Oct 19 2012

Broken over Breaking Amish

My roommate and I love TV.  Good TV, bad TV, and TV on DVD. It is how we relax when we are not working, going to class, or studying.  Since moving in together, Carrie (2nd year) and I have a few TV shows that we have been trying to keep up with.

“Breaking Amish” is a show about five young people who have decided to move away from their religious families and find out how to live life away from the rules and restrictions.  Tuesday night, I walked into the living room and Carrie was watching the show.  She turned to me and said “it’s fake.”

My jaw dropped.

She explained that apparently, all the subjects of the show have been out of their communities for years.  Why my immediate response was to be shocked and offended I don’t know.  We all know that reality shows are often anything but “real.” For some reason I felt like my favorite TV channel had pulled wool over my eyes and I was not happy about it.

Authenticity can be hard to find.  Luckily, this hasn’t been my experience at Candler.

Last week in Introduction to Public Worship we had to write from memory the prayer that the presider of communion says in our denomination.  As a United Methodist, I have heard this at least once a month since I joined the church when I was young.  But reciting the liturgy and learning the ins and outs of running a worship service has got me looking forward to graduation in May with both excitement and anxiety.  I have been doing practical things at Candler from day one and it is one of my favorite parts about Candler.

But now I wonder, am I prepared? Will I ever be prepared?  Lucky for me, Dr. Phillips our Worship professor has given us the good news of being in ministry.  He told us that to walk away from the class with only the preparations would be a loss.  He encourages us to be people of prayer and people who are authentic because those things are just as important for defining who we are as people in ministry.

I started to think of my every day life.  We encounter teachers, classmates, church members, and family.  We have the opportunity to rush through the rituals with those people or to stop and be in a relationship that is honest and glorifies God.  We encounter papers, exams, and tasks at work.  How many times do we just fake our way through these things?  I know that for me all of these happen an unfortunate amount.

Thank God that is not the end of the conversation.  It is important for us to be vigilant in the ways in which we are real with God and our community.  But we must not forget to lean on God and our community to fill our gaps with grace.  The difficult part of this blog is that I have no answer; we only have trust in God and our community of faith who have promised to help mold us into the most authentic servants of Christ that we can be.

All I can say for today is… Praise God for progress!

- Marissa Teauseau

Marissa is a third year MDiv student, a graduate of Centenary College in Shreveport, LA, and a Candler Student Ambassador.


Oct 12 2012

Any questions?

While studying in Panera the other day I was cornered by a talkative stranger. (How people think open books and vigorous typing on the laptop is an invitation for dialogue, I’ll never know…)

Unfortunately, I missed the warning signals telling me not to divulge my current course of study to this person, and he wasted no time in rattling off every negative stereotype and over-generalization about Christians he could think of. (Nice to meet you, too…) Luckily, I had just been working on a small group study about engaging in difficult conversations, so I listened patiently to his critiques and concerns. As it turns out, virtually everything he dislikes (ok, hates) about Christianity I am not so fond of either.

It is incredibly disheartening to meet people who are curious about faith –often deeply spiritual– who have for one reason or another been completely turned off to the Church. Some examples my new friend mentioned include arrogance, hypocrisy, judgment (especially regarding persons who identify LGBTQ), and general closed-mindedness. For someone like him with deep philosophical questions about the roots and guts and core of life, the faith presented to him by Christians seemed presumptive and shallow.

If there is anything I have learned in seminary thus far it is that this faith is not shallow….

Not having a background in religious studies upon entering Candler, I have found my Old and New Testament classes to be extremely challenging (and I don’t just mean the work-load). The Bible is meant to be our most instructive, concrete illustrator of the character and works of God. But as such, it is a conflictive, confounding document– creating in us more questions than answers every time we read it.

Studying the scriptures in such an academic environment has instilled in me a greater awareness of all that I still don’t know. Adding to biblical knowledge centuries worth of theological nuance and doctrinal subtlety, ethical standards and practice, liturgical tradition and the arts of care, I wonder how I might ever be well-enough equipped to bear the Good News, the Word of God, to the world in a way that is not only faithful, but honest and true.

There is just so much to learn.

