Jun 16 2014

Forgive and Forget?

by Andrew L. Toney

Cleveland. Jackson. Laurel. McComb. Philadelphia. Clarksdale. Kosciusko. Winona. Ruleville.

These places have shaped me, in body and soul. The muddy mother river water of my family’s Mississippi homeland runs through my veins. For better and worse, I have inherited the history and identity of the open, humid Mississippi Delta. Years, miles, and long minutes spent watching rows of cotton and soybeans pass by the car window have evidently come full circle in my own discovered love of working the soil. I might even credit too much time spent in the languid Delta atmosphere with my inability to do anything—think, speak, work, write—with any measure of hurried-ness.

God must have a fine sense of humor as well. For as much as I wish I could claim to be a born and bred Delta boy, I actually grew up in Memphis, TN, the only sizeable city for at least a hundred miles in any direction of my grandparents’ home in Cleveland, MS. Nonetheless, I would like to think that I have received some of the best traits of my family’s place of origin.

Shadows tend to grow long on the Mississippi soil—a phenomenon not just attributable to the landscape. When I used to chase my sister around on Uncle T.D.’s Rose Hill homestead, he—an agrarian scholar and progressive intellectual himself—would always remind us that our feet trod on soil still soaked with blood spilled in the name of slavery, segregation, and hate. After he died, my great aunt filled his shoes, telling me stories of murder carried out at the hands of local authorities, marking the failure of those who were supposed to be the arbiters of justice. When I occasionally heard racial epithets hurled from the lips of older shoppers at small Mississippi grocery stores (and sometimes from one of my own family members), my mother was quick to remind me that such language was part of an evil and undesirable past; one that would hopefully die out with the generation that had brought it about.

White children who lived in the Delta in the sixties seemed bent on pushing past identification with the sins of their parents and grandparents. The sons and daughters of Cain, haunted by the shadow of Abel’s murder, wanted to get on with their lives—the curse wasn’t theirs to bear. Many left for Memphis, if not the other side of the country. For all of the sluggishness in the Delta spirit, folks sure were (and often still are) in a hurry to “forget” what transpired there.

In the Hebrew Bible, forgetting is a sin. That’s one of the many important things I learned from the back row of Dr. Carol Newsom’s “Exile and Restoration” course last fall.

Yahweh never forgets. In the legendary history, it is the people of God who routinely forget their own history and God’s history, which are intertwined in complex and nuanced ways. By contrast, Yahweh always remembers; accordingly, God’s remembrance serves as the genesis for God’s movement of justice and (eventually) reconciliation.

It’s easy to forget…for some. It’s easier to forget if you haven’t borne the scars of slavery or sharecropping on your own body, if you haven’t been systematically oppressed by segregation and institutional racism, if you haven’t received death threats based on the color of your skin or the way you prefer to worship. It’s easier to forget if a position of white privilege means that you don’t have to concern yourself with issues like mass incarceration, concealed-carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws, or the everyday experience of micro-aggression. Nonetheless, the Hebrew Scriptures still ring true: forgetting is a sin.

This very month, we face a particular call to remember. Fifty years ago, in mid-June, a team of over a thousand students, clergy, and seminarians traveled to Mississippi to spend ten weeks working on one of the largest voter registration initiatives in American history. The Mississippi Summer Project, part of the larger constellation of what came to be known as the “Freedom Summer,” was driven by the efforts of leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was instrumental in bringing the truth to light about the abuses and violence occurring at the hands of whites in Mississippi.

Such violence threatened the Project workers daily. On June 21, 1964, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were brutally murdered at the hands of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, MS (the point man in the murder was Edgar Ray Killen, a Baptist minister, who was not convicted until 2005).  In the search for the bodies of the men, the FBI discovered the bodies of multiple other civil rights workers in surrounding areas.

