Oct 29 2013

The Heart of Worship

CannonI sit in a room full of scholars and students asking hard questions, searching for justice, and hungry to engage their faith in the world. The architecture in this room is wonderfully symbolic. We sing from hymnbooks. We read liturgy. The organ is our lead singer. Sometimes we have choirs in robes, sometimes a drumline, sometimes a string quartet, and sometimes a soloist. We follow the liturgical calendar for preaching. There is a pulpit. There are no fancy lights. No fog machines. The room is full of contemplative focus.

Now I sit in a large auditorium that seats 2,500 people. It is full of many different types of people with many different agendas. There’s a full band, a billboard sized projection screen, and a backdrop to the stage that’s of the same quality found at a major rock concert. The band sounds like a professional rock band. The lyrics are on the screen, not in your hand. There are lights, lots of lights. There is fog rolling from the stage. There is not a pulpit when the preacher preaches, just a round bar table and a plasma screen to his left. The room is full of energy.

Now I sit in a room in Venezuela that serves as a bar or event space during the week and a church on Sundays. The people gathered are hungry for worship to begin. There is no A/C, only fans blowing at full speed. There is a band but no fancy lights, no flat screen TVs, no fog, and no pulpit. The sound system is loud for sure, but not of any great quality. We are led by a band of students with one adult guiding them. The words are not in our hands nor on a screen, but in the hearts of the people. The room is full of anticipation.BuckheadThis past year has been a journey for me in the realm of corporate worship. My first year at Candler was one of interesting paradox. I attended a mainline Methodist seminary with a chapel service that, most weeks, was liturgy-driven, with an organ as our worship leader. Then I would attend non-denominational churches such as Passion City Church or Buckhead Church, where worship was more like a rock concert and liturgy was hard to find. My weekly worship experience was drastically different most of the time. Then this summer, I went down with World Methodist Evangelism Institute and worshiped in a small charismatic Venezuelan Methodist church. Each one of these uniquely different worship spaces was meaningful and wonderful.

So, worship.

Is this a matter of style? Is this a matter of theology? Is this a matter of liberal vs. conservative? Traditional vs. modern? Fundamental vs. progressive? Is this a matter of what is the right/best/most real/most personal/most collective way of worshiping?

Well, in short, yes. Of course it is, and it would be a lie to ignore all of those things when considering what worship means to us. I wonder though if we, in our modern church culture, couldn’t do more to learn and appreciate from one another.

I grew up in a church that had three worship environments: “contemporary” “modern” and “traditional.” Putting aside that these are slightly ambiguous terms, I found myself naturally being pulled towards the “modern” worship. As I grew older (I’m only 26 now), the traditional service began to eat me alive. Why is this even around anymore? Who really sings these songs and means them? Is there any Spirit found here? So needless to say, I would put myself in the camp of people that didn’t like a high liturgical or “traditional” worship setting.

VenezuelaThis year has changed me. Candler has stretched me. I have experienced an authentic encounter with God in so many different spaces and styles. Whether that be at Candler’s chapel services, Passion conferences, or small Venezuelan congregations.

I don’t think it is about style, or low-church vs. high-church, or any of that. I think it’s about the heart of the worship.

So it comes to this. It’s not how I worship, but whom I am worshiping. Am I worshiping style, or am I worshiping the God of all creation? And this God of all creation, doesn’t this God deserve and need to be worshiped in a multitude of ways? It’s really less about my style and more about my heart.

I have found this to be true: a community that is singing with its heart makes worship powerful. The community gathered in that space makes it powerful. Sure, what happens in the worship is important and should be done well, but style and liturgical preference will never trump the community gathered and the Spirit they bring to the space. So, whether I’m singing “Take Me As I Am,” “Your Love Never Fails,” or “La Creacion Hoy Canta,” if the community is worshiping as one, it is truly a moment that is special. The body unleashing its heart in true praise to God gives us worship. Give me that, in any style, and that is something I want to be a part of!

–Mark Kimbrough

Mark is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler.  From Springdale, Arkansas, he completed his undergraduate studies at The University of Arkansas.