Conversations like the one today, with strangers or even close friends and family, remind me why this work in seminary is so important. It is not only a time to receive information (though one might often feel reduced to a sponge-like existence), but to wrestle with the meaning behind the text, biblical or otherwise. It is a time to test the waters. To push against things to see how far they will lean before toppling over. To discover one’s own boundaries, and explore those set by others as well. Because in the real world people have real questions, and I know I cannot in good conscience ever claim to have all the answers.

But I can say I have wrestled, and have been faithful in listening for God’s voice among the multitudes of others. And I can do my best to provide the space and encouragement for others to do the same.

God bless us all on the journey.

- Darin Arntson

Darin is a second year MDiv student from Southern California and a Student Ambassador.


Oct 5 2012

A First Year’s Lessons

Aaron preaching at the Festival of Young PreachersI think there’s a secret meeting that all Candler students go to at the end of their first years. At that meeting, I think every member of the divinity school covenants to scare the living daylights out of every incoming student, especially when those new students arrive for orientation.

I didn’t believe the hype. Coming fresh from a strong undergraduate program in religious studies, I had no doubt about my ability to handle the work load. And I had done several ministry internships as an undergrad, so I imagined that I could handle anything Contextual Education could throw at me. And for the most part, I’ve been handling the transition well. Take that, secret Candler intimidation meeting.

This week, however, hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I accidently over-committed myself to a number of curricular and extra-curricular activities, and I spent nearly an hour Monday morning trying to figure out how I was going to get it all done. Between recovering from last week’s Old Testament exam and handling the new week’s work, I wondered if the secret intimidation meeting had actually been right. Was I really about to watch my careful control of the Candler experience come crumbling down around my ears?

In the end, it didn’t. I survived the last four days, and I’m looking forward to a relaxed weekend. But in the process I learned two valuable lessons, both of which happened to be lessons I thought I already knew.

The first lesson was about failure. There were several things this week that simply didn’t get done, and more things that didn’t get done to the degree that I would have liked. And that felt bad. Or, at the very least, not good. But it was okay. Most of the things that didn’t get done, in the end, didn’t matter. And when it came to the few things that did matter, I got over it really quickly. Every once in a while, it’s perfectly okay to fail. Life goes on, even when that task falls by the wayside. Of course, it’s not a good habit to cultivate, but in the middle of chaos it can be very helpful to know that failure and incompletion are both natural parts of life.

The second lesson was completely different, and it was really more of a revelation occasioned by an experience in Old Testament this morning. When it comes to OT, I’ve been in serious study mode for the past few days. We had our first exam last Thursday, and I guess I’m still coming down from the experience. Today, however, Dr. LeMon shook things up a bit. Today, we sang.

We sang an ancient Hebrew song that goes like this:

Ashira la adonay ki ga’oh ga’ah
Ashira la adonay ki ga’oh ga’ah
Mi kamochah ba’elim adonay
Mi kamochah ne’dar baqqodesh
Nachita bechasdekah am zu ga’alta
Nachita bechasdekah am zu ga’alta
Ashira! Ashria! Ashira!

 I was flooded with a sense of joy because of that simple melody. In one moment, I was reminded that this school of theology is not just a place of intense academic formation (although it is that, and it was what attracted me to Candler in the first place), but it is also a place where the whole person is embraced. In singing that song, we tapped in to one of the most ancient Hebrew expressions of faith. We also watched the song be interpreted in the film The Prince of Egypt. And then we discussed its theological significance, both in the Exodus context and in the modern American context. As I watched my classmates clap and sing, the week’s anxiety melted away.

In English, the lyrics to the song mean something like this:

I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously
I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously
 
Who is like you among the Gods, O Lord?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness?
 
 You led in your steadfast love the people whom you redeemed
You led in your steadfast love the people whom you redeemed
 I will sing! I will sing! I will sing!

I’m sure it will be stuck in my head for the next several days, but every time I find myself humming that tune, I’ll also be remembering the lessons of this week. Because the Lord has triumphed gloriously, I can find peace in failing. It’s a part of my existence, and it doesn’t change who God is or how we relate. And I’ll also remember the school where I first learned this song, a school where my whole person is embraced and I am taught both to think and to sing.

Thanks be to God for these lessons.

-Aaron Carr

Aaron is a first year student from Cumming, GA, a graduate of Samford University, and a Candler Student Ambassador.  He is also a member of the Gospel Catalyst Network of the Academy of Preachers.


