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.


Oct 15 2013

Leaving Room for Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Jessica Beverstein

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


Sep 17 2013

African Americans and Esther

The book of Esther provides a deep explanation that dissimulation is a legitimate technique by which a marginalized population can gain access to political power. Steed Vernyl Davidson suggests that dissimulation can be defined as concealing cultural identity in order to rise to political power. When Esther concealed her identity in Esther 2:10, she in essence unlocked her future. She was able to thwart the extermination of the Jews by Haman, and at the end of the book was heralded as influential within society. Esther essentially gained access to power by hiding her identity.

Many African Americans over time have used this concept of dissimulation to gain access to White American political power. Based upon my experience as an African American male, America constantly presents barriers and obstacles that make it difficult for African Americans to advance. Furthermore, concealment is often necessary for cultural survival because it eases those oppressive barriers.

Many marginalized individuals deem that the social system is not designed for the minority to gain political power. To some degree that is accurate because there seems to be this notion of the “richer getting richer and the poorer getting poorer.” Even though a marginalized person has access to education and various resources, there has to be some level of dissimulation to fit into a societal mode of success and power.

In the book of Esther, it was imperative for Esther to conceal her identity in order to advance and survive in society. In both the African American community as well as the book of Esther, political power and influence is not an easy concept. For example, if Esther maintained good work and optimism as a minority in Persia, the Jews may have ultimately been killed by the decree of Haman. However, it was their strategic mindset that allowed them to conceal their Jewish identity in order to avert death and ultimately gain access to political power within the royal court. It could also be suggested that Mordecai believed that the Persian Empire political system was designed to keep provinces, especially those populated by Jews, from advancing in power.

The book of Esther provides an important concept of identity that can be delineated in other social realms. Through my cultural experience as an African American male, I am able to see convergence between the rise to power in Esther as well as my own community. Some African Americans are constantly hiding their “trueness” or “blackness” in order to fit into the larger mold of society. One could suggest that dissimulation is similar to W.E.B. Dubois’ notion of double consciousness because both ideas wrestle with dualism of identity. Like Esther, African Americans who dissimulate into power have to deal with keeping their “trueness” as well as adapting to a different cultural framework. Several African Americans conceal certain aspects of their cultural identity in order to gain status and acceptance in certain power structures. I suggest that this concept of dissimulation is a means to gain power, but it is essential that an individual maintains their “trueness.” It is vital to always remember who you are regardless of your achieved level of status.

–Lawrence Waters

Lawrence is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. He is a licensed minister in the American Baptist Churches (USA) and has served as a youth pastor for several years.  He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

Artwork: “Queen Esther Revealing Her True Identity,” mosaic by Canadian artist Lilian Broca.


Sep 3 2013

America’s Great Default

Fearless Dialogue

“Fearless Dialogue” at Candler

Fifty years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King stated that “America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check that has come back marked insufficient funds…” In many ways, it is true that America has defaulted on its promise to “provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare” (indiscriminately). It can be seen in the disproportionate crime statistics, the staggering graduation and incarceration rates, and the unbelievable poverty statistics that have always existed among races and social classes. It is evident in the underfunded education system that serves as a pipeline to prison for lower class students of color. And it is permanently fixed in the biased and bigoted laws that undergird our entire system. But what does that have to do with Candler, education, and theological formation?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that “Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity,” yet the education experience, much like any other experience, does not exist in a vacuum but is susceptible to the mores and ills of society. The most vivid recollections of my childhood education experience do not occur in a desk filled classroom with textbooks and chalkboards, but on a school bus with peers and classmates who were steeped in culture, bias, and prejudice.

One cool autumn afternoon in 1995, I was a fifth grader riding the bus home from my rural elementary school in Perdido, Alabama. I shared a seat with my friend Less Wilson a young white student who was also in the fifth grade. As we sped down the narrow two-lane country street past pine trees and dirt roads, Less leaned over to me and whispered beneath the raucous chatter, “My uncle has a gun, and he’s a member of the KKK.” I chuckled. Surely Less had failed at an attempt to be humorous but I did not make light of his failure nor of my disapproval, but instead smiled and waited for the subject to change. Then Less asked me if I knew what N.A.A.C.P stood for. As I struggled to remember if “Advancement” came before or after “Association,” Less interjected, “It stands for N*ggers, Apes, Alligators, Coons, and Possums.” I wasn’t laughing anymore. I wasn’t angry, I was hurt. My friend Less had showed me just how he felt about me.