Oct 22 2013

Everyday Faithfulness

AtlantaI am a newly transplanted resident of Atlanta.  I rented this really great little condo that is nestled between a public library, bus stop, and the local Presbyterian church, that apparently runs some type of homeless ministry; I encounter a lot of foot traffic around my building. The other day, one of my dear friends from back home, who happens to live up here, came over to check out my new place. We decided to take our dogs on a walk to check out the neighborhood. As we exited the building, a ragged-looking old man who depended on the aid of a crutch approached us as we uncomfortably tried to hurry away.  In the distance, I heard him ask for 75 cents as we quickly moved along. Up the street, we stopped at a swanky pet store, and I got excited to see there were machines out front to get treats for the dogs. We started digging through our purses for quarters when the same man came hobbling up behind us asking some well-off-looking woman for 75 cents. Of course, at this moment, the machine malfunctions—I’m now flustered and trying to shove the quarters in the stupid thing with this whole exchange happening behind me.  It suddenly hit me—here I am taking time to buy a treat for my dog when I couldn’t even give this man the time of day. That normally still, small voice screamed at me saying, “You missed it! You missed who was right in front of you.”  We often miss the opportunity to see Jesus in others.

Mark 14:3-9 depicts Jesus’ anointing at Bethany. I picture Jesus relaxing at the table in the Leper’s house, likely tired from having just addressed the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, when this woman enters and anoints Jesus with an entire jar of expensive nard. The Indignant others in the room, with good intentions mind you, freak out on the woman.  Jesus basically tells them,  “Look, guys! You’ve missed it! You’ve missed what’s happening right in front of you. This faithful act of service is beautiful as she has prepared my body for burial.” This woman acted on the opportunity to serve Jesus when the others didn’t recognize who was in their midst.

Mary Anoints JesusWho would have thought that seminary would complicate life so much?  Life does not stop and it’s beyond easy to get distracted with everyday life. Family, friends, children, church (you fill in the blanks) pull us in a million directions likely with good intentions.  Then, pile on school, and it’s easy to miss how God is calling to us in the moment.  We easily miss The Spirit present with us and present in the world around us—even in seminary believe it or not!

This woman who anointed Jesus exemplifies everyday faithful living in the present moment. She was aware of something whispering in her heart and she responded. She must have felt some call or pull, and she faithfully responded in that moment.  We are each here at Candler in response to the vocational call God has placed on our lives. In the midst of the craziness, when we intentionally seek a connection with the Holy Spirit, we can experience the fullness of transformation.  It is then we can claim The Spirit within us, woven into the very nature of who we are, and actually recognize God as a part of our makeup, present in who we are.

What is faithful living? How do we do it daily? My mother always gives the best advice. She told me this one time in response to my grumbling about discerning my call. She said, “Emily, when I get up, I pray ‘How can I be faithful to you today, God?  Not yesterday or tomorrow but today!’” I write with encouragement as we hit the middle of the semester, that we may be ever aware and recognize the Christ that is present with us.  Let us be intentionally aware of that still, small voice that is a part of our design, as we ask God, “How can we be faithful servants to you today?”

–Emily Edwards

Emily is a first-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. She lived and worked in Ocala, FL, before relocating to Atlanta.

Artwork: “Anointing His Feet” by Wayne Forte, oil and acrylic on canvas.


Oct 15 2013

Leaving Room for Rest

JessicaAs I sit here in Pitts Theology Library, trying not to freeze and frantically trying to get four articles read and a systematics paper written so I can get home with enough time to work out and eat dinner, I almost miss it. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving, so I look towards the back of the library. I see an older gentleman, probably in his 70s or 80s, who is engrossed in some dusty old book that I am sure thousands of students have overlooked. This sight, though perfectly ordinary, becomes beautiful to me. This older gentleman (we’ll call him Jack), looks completely content sitting in the library reading about theology. Jack doesn’t have to be here, but wants to be. As I broaden my gaze, I realize how lovely this dusty old library really is. It is a beautiful scene, and I almost missed it.

Life for me has been like that since the beginning of the semester. I have been consumed with busy-ness. People have told me that second year is the most difficult at Candler, and so far, they have been correct. Along with my five classes, I am spending eight hours a week interning with Emory Wesley Fellowship (the United Methodist campus ministry at Emory) and working fourteen hours a week in the Candler Admissions and Financial Aid office.  Each of these activities is wonderful, but takes up a lot of time. Add in studying and my days and nights seem much shorter. I have been rushing through one thing to get to the next thing.