Sep 28 2012

Word of God Speak?

“And if we’re going to be faithful to scripture, we must learn to love it for what it is, not what we want it to be.” Rachel Held Evans

Jennifer ReadingThis might seem like an obvious statement for a seminarian to make, but I think about the Bible a lot. So much so that for a long time, the Bible had been mentally reduced to a seminary textbook which  I lugged begrudgingly  from class to class. After all, I have spent the last few years reading, exegeting, parsing, translating, exploring, preaching from, wrestling with and sometimes almost drowning in the Scriptures. And I should tell you that it is hard to love something when it’s your homework assignment.

But lately, I’ve noticed that the Bible has snuck up on me again.

Because I used to think that I understood the Bible (after all, I was the 8th grade Bible champion back in 2001). But in many ways that Bible I understood was so flat and I thought I had figured it out. I used to think I loved the Bible but I think in many ways, I had no idea what that even meant.

But now I spend my lazy Saturday afternoons with my Greek New Testament flipped open to Romans with multiple commentaries scattered around my kitchen table and I fall asleep at night thinking about Genesis creation stories and what they mean.  I struggle with the Bible all the time. I fight with it. I want it to say what I think it should say and when it doesn’t, I want to pretend that it does anyway.

It confuses me, because I don’t know what to do with Joshua…or Daniel and I certainly don’t know what to do with that story where Elijah has two bears eat all those children.

It overwhelms me, and I don’t know what to think about it. Because the claims it is making are too expansive for me to grasp.  So I just stop. I move on to Kierkegaard or Barth, but they never let me stay away for long. Before I know it, I’m back in Romans wondering what exactly Paul means when he talks about the righteousness of God.

But it also still finds ways to inspire me, like when I stumble upon verses in Jeremiah that say: “

Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

And in all this struggle, I am beginning to see that the Bible is deeper than I ever imagined. It is more complex and beautiful that I ever gave it credit for being.  And now as I read it, I hear the different voices that speak out across the generations to tell me something about what it means to be a Child of God, and about who that God is. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it in her book, The Preaching Life:

“[Because of the Bible] I am not an orphan. I have a community, a history, a future, a God. The Bible is my birth certificate and my family tree, but it is more: it is the living vein that connects me to my Maker, pumping me the stories I need to know about who we have been to one another from the beginning of time, and who we are now, and who we shall be when time is no more.”

It is a testament to who God is, and just like God, it is too intricate to be condensed into devotional or even a textbook. And so, I’m learning how to love the Bible again, learning how to love it for it is in its entirety and not just love the pieces that fit into my little ideas about God and God’s people.

And I’m learning what it means to say that this book is the Word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

-Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.


Sep 21 2012

Don’t Drag Your Buffalo

We made the move from St. Louis to Atlanta so fast.   We made the decision to come to Candler in May, and eight weeks later we were on I-24 with our entire lives packed into strategically-placed cardboard boxes.   We hardly thought about how much our lives were going to change.   Both of us were changing paths, and one of us was changing careers completely.   We were now going to be living on one income instead of two.   We had no friends here.    For the first time, we had no family remotely close to us.   We underestimated the struggle of living by two completely different schedules.   We just didn’t think about all the things we were giving up, until our car died.   That car was a part of our lives.   Our lives in St. Louis depended on us being able to go our separate ways.  If we needed to do two things at once, we could.  It was my car since high school.   It just always existed in our eyes.

The first leg of the move to Atlanta was ridiculous, even funny.   Two hours into the trip, the AC went out in one of the cars.   The choice was between driving my dad’s F-150 through the mountains (which was being fully realized with a U-Haul trailer hitched to the back), or driving a car without AC in the midst of intense July heat.   Needless to say, we decided to stop in the middle of Tennessee and stay the night.   We got up the next morning thinking we were going to start up the car and move to Atlanta, and it just didn’t happen.  The car did not start.  We finagled it in every way.  It wasn’t a battery problem, it wasn’t an electrical problem—it was a legitimate issue.   It was clear that it wasn’t going anywhere, and it sounded awful.   We called a tow truck.   Ryan sat at a mechanic’s shop in the middle of Tennessee for 4 hours.  My mom and I killed time in Target picking up those random items that go missing when you decide to pack up your life and move it somewhere new.   They took the car apart, and put it back together.   It still wouldn’t start.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  We tried really hard to save it.  We didn’t want to let it go.  They finally broke down and said it was hopeless.   The decision was between putting a new engine in it or burying it right then and there.  It was like what happens on the Oregon Trail.  When your buffalo drowns, you don’t drag it the rest of the way.  You just leave it there.  One thing was clear: our buffalo had drowned.