Many murders, bombings, and other incidents that occurred in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 and in following years have yet to come to light. In the few Mississippi towns where civil rights records were kept, the tales of daily violence are harrowing. The lack of information is so enormous that private citizens established The Mississippi Truth Project in 2005 to serve as a fact-finding mission to bring to light the multitude of heinous crimes committed in Mississippi just fifty years ago. With a fiftieth year commemoration of the Mississippi Summer Project to take place in Jackson at the end of the month, the Truth Project plans to renew its call for a truth and reconciliation commission as a means of recovering, remembering, and slowly reconciling the sins of the past.

Forgetting is a sin. We must remember what happened, especially if we are to understand the injustices that still continue around us every day. This is the task of the people of the church; people for whom memory should never be stripped from the work of faith.

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Andrew is a third-year M.Div. student at Candler. Andrew is also an Interim Lay Leader with Berea Mennonite Church/Oakleaf Mennonite Farm. He will also serve as the Vice President of Candler’s Student Government Association (C3) in the 2014-15 academic year. Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewltoney.


May 13 2014

One Step at a Time, One Step Ahead

Alisha1We millennials have been told all of our lives that pursuing a higher education was the way out of our respective neighborhoods, the necessary step to “have more than our parents did,” and an essential part of being ready to compete with an “ever growing job market.” Some of us have been on a life long journey to meet the expectations and standards set by the generation before us and when we fall short, the pressure can be insurmountable sometimes.

We spend so much time being concerned about what is coming that often times we miss the opportunities and moments right before us. In turn, some of us are so focused on the right now we’ve given little thought to tomorrow. It’s a balancing act of sorts, to take life one step at a time while remaining one step ahead, you know?

We toe the line of being able to take things one step at a time while remaining one step ahead. Learning to pace yourself yet be fiercely prepared for what is to come is a skill that many people struggle to master. Shifts in ideologies and schools of thought have been critical in analyzing what it truly takes to be successful; what is it that we can say about preparing for our future that we have not already heard? How do we demystify the unknown?

I find some semblance of understanding when I think about a story written by Qoheleth, the Jewish writer attributed to have written the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes. It is in this book where some of the most renowned pieces of wisdom literature, religious or otherwise, have taken its words to reshape our understanding of life and its purpose. Though there is no evidence that he studied Ecclesiastes, playwright William Shakespeare’s work has similar themes found in Ecclesiastes, one of a fleeting life worth living. The following words, spoken by a grieving Macbeth, speak to life’s evanescence:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale,

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(Macbeth, Act V, Scene V)

Shakespeare offers even more insight (are we sure he didn’t study Ecclesiastes when writing this stuff?) in the play As You Like It when we learn that “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players.” Shakespeare follows the life of a (every) wo/man from a “puking” infant to a person who enters a “second childhood” “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

The wisdom that Qoheleth shares with us is plentiful and William Shakespeare’s ruminations live forever in the annals of literary history. I think the most important message that both authors send is simple: life is fleeting. One minute we’re here and the next, we’ve transitioned on to another life. What is to be said, then, about how we live our lives one step at a time and, at the same time, one step ahead?

Alisha3This paradoxical idea of being present yet looking toward the future narrows the intent and purpose for which we live, doesn’t it? I mean, we’re keenly aware that the decisions we make today are happening in the now, but the reverberations of those decisions can last for generations. What we do now casts a picture of what our future will be, and sometimes we can lose our grip on our present reality. On occasion, we can be so consumed with getting to the next step that we are no longer present in the right now. We miss the opportunities to create lasting relationships or enjoy the process of living because we must get to the next step.  In turn, everything we do is about today and tomorrow, simultaneously.

I remember being a burgeoning 20-something whose dreams were big and goals were lofty! I remember feeling like I was unstoppable and I knew what the hell I was doing; sage advise from parents or mentors seemed to go in one ear and out the other as I raged forward with my “this is what I will do TODAY!” plans – all the while thinking I had the future in mind, but realizing that I had no clue what the future would hold for me. What is this thing, this difficulty in being able to be present in today and conjecture what will happen in the future?