HoodieIn 1997, not long after that bus incident with Less, my mom moved our family even deeper into the rural forest of Alabama to live with my grandmother who had suffered a major stroke. It was on the 45-minute bus ride from school to the small town of Little River, AL that we learned two black churches had been vandalized and burned less than a mile from where we were living. They were churches I knew well and had visited many times with my family. Many family members and friends attended both churches on a regular basis. A Ku Klux Klan rally the previous weekend had sparked racial animus and a group of five young white teens ages 15-20, decided to send a message to the African-American community that conveyed just how they felt about us.

Earlier this summer I was disappointed but not surprised to hear the verdict in a Florida case concerning the death of a 17-year-old black teen. The Florida law was very clear, that at any time during an altercation, if George Zimmerman, the defendant, felt he was in danger of great harm, he was justified to use deadly force against Trayvon Martin, the victim. Although the attorneys did not argue a “Stand Your Ground” defense, the jury was ordered to consider it in their deliberations. While I am concerned about the legitimacy of the law itself, I am more concerned with the stereotypes and pigeonholes that exist which led to this tragedy.

In many instances, society reflects the George Zimmerman case. For many, culture’s forceful and disproportionately callous treatment of brown and black persons is justified because of a perceived fear of danger. We suspend school bus programs to keep certain children out because of fear. We pass intrusive laws such as “stop-and-frisk” that only affect subsets of the population because of fear. We enact discriminatory immigration laws that harass and profile because of fear. The fear is perpetuated because of the stereotype. Trayvon Martin died because one fear provoked another.

Since the age of ten, I have witnessed time and time again, these and other experiences that expose a fraudulent social morality. Trayvon, myself, and many others have demanded payment on America’s worthless check only to be taxed with penalties that burden us with stereotypes and assumptions—penalties that allow only a cadre to narrowly succeed in the shadows of ghettos, poverty, and the threat of deportation—penalties that fill our prisons, empty our schools, and continue to segregate our churches—penalties that demand assimilation, silence, double consciousness, and death.

It wasn’t until my first year of theological education at Candler that I experienced, with great continuity, a small portion of beloved community; or the ability to reside in a metaphorical house whose substructure is love. Whether it is genuine conversation with my white brothers George or Andrew, or lunch with my Korean brothers Jayesung and Sang Hyun, chapel rehearsal with my Black, African, or White Sisters Alisha, Shelia, or Allison, laughter filled moments with my African American brothers Shannon and Lawrence, or fellowship with my many brothers and sisters of the LGBT community, there are no penalties.

While we are not perfect, the communities we have forged here at Candler give us hope. Perpetual fear is dispossessed by meaningful discourse and the dispensation of intentional love. Each day that we strive to create this community we are sending a clear message: “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt… so we have come to cash this check—a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

–Sam White

Sam is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a member of the Student Ambassador team for 2013-14. A native of Alabama, he earned a bachelor in communication sciences at the University of Alabama. Sam is a preacher and worship leader who hopes to purse a PhD in Sociology of Social Movements and Race and Ethnicity.


Mar 1 2013

A Depth of Expression

The first time I saw the inside of Cannon Chapel was the first day of my orientation. I made a gutsy move in coming to Candler having never visited the school, or even Atlanta before, so after being funneled through check-in I quickly made my way to a seat in the worship space. Knowing the days of endless introductions and getting-to-know-you conversations were beginning, I felt comfort in the familiarity of stillness in a quiet sanctuary.

As I took in the space, I remember appreciating the raw and unfinished characteristics of the natural wood and bare concrete, as well as the seating in the round that gave even the architecture a dynamic quality–an expectation for something new. I don’t remember anything about that first service except the perspective I had from my floor seat near the organ and the distinct expectation that in that place I could expect the Spirit to move.

I chose Candler for many reasons, but their emphasis on student involvement in worship was a top selling point. I imagined, and it proves to be true that the chapel serves as sort of laboratory for students to experiment with different elements and styles of worship. It is a place to try things on, to mix genres, to do something somewhat radical with the expectation that the Spirit will use what we bring, provided it is an authentic gesture pointing to the Word.

This school is ripe with artistic and liturgical gifts. From trained and professional vocalists to seasoned and gifted musicians, plus the added hundred or so robust congregational singers, the musical elements of worship are offerings worthy of the One they praise. Add to that the occasional dramatized reading, non-traditional (read: not-so-cheesy) liturgical dance, or poetic prayer, and the embodied Presence is witnessed among us.