All this is leading up to the fact that I needed rest. Rest is portrayed as such a lazy thing to do these days, isn’t it? Productivity is one of the most valued qualities in our American culture. Our Protestant work ethic is deeply engrained in our society. Just the other day, as one of my classes was ending, our professor announced that we really need to focus on the reading for the next class period, because it was extra-long and dense. As I sighed audibly and put my head on the table, one of my best friends asked me “Do you enjoy doing anything these days?” This question almost seemed to stab me in my heart. When was the last time I did something I enjoyed? I realized that I had been rushing through everything and not taking time to be in the moment, to take in what I was really doing. I realized that I forgot how lucky I was to be here at Candler. I am so lucky to be here among such a terrific and supportive community, studying theology under outstanding and well-known professors. This is a place that people yearn to be a part of, and those that do come here yearn to return. Jack in the library is a testament to this.

It was also in that moment that I realized I needed to rest. I needed to slow things down so I could hear the voice of God in the midst of my chaotic life. If you don’t take time for self-care, you begin to grow deaf to God’s voice and the voices of the people around you. It becomes all about you and how “productive” you can be. We need time and space to rejuvenate, to recharge, and to hear from God. In Psalm 46, God tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” By giving myself time to rest, I am better able to live in the moment and appreciate where I am and what I am doing. I can focus on what is going on in each of my classes and learn something new. I can take the time to listen to a student at Emory Wesley Fellowship and grow our relationship. I can really listen to prospective students’ concerns and help them figure out if Candler is where they are supposed to be. In short, instead of constantly thinking about what is next on my to-do list, I need to be present in the moment. Allowing time for rest helps me accomplish this.

Finding a balance between papers, work, class, internship, meetings and rest has still been hard, though. I have found that exercise, in a strange way, is a type of rest for me. I feel much more centered after a good run. Taking a few minutes during the day to sit in silence if I am feeling especially overwhelmed has also been helpful. I have realized that those times of so-called unproductivity can actually be productive. Most times, it is in nature that I find rest. Whether it is in a cornfield, on a volcano, at the beach, by the pool, in the woods, or on the top of Stone Mountain, I can seek refuge from the chaotic world and listen for the whispering voice of God. I can also reflect on how thankful I am to be here. Lynn Ungar wrote a beautiful poem about rest and refuge called Camas Lilies. A camas lily is a purple/bluish flower that blooms in the wild meadows of the western United States and Canada.

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you–what of your rushed and
useful life? Imagine setting it all down–
papers, plans, appointments, everything–
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming….”

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.

May we take the time out in our crazy, busy, hectic, “productive” lives to go into the fields, to simply be lovely and bloom.

–Jessica Beverstein

Jessica is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. She graduated from Winthrop University in South Carolina with a BS in elementary education. She served as a volunteer missionary in Costa Rica and taught second grade in Atlanta before coming to Candler.


Oct 8 2013

Risky Business

Jenelle HolmesSeminary is risky business. It is risky financially, spiritually, and let’s just get this out there, ideologically.  Defined loosely, ideology concerns the manner in which a group thinks.  So often we tie ideologies to an ideal or statement of a specific group, but for this post, I will use ideology to mean the manner or way people think about their lives and the lives of those around them.

Because we are in seminary, our manner of thinking about God, others, and ourselves often abides in faith-talk. We write about faith, claim to live by faith, seek a definition of faith, and attempt not to destroy each other’s faith. Our ideologies cannot help but operate as a living out of faith.  The mixing of ideology, faith, and seminary, what a risky business!

In the recent conversations over the last few weeks involving the LGBTQ community, the risk that Candler students embody has been quite palpable.  But risk is not foreign ground for the besieged faithful. As Candler students think about living out faith in the walls of an open and accepting school of theology, let us consider other situations where danger and faith abide together. I want to take us back to the siege of Jerusalem.

Walls are peeling back before the eyes of Zion’s residents. No family is untouched by hunger, illness, bloodshed, tears and death on the city streets, or whatever is left of them.  The people within the walls of Jerusalem, once a city for the dwelling of YHWH, not only question the goodness of God but the very existence of God as rocks and spears daily fall from the sky.

CliffLast week Dr. Scheib preached on Jeremiah 32 where in a confounding move, Jeremiah, prophet to the besieged city, buys land.  He purchases land in the middle of what seems the death of that very ground. As an owner myself of undesirable property resulting from the economic collapse of 2008, I can name countless reasons why Jeremiah is crazy for making this purchase.  Will he ever be able to live there? Reap the economic benefits of that land? Rest and restore himself on the land? Sell it if the investment proves a faulty one?  Ah, the risk of such a purchase amidst a time of utter chaos! What would drive Jeremiah to do such a thing? Is it that despite the risk, he hopes for a break from the violence around him? Violence to the people, by the people, and even violence to the very land in which the people dwell? Is the uncertainty of Jeremiah’s action more than simply a desperate grasp at a fading hope of feeling at home?