A 2010 report by the National Institute of Mental Health discovered the prefrontal cortex of our brains, the part that gives us the ability to reason, have foresight, and make good judgment calls, doesn’t fully develop until you reach age 20 or 21. Scientists note that this is the reason that teenagers and young adults seek out the “thrill” in life like trying out a new roller coaster, racing cars or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. While there may be a physiological deficiency in young adults (thought I can think of some 30, 40, and 50 year olds who have this difficulty, too!) there’s something to be said about being aware of how today’s decision impacts tomorrow’s future.

Taking the next step towards our future, it seems, has to be intentional. It cannot be a fly-by-night, roll the die, let’s-see-what-happens type of experience. It must be something that you do on purpose. We must forget what childhood shortcomings we may have lingering in our minds. We even have to overcome what struggles may have followed us into adulthood. We have to find a greater reason to push forward to do, as Ethicist Dr. Katie Cannon calls it, “the work our souls must have.” We must also remain present – be aware of our surroundings and the people and places that serve as the background to our life’s narrative. What moments we miss as we sprint after our futures, leaving invaluable memories behind.

This balance between being aware of today and mindful of the future offers us a stable grounding for addressing life’s most important decisions like career, love, money, and family. It’s a skill that we never stop learning how to master, a gift that continues to impart joy with every waking moment. What are some ways in which you are learning how to take life one step at a time while looking towards the future? What newfound truths can be discovered as you venture through life with the promise of a bright future serving as your guide? Feel free to leave your comments below!

“Just as we have two eyes and two feet, duality is a part of life.” (Carlos Santana)

–Alisha L. Gordon

Alisha is a rising third-year MDiv student and ESOL Writing Tutor at Candler. A 2004 graduate of Spelman College, Alisha has written for various online and print publications including Upscale Magazine, The Huffington Post, Hello Beautiful and her own personal blog Find the Pieces.


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.


Apr 8 2014

What Kind of King Do We Want?

PalmThe excitement and anticipation in this passage is tangible (see Matthew 21:1-11). The crowds gathered in order to see this strange new prophet, Jesus. They must have heard many different things about him ranging from, “That guy Jesus is a nutcase,” to “Have you heard about Jesus? He is the one we have been waiting for!” There was probably a lot of pushing, shoving, and grumbling going on so people could catch a glimpse of Jesus. The people in the crowd even put their cloaks down on the road for Jesus to walk on. They are shouting “Hosanna,” which literally means “save us,” or “save now.” Obviously, they were looking to Jesus to be their savior—to overthrow the Roman government and bring them peace and prosperity. Jesus was seen as the Messiah—a great King who will liberate his people.

Jesus, however, was not the kind of king the Jews expected. Yes, he is a prophet, but he is much more. He is the son of the Living God, who came not just to rescue the Jews from Roman oppression, but to usher in all of us into the kingdom of God. Kings and rulers usually come with power, might and glory. I wonder if the people in Jerusalem who were shouting Hosanna remembered the part of the prophecy that described their king as “humble, and mounted on a donkey.” Humility is about the last thing one would expect out of a king, but humility is something that Jesus embraces.

Jesus was not the kind of king that the Jews expected. I’m sure that many of them wanted Jesus to overthrow the Roman rulers and put the Jews in a position of power. They wanted someone to take vengeance on their oppressors. However, Jesus was first and foremost a suffering servant. He emphasized love of neighbor and serving one another. In Matthew 5, Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Surely, this is not what the oppressed Jews in Jerusalem wanted to hear from their supposed liberator. Instead of fighting against the Roman government, Jesus called them to pray for them.