While I am ever challenged by the intellectual prowess of my peers, and grateful for the thoughtful engagement of difficult and problematic theological perspectives, I am also captivated by the artistically pastoral gifts that are selflessly lent to prayer and praise in worship each week. The enlightenment and growth in the classroom seems to spill over into what is offered in worship–adding to the depth of expression and interpretation within that space.

I am only a little over halfway through my time in seminary, but already sense that when I leave it will be our worship together that I miss most. Some of my most treasured and moving experiences on this journey have taken place in that chapel. While seminary can feel overwhelmingly taxing and sometimes even isolating, it is together in worship that I am reminded of our commonality and shared mission as leaders of the Church. It is where I sense most strikingly that when we offer all of ourselves–our gifts and will– to God that we will truly be used for the transformation of the world and the building of the kingdom on earth.

May it be so.

- Darin Arntson

Darin is a second year MDiv student from Southern California, a member of the Candler Liturgical Dancers, and a Student Ambassador.


Nov 16 2012

Windows to Christian Difference

WindowChurches seem to fight over a lot of things that in the grand scheme of things don’t matter (or at least seem unimportant to outsiders). One fight that goes on in most every church is over buildings and how buildings should be set up, what renovations should be made, what paint color should be used to repaint the Sunday school rooms, etc. Some of these arguments revolve around practical concerns and they must, since resources and physical location limit the church. The thing we often forget however, is that all of these seemingly insignificant or unimportant modifications and changes are architectural decisions that have heavy  theological implications to conveying the beliefs of the church. What does it mean if the Pulpit is center behind and elevated over the altar? What does it mean if the Altar is center and the pulpit is off to the side? What does it mean if there is center aisle or a central section of pews?

Many of the architectural features common to churches can be altered over the years. Pews can be moved, platforms added, altar position changed. One thing that will stand the test of time are the windows. Windows are often only redone when the walls themselves have to be moved. Even if stained glass windows are falling apart, a church will often choose to repair and maintain them as they always have been instead of altering them completely.

The windows in a Church stand as a permanent statement of the churches theology. Every time there is a reforming movement in the church, architecture and window style come under review.

Stained glass developed as a way to tell the stories of the Christian faith, and enliven and enhance the worship space. When light hits stained glass the result is often one of the most breathtaking views in the world. As the sun moves throughout the day the light in the sanctuary, chapel or cathedral moves with it, and the experience becomes new again. In each hour, we experience the light and the church in a whole new way. It is always the same, but it is always changing.

Some reformers saw the stained glass as a way that the church had gotten away from the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They see stained glass and the extravagant architectural often associated with it as a way to show off, as something done for the glory of humans and not for the glory of God. For this reason, several religious groups have constructed their churches with plain glass. They let the light stream into their places of worship unmolested by human creation or interpretation. Light is a sign of God, and does not need anything human added over it.

In some “modern” churches windows are excluded from the building plans all together, in order that the worship space might be completely controlled. If there is not natural light then screens, tvs, stage lights can be used to maximum effect. Darkness becomes darkness, and a single candle on the altar becomes a powerful symbol undimmed by an inflow of sunlight. But can humans every fully control God in this way? If there are no windows how do we understand God to be the creator of everything both outside and in? Can worship not become very insular?

What is interesting is that these viewpoints are absolutely valid. You can stand in a large cathedral and soak in the reds, blues, and purples of the stained glass and feel God, just as easily as you can experience the divine through clear panes of glass, or through the atmosphere created in a windowless church. None of these theological positions as demonstrated through architectural design choices prevents God from showing up in worship, or in the lives of the faithful. But these standpoints can be taken to an extreme where God is forgotten and pushed aside for human pride and posturing. The same is true of any theological doctrine or thought. What is the real difference between a high church Catholic with a view of transubstantiation of the Eucharist and a Baptist who sees communion as a remembrance that happens only in the hearts and minds of the faithful? They both believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again. What is the difference between denominations that baptize infants vs. denominations that do not? They both believe that we are baptized by water and the Spirit.

What the argument of differences comes down to is conflicting emphasis. We choose what single aspect of the divine we find to be the most pivotal, and play it up. This division of focus is well and good, because there are so many aspects of the Christian faith and God that we would likely forget a part of our story if it were not for our brothers and sisters who believe differently from us. The shame of it is that we see these differences as making our ‘faiths’ incompatible, and we shut ourselves off to a whole section of our sisters and brothers. Maybe the issue is Eucharistic presence, architectural decisions, written vs. extemporaneous liturgy, the humanity or divinity of Christ, or Christianity’s response to the LGBTQ community.  What we see instead of our common beliefs are our differences on these issues and we stop talking, or worse we start yelling.

