Feb 15 2013

The Power of Ritual

This weekend, literally thousands of people connected with my alma mater, Samford University, will participate in a bizarre ritual known as “Step Sing.” Various groups – ranging from Greeks to independents to University Ministries – will dress themselves in shades of lycra I didn’t even know existed and then dance and sing an eight-minute show that revolves around a clever theme.

Step Sing

While I confess I’ve not always understood – or even liked – Step Sing, I cannot deny that I felt a profound desire to watch it this year, especially when my roommate (fellow Samford alum and Candler student Andrew Toney) suggested that we host a live-stream viewing in our living room. Aided by the twin perspectives of distance and nostalgia, I may be relearning something I always thought I knew: the profound power of ritual.

I’ve long considered myself to be a sacramental Christian. I’m used to the funny looks I get when I say words like “Eucharist,” or “chalice.” I’ve had a number of long, complicated conversations with my teetotaling Baptist brethren on the use of wine instead of watery grape juice. But it took Step Sing to teach me the real power of ritual.

Because Step Sing, despite the little changes in themes or the addition of a new group, is the same experience every year. Students involved in Step Sing disappear from more than few classrooms and generally droop around campus from mid-January to mid-February. I am irritated by this. Many professors are bewildered. Then, bam! Three nights of performance, the awards ceremony, and some lucky organization is bragging about how cool their moves are while others mumble, “next year.” It’s pretty much like clockwork, and somehow also like Eucharist.

Because the Eucharist is more or less the same every time. I know that, on most Tuesdays, someone will consecrate some bread and some wine on an altar in Canon Chapel. More often than not, I will be there, but it still happens, even when I cannot be present. Students will stream forth. Some practice intinction while others drink straight from the chalice. Many will cross themselves, but others will not. There will be a brief moment of holy chaos while everyone figures out exactly which station they wish to venture towards. Sure, there are small variations here and there, but it’s more or less like clockwork, and I’m finding that to be a beautiful thing.

When my week is dominated by the stress of paper writing (rather like this week, actually), when an incident at my Contextual Education site consumes my thought processes, when I’m trying to fit a new piece of text-critical information into my ever-broadening theological framework, the Eucharist is still there, and it’s still the same. Whatever chaos I’m dealing with as a minister and as a student, the bread and the cup represent a beautiful stability in the middle of a whirlwind.

AaronI am eminently thankful for a place like Candler, a place that makes this beautiful ritual available on a weekly basis. I am thankful for a place that continues to stretch my conceptions of God, sacrament, and just about everything else while also maintaining a place where the beautiful, dogged faithfulness of God is made known in the constancy of the Eucharist.

Thanks be to God for these lessons, and, oddly enough, thanks be to God for Step Sing.

- Aaron Carr

Aaron is a first year MDiv student from Cumming, GA, a graduate of Samford University, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Feb 11 2013

Thou Shalt Love Your Facebook Friend?

Facebook memeOnce upon a time there were two topics that were supposed to be off limits: politics and religion. These were the topics that were considered inappropriate to discuss around company. But then internet happened and brought with it facebook and twitter and thousand different ways to express our every opinion, and we decided to throw all that decorum out the window.

So now I’m learning to navigate facebook at my own risk, because my facebook can be angry place to be.  There are sweet church folk posting hateful statuses about the government, high school friends ranting about conspiracy theories, and old college friends angrily picking fights about religion.  At times it seems that all the internet is good for is showing me racist, ignorant, angry, awful things from all directions. So when I see statistics about how divided our country is, I’m not really surprised.  Because it appears to me that everyone’s angry, and no one seems to do know what to do about it.

My first thought is that maybe this social media experiment has failed. Maybe it was better when we didn’t know what everyone thought about everything. Before anyone would could find a blog post supporting their point view and offer it as “evidence.”  Before 140 characters became an acceptable way to share your religious views with the world.

Because, Lord knows, it was a lot easier to love our neighbors before they became our facebook friends.

Frankly, it seemed like too much of a mess for this seminarian to want to deal with it. But then my (wise) husband made an observation as I was ranting about pastors who post hateful things on Twitter and how I’d rather people just stick to posting pictures of their cute babies.

“That’s what’s both good and bad about it, I guess. It’s life without the filter. It’s the whole human experience right there for us to see.”