Jesus came to bring freedom, but not the kind of freedom we expect. True freedom is found when one moves from anger and violence to forgiveness and reconciliation. Just as the Jews were during the first century, so we too are enslaved to anger. Jesus came to release us from this slavery and to free us for love of God and neighbor. Of course, it is important to acknowledge and give a legitimate place to anger—but anger must be translated into a vision of reconciliation. We must hold in tension the seemingly contradictory images of enemies found in the Bible: the cry to crush the enemies and the call to love them.

In his book The Journey Toward Reconciliation, John Paul Lederach says, “I cannot face the enemy unless I am rooted in God’s sustaining love and at the same time give myself permission to struggle with the seemingly impossible sacrifice it represents. To pursue reconciliation, we must accept the long sleepless night of fighting in ourselves with God before we can journey toward and look for the face of God in our enemy.” Friends, this is the key: we must see God in our enemies. We don’t want to be like the crowds that failed to see the face of God in Jesus and handed him over for suffering and death. We must have humility, just as Jesus did. He identified with the least of these and called for love among friends and enemies. For this, he was crucified. He was clearly not the king that the Jews had been looking for.

It is important for us to hold his entry into Jerusalem in tension with his subsequent suffering and death. The same crowds who openly praised and accepted Jesus as Messiah soon called for his death on the cross. Sometimes freedom isn’t what we expect. Just as we must move from lament to action, we must move from anger to reconciliation. So, we too can join in with the crowds in Jerusalem pleading for God to save us from our anger and divisive actions, saying “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

–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.

 
Art note: John August Swanson, “Entry Into The City,” “Last Supper”


Mar 25 2014

A Theology of Bricks

**Warning: Major Spoilers for The Lego Movie Follow**

Long before I was old enough to follow even the simplest of pictorial instructions, I fell deeply in love with the plastic building toys manufactured by the Danish toy company, Lego. My father would build towers on the kitchen floor, and I would knock them down, laughing deviously the entire time. Eventually, I was building my own towers in addition to castles and spaceships, and Lego sets became a staple of Christmas morning (in fact, even though I’m 24 and a graduate student, they still are). Needless to say, when I discovered the newly released film The Lego Movie, I was excited to see what one of my favorite companies would do on the big screen. While I was not surprised by the quality of the movie’s animation and story, I was pleasantly surprised to find fertile ground for theological reflection, especially on questions of violence and redemption.

The story follows Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), an everyday construction worker who is particularly good at following the instructions (right down to purchasing overpriced coffee and returning every compliment). One night, Emmet discovers the “Piece of Resistance,” the key to foiling the plans of the devious Lord Business (Will Ferrel) who plans to Krazy Glue the whole world together to preserve his own particular sense of order. Emmet suddenly finds himself at the center of the resistance group – the highly creative “master builders” – but his instruction-following tendencies leave him feeling alienated. After a botched encounter with Lord Business’ police force, Emmet realizes that, although the master builders are highly creative, they cannot work together. Emmet creates a detailed instruction manual that lays out a plan for invading Lord Business’ fortress. Of course, the whole plan eventually goes sideways and the citizens of Lord Business’ city find themselves wielding their creativity to fight for survival.

At this point in a typical movie, Emmet would discover his hidden talents (in fact, he does) and then wield those powers to enact violence upon Lord Business. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including a powerful melting ray, Batman’s batarangs, a gigantic robot constructed from Emmet’s old construction site, and the Krazy Glue weapon itself. It would be a particular stroke of poetic irony to see Lord Business defeated by the very weapon he hopes to harness. This pattern is typically identified as the “myth of redemptive violence.” Put simply, we believe that violence is generally bad unless that same violence is used for positive ends such as the destruction of an enemy who wishes to do others violence. Though he could Lord Business, Emmet instead comes to embrace him.

