Nov 26 2013

“We just need to preach Jesus”

MikeThis was an entirely unexpected response to my forty-five minute presentation about a new model of ministry for connecting with second generation Americans. I had spent the last six weeks researching, writing, and praying about how to make meaningful relationships with the growing population of children of immigrants who have no church home. I had carefully prepared a speech and a slideshow that detailed the nuances of my plan, and I had shared my ideas with family, friends, fellow students, and Candler professors. They provided helpful feedback to flesh out my ideas and polish my message. I may have been terrified when I stood up to speak at the General Board of Discipleship conference in front of roughly seventy-five ordained United Methodist elders, but by the time I was finished, I felt relieved. I believed that I had brought a practical message of hope and encouragement to church leaders. Then, when I opened the floor for discussion, one of the first comments hit me like a brick in the face.

“We just need to preach Jesus.”

Did this person not just hear a word of what I said? Is he unable to see why this plan has such potential? Did I ever mention that we should not bring the good news of the risen Lord wherever we go?

ClairAll of these thoughts raced through my mind, and this could have been the beginning of a very ugly and public confrontation that would most likely mean an effective end to my public speaking opportunities. Fortunately, my classroom experience at Candler had prepared me for this moment. I listened to the objections of this participant, and I offered a brief defense of my views that took seriously the concerns he had raised. Another participant joined in to say that both models were useful and we did not have to choose between the two. In the time-honored Methodist tradition, we did not come to a consensus, but we did become conversation partners. We were able to incorporate these opinions into a fuller vision for our mission going forward.

Because of the diversity of age, race, gender, and theological thought at Candler, I have had many opportunities to hear views that clash with my own. These moments of tension lead to deeper discussion for everyone involved. We do not usually change our minds or declare that one argument is more worthy than the other, but we do learn what it looks like to live and work together without uniformity. I delight in the idea that God calls each of us to the task of building the kingdom with unique skills and distinct perspectives and that the kingdom absolutely needs all of these people and practices to reach the ends of the earth. Candler has taught me to speak with the confidence of a graduate level student and the humility of a child of God. We do need to preach Jesus, but there is no limit to the number of ways that we will find our voices in this calling.

–Clair Carter

Clair is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. Originally from Louisiana, she is a graduate of Oglethorpe University.


Nov 19 2013

Keep Going

It was Harriet Tubman who said, Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

The road to success is not an easy one. The truth is, the journey to success may be the most confusing and painful journey you have ever taken. People who you thought loved you may leave you. The people who have been assigned to help you may hurt you. People may define you by your situation or present circumstance. But it is the strength, the patience, and the passion of dreamers that propels them beyond their present reality and encourages them to keep going.

It takes courage to dream… it takes courage to keep going and at times it’s not easy.

I especially learned this in my first year at Candler School of Theology as I participated in Contextual Education at Genesis Shelter, a homeless shelter for families with infant children. Each week I observed women who had escaped the stranglehold of domestic abuse, childhood neglect, and societal indifference, to a place of abject poverty and income inequality. Through it all, they persevered and pursued waning dreams with the hope that their children’s lives would be better than their own.

In his poem, “Mother to Son”, Langston Hughes describes a conversation a struggling mom has with her child. She says:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor –

Bare.

But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometime goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

‘Cause you finds it kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now –

For I’se still goin’, honey,

Ise still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Like the mother in this poem, my mother became my inspiration. I watched my mother keep going. I was 5-years-old when she left my father. We moved into a tiny three-bedroom house in the country. My mom paid $60 for rent. The rooms were so small they looked more like cell blocks than bedrooms. The house was infested with roaches and rodents. We didn’t know how poor we were.

But she kept going.

She had to deal with a failed marriage, and three hungry, growing kids at home. People passing judgment and making assumptions, but she kept going. She worked at night and slept during the day to make sure we had food to eat and a roof over our heads. The road wasn’t easy, but she kept going. There were tacks in it, and splinters, and boards all torn up… But she kept going.

It was her perseverance that gave birth to the dreamer inside of me.

It was her will and tenacity that made me believe I could be the first in my family to graduate from college. It was her bravery and relentlessness that inspired me to go from academic suspension to the dean’s list. It was her faith and prayers that kept me out of jail and away from the wrong crowds.

And now as I navigate this road, this journey to success, I am faced with my own challenges. I am faced with my own splinters, tacks, torn-up boards, and bare floors. I am faced with the challenge of pursuing a dream with little resources. I am faced with the challenge of feeling misunderstood and playing small to accommodate the comfort of others. I am faced with the threat of never measuring up to the standard society has set and the fear of failing; but I cannot turn back. You cannot turn back. You cannot sit down on the steps. You have to keep climbing. You have to keep reaching.

When I feel like I cannot continue, like giving up is the best option, I am encouraged by the women at Genesis, the actions of my mother, and the advice Harriet Tubman spoke to the dreamers. She told those who were trying to escape slavery and make it to freedom:

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they’re shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”

So I encourage every dreamer to keep going.

When others believe they know what’s better for you than you yourself, keep going. When folks use their position and power against you, keep going. When you have to navigate a broken system that fails you at every stop and every turn, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever quit. When you have to hide and cry so your kids don’t see it, keep going. Someone’s dream is reliant on your determination.

Keep going.

Don’t allow your dream to die in your current situation. You may have to go alone; you may have to go in the dark – where there is no light. But don’t you stop. You’ve come too far to quit.