We took a hard look at the situation, and decided to bury our car in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.   RIP, Dodge Stratus.   When Ryan made the call to tell me about the car, I broke down in the middle of Target.   I was that girl you saw losing it in the Housewares Department.   At that point, it hit me.   I realized we were giving up much more than we had originally thought; we had taken things for granted.   After we buried our car, we went on with the move to Atlanta.   It seemed odd leaving what was such a valuable part of our lives behind in a random town.   We had seriously lost something we had taken for granted, and it clued us in to what was actually going on in our lives.

I tell this story to remind us that something will be lost along the way.  Deep friendships are not instantaneous.   Family interactions are left only to phone calls.   A church home is not easily replaced.   Changing paths sometimes means living on less.   And you don’t become good at being a one car family quickly.   What Ryan and I have learned as a result might be one of the most grace-filled lessons of our lives.   It has been a lesson in living a life that involves sacrifice, and as a result, sometimes need.   We’ve learned that we do not live lives apart from community.   We needed friendships and a church family.   But we had to be realistic about our material needs, too.   We needed scholarships, loans, and support to afford seminary and a move across several states.   We had to humble ourselves enough to accept the generosity of others.   But we also had to be observant and responsive to abundances that would arise in our own lives, and we had to learn to practice generosity to those around us.

The result of dramatic changes in our lives in order to make it to this new place has been a rewarding experience.   It was definitely worth losing a car, amongst other things.   We have been blessed here in so many ways.   Though friendships were not immediate, we have found those with whom we feel deeply connected.   Though we are away from our families, our appreciation for our time with them has increased rapidly.   Though we left a loving church family, we have been able to be a lasting part of a brand new church in a totally different setting.   We were thrown into so many changes that we didn’t quite expect, but we were sustained and supported, and we have learned great things.   Our sacrifice has been richly rewarded, and we are so thankful.

 - Ashley Kirk

 Ashley is a second year MDiv student from St. Louis, MO.


Sep 5 2012

If Only To Be, More Fully

Mat and students at Wesley Resource CenterWhen I am asked the question, “What did you do this summer?” most people laugh when I reply, “I served churches in the Bahamas.” They want to know how the beaches were (pristine) and the water (crystal clear), but those topics only have so much depth. Pastoring in paradise presents challenges to the budding minister on all fronts. This summer I worked with Rev. John Baldwin 09T 10T, overseeing five churches on three different islands, building a Family Resource Center with the help of youth mission teams, and being present in the five different communities we served. I learned that with the right outlook and the proper orientation, one begins to see how God has been moving and is moving throughout a community.

Before coming to the Bahamas, I had had nominal experience with the Black church. I knew that this would be a difficult transition—which it certainly was—but I had no idea that it would be so transformative.

In the first week I preached three times, led a bible study, tore out a wall in our house (intentionally), and attended the funeral for a matriarch of the community. The quick pace forced me to keep up. I thought to myself, “When do I get a Sabbath rest?” Ha! I soon realized that you can take a break, but when you come back, the action has not slowed down, only become backlogged.

I learned the meaning of “concentrated rest.” In what will be the first of two plugs for Dr. Gregory Ellison II, Dr. Ellison preached a sermon last year around midterms. With the papers due and the exams approaching, taking a Sabbath would have been both wise and unrealistic. So Dr. Ellison instead encouraged us to take “concentrated rest.” To take time where you focus on your health—spiritually, emotionally, physically—knowing that that period of rest will be short-lived. While I could not take a full day off in the Bahamas, I learned to practice “concentrated rest” in my morning and evening time. Mornings became a time of preparation, not requiring much energy, but rather like the sprinter pausing on the blocks before the sound of the gun. Likewise, my evenings became a time of rest as John and I debriefed on our day.