In a dramatic turn of events, we discover that the setting of the film is actually Will Ferrel’s basement wherein he has constructed a complex Lego universe, albeit one where the models are glued together and the themes (castle, city, etc.) are kept carefully divided. The plot has actually been driven by Ferrel’s son, who mixes and matches characters (ranging from Batman to a kitten/unicorn hybrid) and settings for the purposes of an epic story. When the strait-laced Ferrel realizes what his son has been doing, he is eventually impressed by the amount of creativity exerted on both the story and its characters/vehiciles/locations. Recognizing that creativity and instruction-following can work together, he has a change of heart and invites his son to play with his Legos whenever he wants. In the same way, Emmet (back in the Lego universe) convinces Lord Business that he has a special gift to give the world, in the same way that everyone else does (the people of Emmet’s city had earlier turn objects of their professions into creations only they could build to combat Business’ forces). Like Ferrel, Lord Business has a change of heart, recognizing that his absolute concern for order was damaging, but that it can also be a gift to his fellow citizens. Finally, it is Lord Business who deactivates the Krazy Glue weapon.

As much as I loved the inside jokes, pop culture references (Will Arnett’s Batman paraphrases a line from the Dark Knight to hilarious effect), and homages to Lego’s heritage as a company (a classic 80s spaceman is both integral to the plot and somewhat worse for wear), I appreciated this reversal of redemptive violence all the more. True, there is violence in the film itself, but it is ultimately revealed to be useless and wasteful in light of creativity, cooperation, and reconciliation. By challenging this myth in popular culture, we can go a long way towards realizing what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).” By understanding those who would propagate violence and offering them compassion instead of the barrel of a loaded gun (or shark, in the case of the film’s resident pirate) we begin undoing systems of violence and start realizing the kingdom of God. May we all have the courage to embrace such stories.

–Aaron Carr

Aaron is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. Originally from Cumming, GA, Aaron was a religion major as an undergraduate at Samford University.


Mar 18 2014

Women’s History Month: New Narratives

MorrisonThis month is National Women’s History Month, and while it is important to share stories of transformational women, this month is also a time where we think about how we tell the broader stories of humanity. In my studies at Candler and my experience as a woman I am realizing more and more that history is not merely a recitation of facts but an arranging of those facts in a particular order. Writing history also means choosing some facts over others, ignoring facts that don’t make the story sound exceptional and judging which facts of history are most consequential.

There are many amazing women who have brought this predicament of history-telling to our attention: Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, bell hooks, Audre Lorde and Wendy Farley (to name some favorites of mine).  There are scholars who are retelling women’s histories that have been painfully obscured and mutilated by men, such as that of Sarah Baartman.  There are writers who are telling new histories, giving a voice to the women who screamed, laughed, shouted and sang and yet no one wrote it down. The spirits of these women come to us through the work of writers like Toni Morrison.

There is still much work to be done to reconstitute half the world’s history, the history of women. Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed at the U.N. Fourth World Conference in China in 1995 “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” In the same way, women’s history is human history and human history is women’s history.  How do we continue to tell the history of humanity and yet still deny this simple fact?  One example surfaced in chapel last week when the preacher referenced the famous evolutionary mantra “survival of the fittest.” This little phrase contains an entire history of human existence—a history of competition, autonomy, self-interest and an illusion of fit-ness—a history told by certain men in certain circumstances.

ClintonTo tell the history of humanity as one of competition, scarcity, autonomy, fear or an abstract notion of being “fit” is no explanation for the life-giving interdependence of a nursing mother and her baby.  Survival of the fittest is not the history of immigrants who coordinate the care of each other’s children so that they can take English classes and learn to support their refugee community. Survival of the fittest is not the history of my friends in a same-sex partnership where they daily sacrifice the world’s cookie-cutter “fittest” ideals to flourish in a relationship of love and creativity. Survival of the fittest is far from the story of Jesus whose place in history marks a unifying baptism and a common table where mutuality, welcome and love are offered as the defining story of all the children of God, men and women.

Theologian Sarah Coakley is currently working with scientists to examine the implications of cooperation and sacrifice in the history of human survival.  In a Gifford lecture she comments on the “great secret that men rarely discuss…sacrifice is being done all the time physiologically in the tiring and painful human business of pregnancy, birth-giving and lactation.” (See article: “What’s God Got to Do With Evolution?” in Times Higher Education.)