The whole human experience. What it means to be human somehow displayed on our computer screens. A whole mess of a world.

A world that God still loves.

And somewhere along the line, I’m pretty sure I’ve learned that as Christians we are called to love it too.  I’m not sure how as ministers we are supposed to speak love and truth on the internet. I’m not sure what it looks like to be a witness to Christ online, and unfortunately, Candler doesn’t offer a class on how to do pastoral care over Twitter.[1]

Jennifer WyantI’m not sure how to love facebook friends as they offer hate.  I’m not sure how to offer grace in the midst of frustration and anger.  Or when to comment on a post and when to just leave it alone.  Or what it looks to be an example of Christ in a hurting, messy, angry, lovely world.

But then again, I’m still figuring out how to do all that in real life too.

So maybe the only thing we can do is pray for grace as we figure out how to best love God with our digital selves.

And try to love our facebook friends as we love ourselves.

- Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta, a graduate of The University of Evansville, and a Candler Student Ambassador.

[1] Other classes I wish Candler would offer include “How to Use Church Copiers” and “How to Eat all the Food Your Church Feeds You and Not Gain Weight”

Feb 1 2013

Inhabiting the “Early Phase”

“Real people, real possibilities, real world,” our slogan declares. Come to the Candler School of Theology and discover real commitment, real change, and a real story. Some may find all this talk of “real” cheesy. But make no mistake—the human capacity for self-deception is infinite. Very often do we mistake our own inauthentic existence for real being. The question of what is real, we insist here at Candler, must be held ever before us. Only a relentless commitment to rigorous self-examination and to critical engagement with those around us can keep such deceit in check. The same is true in our classrooms, in our pews, and in our offices.

Perhaps now more than ever is critical reflection on what is real so urgently needed. The world is changing rapidly. New technologies are presenting unprecedented ethical and existential dilemmas. The not-too-distant arrival of molecular nanotechnology, super-intelligence, cryonics, genetic engineering, and uploading[1] will soon put our understanding of what constitutes a real human being to the test. We are slowly but steadily merging with our technology; some are already predicting that by the time our children are in college they will know people who are hybrids of the organic and inorganic. In these uncertain times it will grow progressively more difficult to look to the past for guidance in the future. It will be tough (but not impossible) to see how Paul, Augustine, Luther, or Barth can help us chart a faithful and responsible course. But this is not to say we are doomed to drift rudderless into a dystopian future.[2] There is still time to prepare. Enter MTS600T: Transhumanism/Posthumanism, a course devoted to identifying and dissecting some of the challenges that await us.

What is transhumanism/posthumanism? According to Humanity Plus, a leading transhumanist group, transhumanism is “a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.” Those of us inhabiting this “early phase,” they reason, are in dire need of improvement. The telos of all transhumanist thinking is to overcome or transcend fundamental human limitations, including susceptibility to disease, limited intelligence, physical weakness, and even death itself. Now, before you dismiss these people to the lunatic fringe, know that great progress is being made on each of these fronts.[3] What is being accomplished in laboratories today borders on the miraculous. Scientists, computer programmers, and theorists of great repute are among the transhumanist ranks. It is now only a matter of time before people of all faiths will have to come to grips with a technological existence unlike anything we have ever known.

David RanzolinThe religious implications of such technological advances are obviously enormous. What or where is the imago dei in this future? Does this technology represent a fundamental breach in the created order? Or perhaps its fulfillment? If we become fundamentally different beings than those originally addressed in Scripture, how do we appropriate and embody it? Again, crafting a faithful and intelligent response to such awesome technological power will be every seminarian’s duty. To that end, MTS600T: Transhumanism/Posthumanism is giving us a head start. Rest assured that there are astute, capable, and real people already thinking about these matters at the Candler School of Theology.      

- David Ranzolin

David is a second year MTS student from California and a Student Ambassador.

[1] For a more optimistic overview of these technologies see http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-faq/

[2] Theorists are divided on whether the advent of these technologies will usher in an eschatological utopia or cataclysmic dystopia. Based on what little I know, I side with the latter.

[3] For an informative overview of the current pace of technology see the documentary Transcendent Man: The Life and Ideas of Ray Kurzweil.