Keep going!

This is dedicated to my hero, my inspiration, my mother. I love you with my whole heart.

–Sam White

Sam is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. A native of Alabama, he earned a bachelor in communication sciences at the University of Alabama.


Nov 12 2013

Following the Call

Katie O'DunneWhen I first came to Candler, I had a very clear idea of my plans for my course of study, for ordination, and for my vocation…or so I thought. Over the past year and a half, I have discovered God’s sense of humor. I can imagine God chuckling at me through my moments of believing that I had a plan for the future.

As prospective students visited Candler last year, I always told them to be prepared for the shifting and shaping of their calls to ministry throughout seminary, but I never recognized that statement’s application in my own life. I had a plan…didn’t I? I may have prepared, but God had different ideas.

As a result of experiences in the Contextual Education program, Candler course work, and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, I felt God shifting me in a different direction. I knew when I entered Candler that I felt pulled towards specialized ministry, but my experiences have specifically led me to clinical chaplaincy and a denominational change.

This summer, as I worked with veterans on end of life issues during CPE, I felt God in so many new ways. I saw God in each of my patients, and I knew God wanted me to serve his children during the most difficult times of their lives. I could not have imagined being anywhere else. At this very same time, I was exploring other denominations as I discerned and entered a new church community very much “by accident.” However, I now know that there are no accidents with God. God was gently pushing me in a new direction and paving the way for a new path in my life.

RoadBut what did this passion for chaplaincy and new place in a church community mean for my ordination process: the process I had been in for years? Should I change denominations? Should I change course? I worried so much about disappointing those around me: my family, my friends, and my home parish. However, finally I decided simply to trust the path that God had laid before me through a denominational shift in my personal life, a withdrawal from my previous ordination process, and a shift to the Faith and Health Program here at Candler. I knew that God would be walking alongside me throughout the process, and he continues to do so.

Despite some initial discomfort, as change is never “comfortable,” I am so joyful in following this new path and the passions that God has set before me. The new classes that I am taking feed my passions, and my new church community feeds my soul. However, I still cannot help but fall into the trap of trying to plan the rest of my life and my vocation, as I consider the possibilities of clinical chaplaincy, campus ministry, urban ministry, prison ministry, spiritual advising, Christian counseling, and athletic chaplaincy. I feel like this “need to plan” and “need to prepare” is human nature, especially within the confines of graduate school. The options seem endless, and I cannot help but try to determine where I will be a few years from now or a few decades from now. However, just as God placed a new path before me this summer, I am certain that God will continue to be the leader in my life.

Paul’s letter to the Romans continually reminds me to discern the call of God, not where I think that I should or will be called:

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The best advice that I have for any of you entering seminary, in seminary, or at any point in your life is to simply follow the path that God has set before you. You are welcome to plan, but do not be surprised when God’s sense of humor comes out and a new path stands before you. More importantly, do not be afraid to take that new path. Simply follow the Lord and enjoy the journey!

–Katie O’Dunne

Katie is a second-year MDiv student in the Faith and Health Certificate program, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Nov 4 2013

Candler is as Intercultural and Interdisciplinary as You

Lullwater Park

Lullwater Park at Emory

Candler is an intercultural and interdisciplinary center where students engage with a wide variety of people and ideas. In the past month, I wrote a midterm about how theology can internalize the findings of ecology and quantum physics to give an adequate account of God’s goodness in a world where evil is so common. I visited two Muslim Friday prayers, one on campus and one at a mosque, learning about how people with different beliefs than me understand purity, social justice, and worship. I shook hands with the Dalai Lama, an affiliate of Emory University, when he came to Emory’s campus to speak about ethics in a secular age.

My time at Candler has been as interdisciplinary as it has been intercultural. As a dual-degree candidate at the Emory University School of Law, I have selected courses so that I can consider similar topics from the different lenses theology and law bring to bear. This semester, I am studying the doctrine of creation at the same time as I am taking environmental law. I have studied the histories of both canon law and American law to see where our ideas of justice and order come from. My Candler course on Thomas Aquinas’ ethics has prepared me well for the jurisprudence class I’m now taking at the Law School.

To return to the idea of ecology I started this post with, our location matters a lot for how we think about things. Candler, Emory University, and Atlanta are a good environment for theological thinking. Candler’s faculty has many different backgrounds—there are sociologists and medievalists, Eastern Catholics and black Baptists ready to help students think about God, and understand God’s children throughout the world. Emory University’s nationally-prestigious programs in public health, business, medicine, and of course, law, offer Candler students access to experts and ideas that deepen theological inquiry. And Atlanta, with its rich history from the Civil Rights Era and many religious ministries committed to serving the least of our sisters and brothers, is a great home for a future minister or religious scholar. It’s also simply a great home: green, sunny, and full of young transplants from throughout the South and the United States.

Come join us here at Candler. Every new person who arrives contributes to the environment, just as every new tree gives shade so more things can grow. This school is as intercultural and interdisciplinary as its students: whatever background and goals you bring with you makes the whole school’s thinking that much sharper. Go out and experience cultures and academic fields you never knew before, bring what you learn to your fellow students in the classroom, and make the Candler experience we share in that much better.

Matt Cavedon is a third-year dual-degree student pursuing a JD and an MTS. Originally from Connecticut, he is Catholic and plans to practice law with a higher perspective on justice and society after he graduates in 2015.