It is important that we as Christians, no matter our denomination, beliefs or background encourage an open dialogue on every issue. Behind every position and every stance that we don’t agree with, is a thought or idea that we hold about God and the church. When we speak to those we disagree with we might be infected by their passion, challenged to grow in our beliefs and/or reminded of an aspect of faith that we forgot about. Differences are good. We are not all the same person and We do serve the same God. A professor at Candler once said in a lecture that a peer stood up after he had given a presentation at a conference and before beginning to lambast this professor’s argument said “I completely disagree with what he has said, but I also recognize that there is a chance we will someday have to share heaven together….”

We have our differences, but we serve one God, a God who loves us despite our shortcomings and our inability to see the big picture. So the next time you encounter someone you do not agree with remind yourself that you serve the same God, and that there is a chance you will someday have to share heaven with people you disagree with. When it comes to the windows, remember that the same God gets in no matter what. That little reminder might just change things.

- Jonathan Gaylord

Jonathan is a third year MDiv student from Deland, Florida, a Student Ambassador, and the pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia as a part of Candler’s Teaching Parish Program.


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.


Dec 1 2011

Finding One’s Place at Candler

Candler group at Explo2009During my last Thanksgiving at Candler and as I approach graduation in May, I couldn’t help but think of the diverse communities of friends that have touched me and shaped me during my time here.  My first year, I had the opportunity to travel to Dallas, Texas as a small group leader for Exploration 2009.  Through this trip, I became connected to all of the staff in the financial aid and registrar office, as well as some other student leaders within Candler.  Despite the fact that I knew no one on the trip prior to arriving at the airport, we were instant friends only a few hours into our weekend together.  We remained friends through the time that they graduated (as I was the youngest one on the trip), and still have lunch dates to this day!  Furthermore, I became involved with the Student Ambassador Program, which provided yet another community within which I found great friends and support.

Mia's ConEd 1 GroupAnother community that fully embraced me in my first year was my Contextual Education (ConEd) community.  The group of seven of us who worked four hours each week at the United Methodist Children’s Home was pretty much inseparable.  We shared “brother/sister”-type relationships with one another and had an incredible chemistry.  By the end of our first year, we were truly family to one another – we laughed together, cried together, and supported one another free of judgment, no matter what the situation.  We truly carried one another through a year full of both trials and celebrations.

I was anxious entering second year, because I knew that the people in my ConEd group would change and I would not see those from my first year group as much as we had the year before.  What did I have to fear, though?  Yet again, I grew incredibly close to a whole new group of people, while maintaining my previous friendships.  That year, we worked eight hours each week in an ecclesial setting.  I began to really wrestle with whether or not I wanted to continue with ordination in the UMC.  Hesitant to share these doubts with many others, my ConEd group embraced me and provided a safe space for me to continue my discernment process.  They challenged me as to what I would have to lose should I not follow through in the process, as well as what the Church could lose if I were to give up.  Having help in thinking through some of these things was really beneficial for me, and formational in my ministry.

Mia and Friends

Finally, outside of the small groups I was placed in as a result of my coursework, I developed a strong friendship with a group of five girls that I have no doubt will be lifelong friends.  During the stresses of second year, we became close, realizing we shared a lot of things in common as well as a similar sense of humor.  We spend a lot of time together both inside and outside of classes.  I have truly been greeted with open arms by each and every group I came into contact with at Candler.  I firmly believe that there is a wonderful and affirming place for everyone within this community.  I have no doubt that each individual who passes through this special place is touched and transformed in a way that will positively impact the future of their ministry, whether it be inside or outside the church, and for that I am very thankful.

- Mia Northington

Mia is a 3rd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.


Apr 15 2011

The Seminary Experience

With two weeks to go, my time as a first-year seminarian is almost complete. Like every other academic year, the exams and papers have whirled by and the summer welcomes my return. But this year has been different, and it deserves some reflection.

When I applied to seminary, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but hoped that my role as a minister and person of faith would be clarified simply by applying – as though seminary would be some kind of all-knowing crystal ball. What a funny thought.

At the time, I was living in France, teaching English to French students and traveling to new locales every other week. The two years prior had been spent in coastal Mississippi, teaching 9th-12th graders History, Government/Economics, and Geography and coaching Track and Cross Country. On top of teaching, I had spent two summers in South Bend, IN participating in an intensive summer-long graduate program. By the end of May 2009, I was exhausted and in need of sleep and self-care. France had become not just an opportunity for adventure, but also a respite from the exhaustion that comes with teaching in the United States.