This personal transformation in my private life began manifesting in my public life. My practices of rest at home gave me energy and clear vision when I went out into community. Dr. Ellison said in Pastoral Care, “Once you see, you cannot not see.” My eyes began opening to the unique needs within the communities I served.

I saw that young children needed safe places where they could come to get away from abusive or unsafe home lives. The Family Resource Center will go a long way towards addressing those issues, but in the time leading up to its completion, I knew that I needed to be present among the youth and children in the community who had few advocates. In response, John and I opened our house to any kid who needed a place to escape. We also went around the community often checking in on the children and youth. As the future of the community, they need care and support.

It is often said, “Ministry occurs often at the intersection of the head and the heart.” I want to suggest that ministry comes alive as the pastor becomes a more fully integrated, authentic person. As my hands, head, heart, eyes, and ears all begin working together, I began to open myself up to a community, able to bring my whole self to serve them.

- Mat Hotho

Mat is a second year MDiv student and a graduate of Florida Southern College.  He served as this year’s Bahamas Summer Intern – a program that sends a Candler student to the Bahamas Annual Conference each summer.


Aug 27 2012

From Educator to Educated

As my first year at Candler begins I recognize that I am about to enter a world very different from that where I have been living.  For the past three years, I taught Algebra 1 in the Arkansas Delta through a program called Teach for America. TFA places folks like me in low-income schools where students are traditionally not performing on grade level. The program charges recent college graduates with the task of motivating and galvanizing students and other teachers at their particular placement school with the goal to chip away at the achievement gap that exists between low-income and high-income schools in our nation.  While the Delta may be far from Atlanta in many ways, what I’ve seen, learned, and experienced teaching in Helena will likely inform the my forthcoming study of theology.  I’ve found a couple.

#1 – Character

“Learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating and gratifying — but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging. . . . To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”

This comes from a New York Times article  that discusses how Dave Levin, co- founder of a the KIPP charter school network, partnered with the headmaster of a top-tiered NYC private school in seeking to teach students character. School in the KIPP network typically operate in low-income communities, working towards similar goals as Teacher for America. For the past year, I taught at a KIPP school in Helena and became more intimately familiar with this attempt to teach character. To fully internalize the weight of what the research has shown, go to the link and read it (heads up – its long) However – two key findings that this article speaks to that have given me insight into the overlap to which I previously alluded.

The article argues for teaching students character, not because of the moral preference of those in administration, but for very practical reasons. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, refers to the importance of such teaching citing, “The true importance did not come from the relationship to any system of ethics or moral laws but from the practical benefit: cultivating these strengths represented a reliable path to ‘the good life,’ a life that was not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling.”

“I have come that they may have life and have it to the more abundantly.” -John 10:10. For the past three years, I’ve attempted to at some point speak some semblance of meaningful, fulfilling, and life strengthening values into my student’s lives. KIPP calls it character, Jesus called it life abundantly.

Whether I’m seeking to communicate character/ life abundant with students in a classroom, parishioners in church, orphans, seekers, deadbeats, burned out sinners, halo wearing saints, or self-righteous pietists, the hope of finding traces of such character and life remains constant regardless of the setting.

Levin and his counterpart seek to teach a general set of acquired traits referred to as “character.” Moving from the general to a specific trait led me to overlap number two.

#2 – Failure.

Failure is that which we seek to avoid at all costs. It is that which consumes so much of our time, worry, dread, anxiety, and stress.

For the past three years, I have been taught that this word is as fowl as its alliterative counterpart. Through the best of intentions I have been indoctrinated in the belief that my student’s failure was my failure. Failure was not an option. When only 8% of students in low-income families are graduating from college, failure is not an option. 8% is not ok.

Here’s the problem.

KIPP students at Auburn University“We thought, O.K., our first class was the fifth-highest-performing class in all of New York City,” (Dave) Levin said. “We got 90 percent into private and parochial schools. It’s all going to be solved. But it wasn’t.” Almost every member of the cohort did make it through high school, and more than 80 percent of them enrolled in college. But then the mountain grew steeper, and every few weeks, it seemed, Levin got word of another student who decided to drop out. According to a report that KIPP issued last spring, only 33 percent of students who graduated from a KIPP middle school 10 or more years ago have graduated from a four-year college.”