Through the work of women like Sarah Coakley, we can now offer new narratives of history during National Women’s History Month.  How we tell the story of humanity this month includes the values that women have always relied on in order to survive and flourish in this world: cooperation, care, sacrifice, interdependence and mutuality. May our history become a full reckoning with humanity’s life in this world.

–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.


Mar 11 2014

Snowpocalypse & Table Fellowship

Emory snowBy now I’m sure that all of you have heard of the crazy snow storms we have had down here in Atlanta over the last month. The first storm hit us with a gargantuan amount of snow—a whole two inches! Now, being from Missouri, I know that this amount of snow is tease for most people, but it was a blizzard for people down here. In fact, it was referred to as “Snowpocalypse”. People rushed to the safest place they know— the interstate—and were stuck in their cars for hours. Children were stuck at school and on school buses. It really was an awful situation for those people trying to get home. For those of us who were home, however, it was quite the welcome break. I not only go to Candler for class, but I also work part-time in the Admissions and Financial Aid office there. I also have an internship with Emory Wesley Fellowship, an undergraduate campus ministry. With these three things combined, I am on campus every day for about 45 hours per week. So, the idea of not having to leave my house was extra-appealing. I ended up getting an extra three days off from school and work! I got to spend the day in my pajamas, reading for class, cleaning my apartment, and watching Lord of the Rings marathons. It was amazing.

Less than two weeks later, the weather reports were saying we were going to get more snow, but this time, it would be accompanied by an ice storm. Of course, people started freaking out—some groceries stores literally ran out of bread and milk. My first thought, however, was “This is too good to be true!” I couldn’t believe we would get MORE days off. This gave me more time to finish assignments and catch up on my reading. We ended up being off of school Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I had a great time on Tuesday, but Wednesday, I started getting a little stir crazy. By Thursday, I was beyond ready to go back to school. Even though I was enjoying living life in my pjs and Charlie Brown sweatshirt, it felt like something significant was missing in my life. It wasn’t until the next week at work that I found out what that was.

ATL snowjamThe Admissions and Financial Aid Office was in an uproar when I arrived at work the next Monday. There were red files all over the place and the phone was ringing off the hook with panicked students wondering if we received all their materials before the priority deadline. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but it was much busier than usual.) The entire morning I longed to be back at home in my pajamas, watching movies and pretending to read. We were all stressed and behind because of the snow. Around lunchtime, some of us congregated at the little round table near the office reception area to eat a quick lunch. Our conversation quickly turned to laughter as we caught up with each other and shared our experiences of the snow days. The stress and chaos was left behind as we communed together. Soon almost the entire office had congregated around the table. As we were eating, it hit me: this is what I had been missing. I hadn’t gotten to experience the wonderful fellowship with my Candler community in two weeks. I missed them and the experiences we shared.

All of this was made known to me around the table. By sharing a meal together, we were building up our little community and strengthening each one of us. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the significance of table fellowship as a way to strengthen our bond with each other and our bond with Christ. He writes, “The Scriptures speak of three kinds of table fellowship that Jesus keeps with his own: daily fellowship at the table, the table fellowship of the Lord’s Supper, and the final table fellowship in the Kingdom of God. But in all three the one thing that counts is that ‘their eyes were opened, and they knew him.’” Thus, when we commune with each other, Christ is also present in the breaking of the bread. It took Snowpocalypse (parts I & II) to make me see the importance of my Candler community. The life we share together, no matter how hectic or stressful, is a life centered around Christ. We are a community that is bound to Christ, and because of this, bound to each other. The many birthday parties that take place in our office is a testament to this communal practice. We become closer to one another and with God in the breaking of the bread (or mostly, cake). So, instead of eating your dinner in front of the TV in your pajamas all the time, sit around a table and eat with the people in your community. The fellowship you share around the table will not only enrich your relationships with each other, but also your relationship with God.

