May 6 2014

A Time To Laugh

The other day, I was writing my last term paper of my second year at Candler, for my ethics class. That week had been full of papers, and I was feeling like I had squeezed out every drop of God-juice that was in my brain. My friend sent me a funny text message, and I sent her back an amused reply and said with resignation that I was working on my ethics paper. She said she was sorry to have bothered me and would let me get back to work.

I was doing exactly what I like to think I never do: taking myself too seriously. A similar thing happened in class the other day. My professor said I was too serious and needed to lighten up and take some cheap grace. I could hardly believe it. Too serious! I called an old buddy of mine on the way home and told him of the professor’s assessment. “What?” he said, laughing, “You?” It was good to learn that he could not believe it, either.

It had shaken me up, this image of myself as joyless and severe. I had come to seminary feeling like I had an intuitive closeness with God. Then seminary really hit. My small arsenal of spiritual maxims had been turned upside-down, and my faith sometimes felt defective. Occasionally during my morning devotion, I felt like I did not even know how to pray correctly, but then whenever I tried to force a change in method, it was like putting a raw egg and orange juice into a bowl of frosted flakes. All were good for a complete breakfast, but there was no need to change everything about breakfast.

I cannot be anywhere that God is not; I just have to look. I remember also laughing heartily with some classmates once during a study session. We were all in the same boat, and this was going somewhere, and we just had to enjoy the ride. When we take ourselves too seriously, we deceive ourselves that we know absolutely God’s will for us, and that we would realize that will if only those around us would get with the program. We stop listening to God. Laughter happens when we are able to stop reacting in fear toward something, and give up any delusion that we can control or explain any of this. Even when we are cracking up with our friends, it’s like we’re sharing an inside joke with the Almighty.

So, I do not have to worry. The glorious symphony, which I know intuitively, is actually not far removed from the theological head-scratching that seminary demands. I must employ the “Under Construction” motif (from 2013 New Student Orientation) that has been so appropriate this year with all the literal and figurative construction on campus. The book of Ezra tells of the Israelites rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile: “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord.” (Ezra 3:10-11) The music comes from the same place where the foundation of the temple is being laid. When I can accept that, I can throw up my hands, give up control, and laugh, knowing that I am loved perfectly by God.

So I sent my friend another text message: What do you call a fish with no eyes?

Answer: A fsh!

–Josh McDaniel

Josh is a rising third-year student at Candler and a ministerial intern at Chamblee First United Methodist Church.

Aug 20 2013

Under Construction: Tearing Down and Building Up

Tiffany CopperThe most popular Candler hangout spots these days are the 3rd through 5th floor lobbies looking down onto the construction site below. Every day without fail you can find a combination of faculty, students, and staff huddled around the window looking down into the site completely mesmerized by the process occurring in front them. There is something about watching a building being torn down and another one being erected that fascinates the human imagination. So much goes into the process of construction—destroying the old, clearing the site, pouring the foundation, anchoring the supports, building the new. It literally takes a village of workers to make the whole process occur. To theological minds, there is so much that you can do with this analogy.

Like my colleagues, all summer long I have been enthralled by the work of construction occurring around me. As the 2013 Candler Orientation Coordinator, I have found it interesting how similar the process of planning Orientation has been to the process of construction occurring below. With Orientation, you have to dissect the project into smaller manageable pieces, clear away those pieces that no longer belong and begin to build a new foundation for what is yet to come. It takes work—lots of work! And, the process could not occur without the help of countless people.

Reflecting back over the journey, on the eve of Orientation, I have come to realize that there are several lessons that I have gained from this experience. First, the process of constructing anything of substance, whether it be a building, an event or one’s own spiritual foundation, can be REAL MESSY. In the in-between stages of tearing down the old and erecting the new you have to be willing to get dirty. It is hard to do any real work without being willing to dig deep and entrench one’s hands in the dirt. The dirt, while it may not be pleasant to deal with, is a necessary part of the journey. The process can also feel REAL CHAOTIC with so much activity happening on the site all at one time. With the drilling, digging, hammering, and lifting it sometimes feels like there is more disorder than order occurring. But, the chaos only feels like disorder to those who are not aware of the builder’s plan. If you are willing to stick through the process to the end you will quickly discover that the chaos is actually organized and is heading somewhere. Construction also involves REAL TRANSFORMATION. It’s amazing how with a little help something old can be transformed into something brand new. It’s difficult to remain static when there is change occurring all around you.

The Orientation team chose the theme, “Under Construction: Tearing Down and Building Up,” for all of these reasons. It’s our hope that as incoming students embark upon this new journey that they will be willing to participate in the process of construction occurring within themselves. Theological education involves a lot of tearing down and building up. It can definitely feel real messy and chaotic sometimes. But, the beauty of the entire process is that if you stick with it to the end you can build something substantial.

–Tiffany Cooper

 Tiffany is the 2013 Candler Orientation Coordinator. She graduated from Candler with an MDiv degree in May 2013 after serving in the Office of Student Programming as a Student Life Coordinator. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, she attended Cincinnati Christian University before moving to Atlanta.