Thanks to Hebrews 11, we often consider faith as the “certainty of things not seen.”  How we think about faith (our ideologies of faith) frequently operates with a seeking after certainty, regardless of the commotion around us.  While faith might call upon us to act in a risky manner, we often associate faith with the assurance we feel despite that risk.

But what, for Jeremiah, is assured? Money? No. Peace? No. Land? Not while the Babylonians knock on the gates of the city.  Risk, in a town besieged, is the only privilege Jeremiah can afford.  I think too often, especially amidst people who have not had to risk much in their lives, risk gets a bad reputation or is considered something to be avoided. But in Jeremiah’s circumstances, risk is a way to show his agency, to act, to have faith. A faith not experienced in certainty or assurance, but in risk.

In a preaching lecture from the spring of 2012 Eddie Glaude talks about witnessing “God’s love in the very act of risk.” At seminary, students act out their faith through risk by reading challenging authors, by listening to peers who experience life, let alone God, in entirely different manners of thinking, by sitting in lectures that make them squirm or better yet, forget to breath. At seminary, we risk our very conceptions of love, God, self, and others. Seminary embodies an ideology of faith that encourages risk.

But some risk more than others at seminary.  In the last few weeks with the upheaval surrounding the Eddie Fox award we are reminded of those in the LGBTQ community who often find themselves in a besieged institution; be it the church, school, or other places where they live out their lives.  We are reminded that voices, statements, and awards are little ramparts that weaken the bastions of Christian ministry being built here at Candler. Like other marginalized communities, they live in a besieged city.

But they too, like Jeremiah, have purchased land here at Candler (seriously, tuition is $19,800 this year). They have, amidst the tumult of marginalization, tokenism, and oppression, purchased the opportunity of learning, growing, and loving at this school of theology. What a courageous and faith-full way of thinking.

While we are occasionally a community besieged by the echoes of invasions elsewhere, we can see the tilling of God’s risky love in our ministries, sacred personhoods, and our experiences of community as we continually purchase land here at Candler.  May our living in risk during this time and this space honor and enable each student with the hope of a future healed landscape inside these walls and beyond.

–Jenelle Holmes

Jenelle is a second-year in Candler’s MTS program and a student ambassador. She graduated in 2006 with a degree in English from Whitworth University in Spokane, WA.


Oct 1 2013

La Familia as my First School

Josue as a boy

Family is the first institution that everyone enters without any registration requirements, admission fees, or recommendation letters. It’s completely loans-free. *Sigh* Thank God! It is in the family where we first learn: our first steps, our first words, our first writings, and our first signs of creativity (such as the Crayola marks on the white wall that mommy desperately tries to clean before the visitors come!). We don’t fail family, but we also don’t pass family. It is the Family University from which we are never able to graduate.

Families play an important role in our lives. Families shape our identity. Families create those values that we still hold on to today. And in the family we learn to take care of those members who long ago took care for us.

My family paved the road towards seminary as early as I can remember. As a preacher’s kid growing up in the church, I saw that the one of the main goals of the church was to create families. Create relationships. I first learned this when everyone called each other “Hermano” or “Hermana.” As a six-year-old this was so very odd to me. I couldn’t understand why everyone verbally related to each other as a sibling. It was not until later that I realized that the purpose of church was to create family.

Josue, the graduateMy family had a special role in my calling to seminary. My dad has been my role model not only as a father figure but also as a pastor, theologian, and teacher. My dad is like the father of the parable of the prodigal son: always depositing money in my bank account when I have spent everything and the balance shows up as negative. My mom, well, she is the role model of the best caregiver and counselor. She is more like Hannah. She never gives up on God in times of distress and uncertainty. Finally, my brother is an amazing worship leader. He is like David, always playing his guitar and composing songs for the soul.

Again, I am glad that I will never be able to graduate from Family University. Because that means that I will be with my family for a long time. And when my immediate family drops out and transfers to Heaven University, well, there is always a family to admit into our lives and there are others to welcome us. Again, this family is loans-free and no recommendation letters are required. That is, the church family.

–Josué Quintanilla

Josué is a first-year MDiv student at Candler. Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, he currently works for the North Georgia Conference of the UMC as a Hispanic Youth Coordinator.  He graduated from Reinhardt University with a major in sociology and minor in psychology.