home lives. The Family Resource Center will go a long way towards addressing those issues, but in the time leading up to its completion, I knew that I needed to be present among the youth and children in the community who had few advocates. In response, John and I opened our house to any kid who needed a place to escape. We also went around the community often checking in on the children and youth. As the future of the community, they need care and support.

It is often said, “Ministry occurs often at the intersection of the head and the heart.” I want to suggest that ministry comes alive as the pastor becomes a more fully integrated, authentic person. As my hands, head, heart, eyes, and ears all begin working together, I began to open myself up to a community, able to bring my whole self to serve them.

- Mat Hotho

Mat is a second year MDiv student and a graduate of Florida Southern College.  He served as this year’s Bahamas Summer Intern – a program that sends a Candler student to the Bahamas Annual Conference each summer.