As the article continues, it explores the notion that IQ and high test scores were not what was shown to be correlated with success in college. What did correlate, however, was grit – perseverance through failure. In true KIPP fashion, the network has taken to quantifying grit through a “Grit Scale” self-assessment that requires you to rate yourself on just 12 questions, from “I finish whatever I begin” to “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.” The “Grit Scale” has shown to be “remarkably predictive of success” according Penn Ph.D. graduate Angela Duckworth whose field test yielded the predictive data.

Grit moves us from failure to victory.

“Many of us are haunted by our failure to have done with our lives what we longed to accomplish. The disparity between our ideal self and our real self, the grim specter of past infidelities, the awareness that I am not living what I believe, the relentless pressure of conformity, and the nostalgia for lost innocence reinforces a nagging sense of existential guilt: I have failed. This is the cross we never expected, and the one we find hardest to bear.” -Brennan Manning

We’ve got to rethink our notion of failure and how we deal with it. In the world of education in which I was blessed to be a part, we’ve lost sight of how to teach kids that failure is inevitable and one of our greatest chances to learn and move forward. Instead, we fill students’ heads with facts and expect them to regurgitate them on tests that have been deemed important by a source that is not intimately connected to our students in our classrooms. Students cannot develop grit without experiencing failure.

In the church, we’ve lost sight of a God who is intimately connected with our shortcomings. We’ve forgotten the story of the prodigal son, whose unspeakably deep failure and missteps didn’t stop the father from running to meet his wayward son before the son could even speak one word of penitence. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and hands and kissed him tenderly.” -Luke 15:20 The son failed, came back broken, and was granted forgiveness before he even could ask. Failure has never been a deal breaker for the Father.

“The person with depth is the one who has failed, learned to live with it, and continued to move forward.” – Brennan Manning

Failure will come. If we are to keep growing, we must keep risking failure throughout our lives and learning to mature out of what the failure has taught us. We can’t keep running away from failure in education or in our relationship with our Creator.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” -Winston Churchill

May I remember these lessons as I embark on a new journey at Candler.  May we all seek the character that comes from pursuing an abundant life and learn to live in a way that embraces the idea that only through learning from failure may we be propelled into greatness.

- Levi Rogers

 Levi is an entering MDiv student.  He spent three years teaching in the Arkansas Delta and is a graduate of Auburn University.


Aug 21 2012

Lessons Learned

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

Candler students are privileged to have various internship opportunities during their time at Candler. I gratefully had the opportunity to participate in the Candler Advantage program this summer. My site was Wesley UMC in Charlotte, North Carolina. It will be an unforgettable experience for the rest of my life.

Jaeyong Hard at WorkAll ministries that I experienced at Wesley were meaningful and precious for me, such as Vacation Bible School, the Youth Mission Trip, several community events, and many visitations. However, leading a Bible study with members of the congregation brought me several life-changing questions.  At first, I heard that church members were excited to have a seminary student as a Bible study leader and expected to learn some recent theology. Therefore, I chose Walter Brueggemann’s“The Prophetic Imagination” as the subject of our study.

However, once we began several members told me that the Bible Study was not easy and a little uncomfortable for them. And, I agreed. So, I changed course and tried to figure out why we felt uneasy with the subject. The main reason is that the book talks about an image of God different from the image of God we usually think of.  To make it even more complicated, all of us have our own image of God we have formed throughout our lives.  Whether we come from conservative backgrounds or liberal backgrounds, each person has images of God accordingly. It is very natural to have an image of God according to one’s own backgrounds and characteristics.

However, the problem is the fact that we do not make an effort to expand our image of God – to enlarge our understanding of God.  Think about it.  How much do we know about God?  We are mere creatures on earth, and God is the Creator God.  What we know about God is probably like a grain of sand on a sandy beach.  With a small basket, we cannot scoop up the whole ocean.  With our small heads and with our small understanding, we cannot understand God fully.  Therefore, we should make an effort to learn about God more deeply and more broadly.

As the group continued together we found that the books of the Prophets that we covered in the Bible Study are barely taught and preached at church. How about Lamentations? Today’s Christians hardly read Lamentations. Lamentations is not shared in the church because we do not know what to do with the depressing passages; they do not fit contemporary Christians’ images of God. However those books are in the Bible and give us significant lessons to us for our faith journey, so we need to read, study, and understand them.