–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.


Mar 4 2014

If I Had Known Then…

Eric JI have a confession to make. When I made my decision to apply to and attend Candler School of Theology, it was based on the work of one professor.  I read her book, saw where she taught, and decided to apply to that school. I am lucky to have stumbled into one of the most prestigious Hebrew Bible programs in the country, but if I had known then what I know now, I would have chosen the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program at Candler one-thousand times over. Here’s why:

The Faculty

As you already know, I made my decision to attend based on a single member of the faculty, but I am leaving Candler in complete awe of the constellation of faculty and staff at Candler School of Theology. I have had unprecedented access to the world’s foremost scholars across every discipline I have worked in. They are available, helpful, encouraging, and supportive.

The Community

Because I am an introvert by nature, the Candler community was not even on my radar when I made my decision. What I had grossly underestimated in my calculations was the effect that moving so far away from my family would have on me. The students at Candler have supported me and challenged me in ways that have made me at least a better scholar, and I like to think a better person. From a friendly face on the first day of orientation, to celebrating admissions decisions over margaritas at noisy restaurants in my last weeks of my degree, my experience at Candler has been bookended by people who have changed my life.

The Opportunities

When people ask me why I chose Candler, I largely recount what I have discussed above. I caveat this by saying that if I had known how important that scholar was in her field, or what Candler’s reputation was in the scholarly community, I would have talked myself out of applying. The reputation of Emory University and Candler School of Theology are well earned and far-reaching. Whatever one’s goals happen to be for his or her degree, the outstanding reputation of Candler will help you along your journey.

The Program

The flexibility of the MTS program is such that it allows its students the freedom to explore and shape their research interests. I was allowed to pursue a highly specified course load consisting mainly of languages and biblical studies. At the same time, the program is designed to provide the structure and faculty support to make that exploration focused and productive. The fortunate outcome of this dichotomy is a well-rounded training that prepared me thoroughly for doctoral studies.

–Eric Jarrard

Eric Jarrard is a second-year Master of Theological Studies student in Hebrew Bible. He will be pursuing a doctorate at Harvard Divinity School this fall.


Jan 28 2014

The Church Must Speak

Ukraine Priest with cross“In the end we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

     –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Two months ago an anti-government uprising began throughout the Ukraine. The unrest has brought thousands into the streets. Amidst the burned buses, tear gas, and barricades, a large number of Orthodox priests have assembled, not to protest but to pray. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s government threatened to ban prayer services at the protest but that did not stop the priests from showing up with their robes, crosses, and holy books.

One priest spoke about the proposed ban as being “illegal and immoral.” “Nobody can forbid people to pray,” he said.

I have learned all my life and believe with all my heart that prayer is essential to Christian identity. The church must pray. In my faith tradition we believe that there is power in prayer. We anoint and pray for the sick because we are confident that God has the ability to heal. We pray for the poor and those in need because we identify God as a provider. The Church must pray.

But the Church must also speak.

The church is not only obligated to pray for the sick but also to advocate for access to better healthcare and affordable medicine. The church is not only obligated to pray for the poor but to seek redress from broken systems that lead to poverty. We must speak for a reasonable living wage. We must speak against exploitation and oppression. We must offer both bread and reproach, prayer and action.

The Church is not the church if it is not concerned with the human condition. Neither is the church fit to call itself Christian if it does not reprove the systems, paradigms, and the politics that perpetuate inhuman and immoral conditions.

In his 1967 speech, “A Time to Break the Silence,” Dr. King admittedly discovered that “…the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.” Our moral conscience leaves us no other choice.

If the church’s heart becomes totally poisoned, the autopsy must identify a partial cause of death as “silence.”

Not many understand the importance and difficulty of the church speaking more than Dr. King. Many condemned King for his diatribe against the Vietnam War in his quest to connect Montgomery and Asia. They contended that he was hurting his own cause and that peace and civil rights did not mix. King explained that through conscription (military draft) we were exploiting the poor. “We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia. We told them that they could not solve their problems with Molotov cocktails and rifles yet America is using massive violence to solve their own.”

Over 40 years later these Ukrainian priests find themselves in scenes reminiscent of the civil rights movement. At the threat of being tossed in jail, and while staring down the barrel of guns, they show up, not to protest but to pray. Through their presence these cross-wielding, Bible-toting, robe-wearing holy men speak. Through their defiance and civil disobedience, they speak. Loudly, passionately, and poignantly, they speak. They speak because their moral conscience demands it.

The Christian Church must speak.

Ukraine prayerWhether it is against a corrupt government in the Ukraine that seeks to silence the prayers of the people or corrupt capitalists in the United States that promote profits over and apart from the human condition, the Church must speak. Be it from the steps of the state capitol or from the asylum of the pulpit, the Church must speak. We must both feed the hungry and advocate to change the structures that affect the human condition. The church’s voice is vital for both those offended and those who have committed offense.

There is no magic in the pronoun “my” that gives some people greater value than others, nor is God divided by borders and boundaries. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those who dwell herein. Or, in Dr. King’s words: “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

–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.


Dec 3 2013

Seminary v. Law School

scalesI have shared with many that seminary is way more intense than law school. The difference is I like seminary a lot more! Law school has a very formulaic pedagogical style. Once you figure out the form it is smooth sailing. All law school exams basically use the same format. Law school is not about learning the law, but learning how to “think like a lawyer.” I have not quite figured out the purpose of seminary, but it is definitely more than learning how to “think like a preacher.” Seminary taps into so many different intellectual dimensions. We have to learn the hard facts, the theology those facts support, the implications of the theology, the theory, the practical—it all converges! It is honestly overwhelming at times. In law there are really only two positions, the one that wins the case and the one that loses the case. In seminary there seem to be many positions and we still are not sure which one wins ((Insert Trinitarian debate and Christology))!

So if law school was easier why do I like seminary more? The people! The purpose! I was blessed to go to a really good law school where the competition was just not that serious for 70% of us. Unlike other law schools where people tear pages out of books and such. Yet at the end of the day it was law school and it is a very individualistic pursuit. While a few of us wanted to be lawyers to do good and change the world, most just wanted to get a good job and be successful by whatever false standards have been given to us by the world. As a result you ended up with cliques instead of community because of divergent interests. You do not make it out of law school because of community and “kum ba yah” moments, but I cannot imagine having even made it through the second Old Testament test without community here at Candler.

There is something about dealing with matters of faith and spirituality in community that creates community. Learning that “finder keeper, loser weeper” is not actually the law in regards to lost, mislaid, or abandoned property (and no, they are not the same thing) really was no big deal to me or my law school classmates. However, somebody taking away “your Moses”, as one professor calls it, and being introduced to the documentary hypothesis can be quite a shock to the system (by the way, I don’t have a Moses). I have found that it is in discussing our shock that we find support, hope, and in some cases the courage to keep going. Law school was school, seminary is a journey.

Since I have been at Candler I have learned the meaning of shared struggle. It is a struggle but we are truly in it together. While I am sure there are those who engage in the competition, most of my classmates are just like me. We are here because we believe God has called us to be here. Some of us are struggling with the “why?” and the “exactly how long?” but I think we all recognize that being here serves some greater purpose for our lives and the lives of those around us. At the end of the day bonds have been established that will last a lifetime because of our shared struggle. I am not quite sure where the road will end for me but as an upperclassman told me, “we make it through together.” This truth has become my lifeline and I thank God for the “together”.

–Mercy Lineberry

Mercy is a first-year MDiv student. She earned her Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University in 2010, became a member of the Georgia Bar, and served as a state prosecutor for three years before enrolling at Candler.