After four months of relaxation, I became restless. Sure the 12-hour work week was nice, and I loved each of the bakeries lining our small community’s streets, but I needed a challenge. So I applied to seminary.

When August rolled around, I couldn’t contain myself. Eager to meet my classmates, and even more excited to dive into my studies, I began Contextual Education at Metro State Prison as an intern prison chaplain four hours a week, I enrolled in classes, and  immediately connected with people in my advising group. Life was perfect.

It wasn’t until October that I started panicking. In the middle of writing a paper for Old Testament, my knees started to buckle. “What am I doing here? I don’t even like this stuff!” “Ugh, I hate writing this paper. I mean, I’m not even going to be ordained!” When my boyfriend looked at me and said, “You don’t really seem to be enjoying what you’re learning,” I thought “Oh, crap. I think you might be right.”

After that, I started to look for an exit plan. I made a pros and cons list. I talked to my sister, my mom, and my cousin. I cried to my boyfriend. I prayed, sort of.

Gritting my teeth, I entered January term with uncertainty. Not only was I uncomfortable, but I felt strange. I’d always been the person to say, “Grow where you’re planted,” and here I was trying my hardest to avoid my commitment to seminary. I was scared about what others might think, worried about what it would mean if I left, and mad that I had made a poor decision. Most of my questions ended with the question all of us ask as some point or another, “Do you even know who you are?”

My existential crisis did not end with one decisive event. Instead, it morphed into a process of discovery in which I started to examine more closely the elements of seminary that had made me most uncomfortable. What I realized is that I had been sitting in an Old Testament classroom discussing the significance of the three worlds of biblical interpretation, redaction theory, and exegesis, but I didn’t have the faintest clue what any of those things meant. I had spent every Friday working in the lock-down ward of a women’s prison, speaking to women through a rectangular flap in the door and feeling exhausted by and disenchanted with our justice system. I had absorbed myself in research about the American sex industry and the ways in which pastors can help care for all persons involved in such forms of entertainment. I missed teaching so badly, that I blamed seminary for robbing me of my gifts and talents. And lastly, I struggled to establish for myself a place in which I could foster my artistic side and produce creative projects. It seemed that I had become so overwhelmed that I couldn’t see the proverbial forest through the trees.

When I awoke to this realization, I was able to see seminary for what it is: a place in which human beings come to learn, grow, and be challenged in the name of God. It’s not about earning a formal degree or a collar so that you can become a minister in a church someday. If it is, you’ll probably burn out pretty quickly. It’s not about having all your ducks in the row. If it is, you’re in for a messy surprise (see: Job). It’s not about loving every single service experience, every single lecture, or even every book of the Bible. If it is, you are a better person than me. It’s not about being holier than thou or about power. If it is, we’ve lost Christ in the midst of it all. And, it’s not about always being comfortable, always knowing what it means to be a minister, or always liking what you’re doing. If it is, no one would last. Instead, it’s about journeying alongside other creatures of God who seek to discover new ways of conceiving of the Divine, communing with the cosmos, and living into the fullness of Life. We seminarians do this not because we think we have the answers or because talking to others about God is easy or even always natural, but because we know that our lives are sustained and enriched by union with the Most Gracious.

If you’re contemplating seminary, I’d encourage you to pursue the journey. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. If you’re a current student, I appreciate your presence, thank you for your endurance, and admire you for your voice. If you’re a graduate of seminary, I pray that the three years you spent at Candler continue to challenge you and inspire you for the rest of your ministry on this earth.

I have no doubt Candler was the right choice for me, even if there are days I wish it were otherwise. Not only has it shaken me, but it has also grounded me and changed me for the better. And, when all is said and done, there is not much more I could ask for in a seminary.

Amen.

- Jacqueline Jeffcoat

Jacqueline is a 1st year MDiv student from Fort Worth, Texas and a Student Ambassador.


Apr 8 2011

Rasta, Reggae, and Revolution

On the first Tuesday of each month during the semester, the admissions department hosts prospective student for dinner.  Besides great food, a Candler professor shares her/his thoughts on a topic.  This week we had Dr. Noel Erskine speak about the “Bible and Reggae”.  I’ve taken his RastafarI class before so naturally I was excited to revisit the dynamics of this movement, music & message.