The Bible study at Wesley brought me several questions. First, do I keep making an effort to broaden my image of God, and do we keep making an effort to deepen our understanding of God? After all, the Bible says, “I God desires the knowledge of God more than offerings [mere worship service] (Hosea 6:6), so it seems important to do so.

With one of many host familiesThe second set of eye-opening questions came from living away from my home and living in others’ houses. During my 2 and half months in Charlotte, I moved almost every two weeks because the church couldn’t afford to provide lodging for 10 weeks. So, five church members hosted me and my family. My wife, baby and I really appreciated the host families for their generosity and hospitality. However, moving every two weeks was not easy. It was not easy to pack and unpack again and again 10weeks’ worth of baggage. Moreover, the baby’s baggage was bigger than we expected. It was not easy to move while taking care of Amy, my baby.

However, this moving every two weeks opened my eyes to think again about my life and our lives here on earth. Where is my real home? In Charlotte, North Carolina? Of course not. Atlanta, Georgia? No, I just pay rent every month. Seoul, South Korea where I originally came from? No, I don’t have any home there because my wife and I came to United State right after our marriage. My home is not here on earth. Most people live here on earth with their own houses. People who do not own their houses yet do their best to have their own ones. Even many people who already have their houses continually try to find bigger and better ones. We keep trying to settle in our houses. In fact, however, the houses in which we are living here on earth are not our homes.

The houses I have stayed in for ten weeks in Charlotte have not been my homes because I just stayed there for 2 weeks at a time for my internship, for my calling. Likewise, the houses we are living here on earth are not our eternal homes. We all are only staying here on earth for our calling. After I finished my calling there in Charlotte, I came back home to Atlanta. Likewise, after we finish our calling here on earth, we will come back our eternal home, Heaven. We live here on earth for 70 years, 80 years, or 100 years. However, compared to the eternal time in Heaven, those few years here on earth are like the 10 weeks of my internship.

Yes, I am a traveler here on earth, walking toward, coming back toward Heaven.  Then, how does my life look like?  Do I really live here on earth as ones who have their eternal home in Heaven?  Or do I live here on earth as if I will live here for-ever?  Do we often think about Heaven?  Or do we spend most time to think about here on earth?  And of course, how do we think about God?  These questions that I had from this summer internship will resonate throughout my life. Again, I am very grateful for Candler Advantage program and strongly recommend this opportunity to all colleagues.

- J.Y. (Jaeyong) Song, M.Div.

Jaeyong Song is a rising third year MDiv student from Seoul, South Korea and a traveler here on earth.


Aug 6 2012

(Trans)Forming our vocations!

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

My official work has already come to an end, but there is so much to share about my summer as a Candler Advantage intern.  Along with many other possibilities, it allowed me to have an opportunity for more intensive formation/transformation in the practice of parish ministry. During this summer, I served Sunlin Methodist Church in Incheon, South Korea. My original proposal focused on forming/transforming Sunlin youth group’s vocational imagination.

Demonstration with Comfort Women

Sunlin youth at the Wednesday demonstration

At Candler, I took a class titled Religious Education as Formation and Transformation. In this class, I particularly engaged in Dr. Katherine Turpin’s book Branded. This book deals with an issue of adolescent’s vocation in consumer culture. She defines current consumer culture as a kind of religious system, because it forges purpose and meaning in people’s daily lives. She points out that the consumer culture devastates adolescents’ vocations; the adolescents equate their purpose of life with possessing enough money to purchase the right branded goods.

This book made me think of my original context in South Korea. I analyzed the SAT system in South Korea as a faith system for Korean adolescents. Like the consumerism in America, high school students’ lives in South Korea are almost organized around the national college entrance exam – Soo Neung. Korean adolescents’ vocational imaginations are also devastated by this faith system; they equate their purpose in life with getting a high score on the Soo Neung and admission into a prestigious university so that they may lead successful lives.

Through Candler Advantage, I set out to shape Korean adolescents’ vocations – leading a gradual shift (or transformation) from their devotion to the Korean standardized testing system to genuine Christianity. In order to engage in a ministry for the issue of vocation, I chose  Sunlin Methodist Church as my Candler Advantage Internship site. During the ten weeks of the Candler Advantage program , I have tried to combine what I theoretically learned at Candler with what I practically do at Sunlin. For (trans)forming the Sunlin Youth group member’s vocation, I designed/supported various approaches – sermons, field works, a retreat.