The RastafarI movement in many ways emerged as a response to numerous hardships waged on certain sections of Jamaica’s population. Obiagele Lake explains, “Rastas grew out of a complex process of slavery and slave resistance”[1].  However, well after the ‘official’ end of slavery in British colonies in 1834, institutional and mental shackles still held people captive.  Instead of being an advocate for justice, to these people, the local government and foreign forces of downpression perform synchronized dance moves.  Soon it was obvious that it would take more than tears to breakdown the oppressive social construct called Babylon.  With the emergence of RastafarI faith came a rise in reggae music that served as a sharp but gentle knife to cut through society’s ills.  Fortunately, many reggae artists realized that to effect change they would have to do more than expose systematic injustice.  Reggae music also gave comfort and hope to wounded people.

A brief look at some of Marley (and the Wailers) songs will illustrate the crafty combination of criticism and comfort in RastafarI music. In So Much Trouble in the World, Marley makes sweeping lyrical observations of global events and popular culture that warrant urgent correction.  He alludes to humanity’s preoccupation with exploring space and feeding their own egos rather than addressing the problems that exist right here on earth.  Suddenly near the end of the song, Marley sings, “Now I know the time has come. What goes on up is coming on down. What goes around it comes around”, giving a comforting hope to those oppressed that soon their oppressors will have to eat the bitter fruits they planted.  One day the balance of power will be reversed.

“No chains around my feet but I’m not free.  I know I am bound here in captivity. I never know what happiness is. I never know what sweet caress is. Still, I’ll be always laughing like a clown. Won’t someone help me, ‘cause I’ve got to pick myself from off the ground. In this concrete jungle…Life must be somewhere to be found, instead of concrete jungle”, chants Bob Marley in Concrete Jungle.  This short verse captures critique and comfort in both the lyrics and accompanying music.  Even though slavery ended, Rastas acknowledge that bondage still lives on through mental, economic, racial and social chains.  So for Marley, freedom is just an illusion.  In the midst of this though, Bob sing almost in a chuckle that he’ll be laughing like a clown.  This is a swift insertion of hope admonishing people to hold onto the small things that give them joy, rather than waste life in anger and sadness.  With the exception of this one line, the entire song is set in a minor (sad) tonality.  The sudden switch between minor (sad) and major (happy) tonality demonstrates the artist’s intent for joy and pain to co-exist in the interest of survival.  Interestingly, using minor tonality is in itself a form of protest against the European colonists music that employs more major keys.

A major theme in RastafarI music is extreme opposition to racism, classism and any other force that denies people basic human rights.  Words are powerful, but making a profound articulate speech does not guarantee that the words will reach the masses that are absent when the speech is delivered.  Printing and publishing the words in books or newspapers is a step closer to globalizing the message, but what happens when the majority of people who need to hear the words are unable, or choose not to read?  Music rises to action in this case and gives flight to an otherwise geographically motionless message.  An excellent example of music’s ability to publicize and mobilize words is Bob Marley’s song War, where he puts a speech by H.I.M. Haile Selassie I atop the wings of rhythm and melody.  Listen as Marley and Selassie chant down Babylon’s racial and economic oppression.

I doubt H.I.M. Haile Selassie I ever dreamed that a speech he gave to the United Nations would be blasting melodically through microphones and speakers around the world, as a Rastaman (Bob Marley) used the words to set hearts on fire at reggae concerts.  At any rate, Selassie and Marley deliver a bi-fold message calling down racism and classism; while simultaneously giving people hope that good will most definitely triumph over evil!

Marley emerges from his King James Bible inspired by the Israelites victorious exit from oppression in Egypt and shouts “Exodus! Movement of Jah People!”  This song is set in deep minor tonality, employs stiff horn lines, and boasts a hard driving reggae beat with a the heavy kick drum pumping every beat like a heart.  Exodus unlike other tunes does not invite quite contemplation as much as it functions as a call to radical collective action. The Wailers shout, “Are you satisfied, with the life you’re living. We know where we’re going. We know where we’re from. We’re leaving Babylon. We’re going to our father’s land!” Then Bob, Bunny, Peter and the I-Three rock us in a cradle with the words “Don’t worry, about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing, is gonna be alright.”

This short journey through a portion of Marley’s repertoire demonstrates how the RastafarI use music to simultaneously chant down Babylon, while empowering and comforting I-an-I.

-  Dalan Vanterpool

Dalan is a 2nd Yr. MDiv student from the British Virgin Islands and a Student Ambassador.


[1] Obiagele Lake, RastafarI Women: Subordination in the Midst of Liberation Theology (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1998), 17.