In the first sermon, I challenged Sunlin youth members to realize their devotion to the Korean SAT system as their faith system, and I invited them to the journey to form/transform their genuine vacations from God. In the second sermon, I explained some crucial features of Christian vocation and suggested them to be good Samaritans (or good neighbors) with marginalized people in our society as a communal vocation at Sunlin Methodist Church (Actually, the Korean term Sunlin means a good neighbor, which is based on the parable of a good Samaritan in Luke).

Won Chul with the Sunlin youth in the War and Women’s Human Right Museum

Then, I designed an educational program to encourage the youth group to be good neighbors in our society: “Becoming Sunlin: Sunling Camp, Joy From WITH.” In this program, we visited “The War and Women’s Human Right Museum” so that we carefully listen to stories of women whose human rights have been violated by wars and sincerely understand their pain and suffering. Specifically, this museum is an open space to remember ‘comfort women’ who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II and now are marginalized women in Korea. After visiting the museum (understanding the pain/suffering of ‘comfort women’), with comfort women, our youth members directly participated in a Wednesday Demonstration to seek sincere apology and appropriate reparation from the Japanese government (The Japanese government denied that they did not force them into sexual slavery; they voluntarily chose to be a prostitute or some private organizations, not the government, forced them into sexual slavery). From the reflection times after the program, some youth group members realized Joy, importance, and power of “WITH” – having solidarity with the marginalized.

 

Covenant Group and Jesus Prayer

Won Chul’s covenant group during the retreat as he prepared the Jesus Prayer.

Finally, I supported the 3days Sunlin youth group’s retreat. Under the supervision of Rev. Gu Hyun Kwon, a senior pastor at Sunlin, we had an opportunity to take a rest both spiritually and physically. We formed covenant groups and each group practiced several methods of spiritual meditation and prayer instructed by Rev. Kwon: Jesus Prayer – breathing in while calling out to God (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God) and breathing out while praying for mercy (have mercy on me, a sinner) and Lectio Divina – reading and contemplating the book of Jonah . These spiritual practices in calm nature allowed youth members to have a time of being free from their pressure and to think of their calling from God.

During this summer, my Candler Advantage Internship has (trans)formed my vocation as well as Sunlin youth member’s vocations. Through the Candler Advantage, I found a real possibility of my congregational leadership, and re-affirmed my vocational calling: academically seeking virtues (specifically, love and justice) of a Christian community and practically empowering a congregation to practice the Christian virtues.

- Won Chul Shin

Won Chul is a rising third year MDiv student.  He is president of the Candler Social Concerns Network and a graduate of Yonsei University in Soul, South Korea.


Jul 31 2012

Keeping it Simple

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

 

I’ve learned plenty this summer.

On time management:

Small groups in your home = big housecleaning crusades in your home. Think “Love and Marriage,” that corny old love song: you can’t have one without the other. Plan accordingly.

On communication:

The only things guaranteed in life are death, taxes and church people getting up in your business. When you find yourself in the line of fire, make like Jesus and doodle in the sand. A reactive response is a dangerous response: give it a solid 24.

On event-planning:

There are lots of people in your church who are really good at this. You, on the other hand, are a bit of a spaz. Put the talents of others to use. They want to help.

As my Candler Advantage Advanced Summer Internship comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the countless lessons I’ve learned from this 10-week experience. While many of them have a practical application, many, too, have been lessons of the heart.

I’ve learned that most fulfilling moments in the church are, without fail, the simplest. When one’s calendar is spilling over with to-do lists, it’s easy to forget that all of these activities are merely avenues for an opening of the heart.

I’ve thought a lot about the “KISS principle” a lot this summer: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” And I’ve actually made it my mantra for church work. For as much as we try to complicate the gospel, we’re working with a pretty straightforward message: Let your love be contagious.

I’m grateful for the many lessons I’ve learned this summer. But I’m even more grateful for the simple moments that this Candler Advantage opportunity has afforded me–the simple moments in which I have witnessed the transformative power of love.

Thanks be to God.

-Suzanne Ecklund

Suzanne is a rising third year MDiv student serving at Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA.