Mar 18 2011

What Are You Doing Here?

This semester got off to a rocky start. Classes were postponed for a week as Atlanta dealt with the aftermath of “Snow-pocalypse 2011″. Initially, the snow provided a much welcomed extended winter break. When courses started, however, I realized the negative impacts of the snow.

Once the snow melted, Candler’s halls were filled with professors, staff and students trying to catch up from the class sessions that we’d missed: everyone was in a frenzy. It would have been a smooth transition had the snow not caused book shipments to be delayed by a week or two. Although the book store didn’t have many of the books that we needed to complete assignments, professors did their best to provide students with PDFs when possible – but everyone was still behind.

A couple weeks into the semester, I was still struggling to catch up/get ahead. My life had come to a halt: if it wasn’t directly related to my coursework, I didn’t have time for it. One day while sitting in the lobby, I was accosted by the Program Coordinator for Religious Education (RE). She inquired as to why I hadn’t signed up for the RE Retreat – which is a requirement for all persons seeking the RE certificate.

I calmly explained that I did not have the time to go away for a weekend for a retreat that I could complete next year: I needed to focus on my coursework. She gently responded that I should really consider going on the retreat in spite of my busyness, and that I needed to take time for self care amidst the mounting stress of the semester. She also casually mentioned that Dr. Anne Steaty Wimberly, religious educator extraordinaire, would be facilitating. With some reluctance, I agreed to go on the retreat – and boy, am I glad I did!

We started the weekend by reading a passage from 1 Kings 19. In this passage, Elijah has received a death threat from Jezebel. Afraid, he flees into the wilderness, and pleas with the Lord to take his life. After a couple of exchanges with an Angel of the Lord, Elijah gets up, and travels forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

When he arrives, Elijah goes into a cave to spend the night, and the word of the Lord comes to him saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

After Dr. Wimberly read this passage, she paused and asked us to think about this question in relation to our seminary experience. Why had we come Candler? Why had we chosen to be religious educators? Why had we come to this retreat? Were we there only because it was a requirement? Was our educational experience solely about making a grade? About catching up post “Snow-pocalypse”?

Surely, our education was about those things to an extent, but it was also about much more.

After pondering these questions for a moment, I was filled with a peace that surpassed my understanding. Suddenly, my mind was free of the guilt of missing out on time I could have been reading – I probably would’ve just watched TV, anyway. This moment, and the entire retreat, provided me with the perspective that I needed to continue the semester. Sure, I was bummed about being behind, but that couldn’t break me.

What I had not realized up until the retreat is that fear had been dictating the majority of my semester: Fear of not being able to catch up, not being adequate enough, not being able to find the right words at the right times to adequately represent my voice. Like Elijah, I was afraid.

But then the voice of the Lord came to me, through Dr. Wimberly, saying, “What are you doing here, Brandon? Go back the way you came… You’ve got work to do.”

With this admonishment, I was prepared to tackle the semester head on, no longer letting fear be the dominant factor of governance. Sure, there was and still is much work to do, but doing that work in fear is not of much help to anyone – especially not to myself. This passage has continued to shape my perspective on the semester, and the seminary experience at large.

I am here, ultimately, because God has called me to be. Furthermore, that calling is consistent and true whether I’m behind on my work, on top of my work, stressed, perplexed, frustrated, or whatever – you name it!

I am here: not just to be overloaded with information, not just to say I’ve completed all the assignments, but to be shaped and formed by the process as well. I am here because this is where God has called me to be.

“What are YOU doing here, (insert your name here)?”

-Brandon Maxwell

Brandon is a 1st year MDiv student from Nashville, TN and a Student Ambassador. He is also a participant in the Religious Education Certificate Program – one of the seven certificate program opportunities for Candler students.


Feb 18 2011

The (Not-so-) Hidden Treasures of Candler

As a second year MDiv student at Candler School of Theology, the outstanding aspects of the institution continue to reveal themselves to me.  Unfortunately, it has taken me over a year to realize that my academic course-load has the potential to envelop me, causing me to miss the many treasures on campus.  More overpowering than academia, however, is life.  Life is busy, life is fast, life is short. It seems that more often than not, I have deadline to meet and an agenda to fulfill.  I am constantly running on a tight schedule in an effort to accomplish the task at hand in a timely fashion.  This being the case, I have overlooked some of the most awesome displays of God’s presence in this place.

First, I have recently slowed down to appreciate the John August Swanson masterpieces that are scattered throughout the building.  John August Swanson is an artist and independent print-maker of limited edition serigraphs, lithographs, and etchings, of which Candler has the largest collection in the world.  His ability to capture scenes from Scripture with such vivid color and detail is truly remarkable.  His serigraphs are completed through an extensive process of stencils and layers of color – the number of colors in the painting is the number of stencils he must make.

Often times, these works of art are much more complex than any single image.  For instance, the “Ecclesiastes” masterpiece, which hangs on the third floor, contains almost 100 miniature works depicting the seasons of life, biblical images and symbols.  Upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that each and every minute detail was careful and intentional, just as every gift and flaw with which each individual has been blessed is purposeful.  Another exquisite example of John August Swanson’s attention to detail can be seen in the “Triptych of Noah,” which can be found on the fourth floor.  The word “triptych” means that this work is composed in three separate parts.  Each section of this illustration captures the chaos that is described during the flood in the Bible, or I would suggest the chaos that many of us experience in our daily lives!  It is far too easy to rush through the halls, ignoring the exceptional artwork that Candler is so fortunate to have.

Another aspect of Candler that I hate to admit I have missed during much of my time here is worship in Canon Chapel.  The internationally acclaimed architect Paul Rudolph designed this sacred space for Emory University in the late ‘70s.  Its appearance of being somewhat unfinished is intentional, and with great theological meaning.  Just as we, human beings, are unfinished and continuously being molded, so too is Canon Chapel.  We are constantly transformed by those with whom we come in contact, just as the chapel is shaped and changed by each moment of worship and each diverse class of students that passes through.

While classes are not even offered during the times in which worship occurs in Canon, stress is a constant excuse for missing these services.  Somehow writing a paper in the library, going to work, or even a nap seems more important than attending worship in the chapel, which is conveniently located next to the theology building!  The few times that I attended in the past year and a half have been incredibly moving experiences, for so many reasons.  The natural light that the architecture allows to shine in is breathtaking.  The diversity in worship styles and congregation members unifies the community.  I must confess that I have been brought to tears on multiple occasions in this space, and I am not an emotional person!  The ways in which the Spirit moves in that building is undeniable.  But one must take the time to slow down, and acknowledge its beauty.

All in all, I have come to deeply appreciate the abundant blessings that surround me at Candler.  It is just a matter of me not getting in the way of myself in order for me to experience such fortune.  I am now the biggest advocate for putting down your calendar and enjoying the wonders that surround us on a daily basis, because if we continue to cling to a tight schedule, we will remain blind to them all!

- Mia Northington

Mia is a 2nd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.

Image copyright John August Swanson.


Jan 28 2011

Worthy of Your Call

As seminary students, we spend a significant amount of time wrestling with our call to ministry. We analyze it, discuss it with our friends and in the classroom, and we are always trying to come up with new and better ways to articulate it.

A few of us have a concrete vision of exactly what God wants from us, but most of us only have a hazy picture at best. However, it’s easy to come to terms with this as you begin to realize, that not only are you in good company, but that it’s okay not to have all the answers.

But sometimes I think we assume our call is a future one, hidden beyond all the caps and gowns of graduation. I think we forget that regardless of where God leads us in the future, he has led us here in the present.  A present call, I’m discovering, is much more difficult that a future one.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4[1], “Therefore, as a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

Now that perhaps is even scarier than having a call in the first place, having to live a life worthy of it. After all, it is a dangerous request Paul is making.  It requires us to take personal responsibility, stops us from resting on our laurels and reminds us that we have far to go.

But Paul doesn’t stop there.

He talks about attaining maturity, as though realizing you have a call is really only one of the first steps.

He talks about pursuing unity in Christ, reminding us that perhaps our call is bigger than just ourselves and that we were each called in order that body of Christ might be one.

He tells us to build each other up, to be careful what we say, to not speak in anger or bitterness, to love each other and forgive each other.

He seems to be concerned with how we live our everyday lives, with how we live out Christ in our routines and chores and arguments.

So maybe the question we discuss should include more than an analysis of our call, but a conversation about how we are living up to it and how we can help each other pursue that life that fully reflects both our call and the Holy One who gave it to us.

Ephesians 3 has some encouragement, and this is my prayer for you, for Candler, and for the whole Body of Christ as we strive to live lives worthy of our calling:

“ I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[2]

-  Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a 1st year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador.


[1] Notably, Ephesians is one of the disputed letters. However, that conversation will have to wait for another day, or maybe another blog post.

[2] Ephesians 3:17-19


Jan 21 2011

Not in Kansas Anymore

Students from all over the world converge at Candler. Each individual brings unique perspectives, passions, and gifts, and Candler offers students boundless opportunities to engage in conversations that generate a passion for further exploration of God’s multi-faceted creation.  When I joined the Candler community it became apparent right away that my theological education would be contextualized by a larger world view; an opportunity with which this small town Kansan was eager to engage.

After arriving at Candler I immediately answered the call to be a conversation partner.  Conversation partners are native English speakers who volunteer to meet with international students once a week.  I was paired with a Korean student who wanted to gain proficiency with his English.  Getting to know Wang has been a highlight of my seminary experience.  Learning about his family, his culture, and how he experiences God has been meaningful and humbling.  It has been meaningful in the sense that he has given me new perspectives into God as a father, a husband, and as a foreigner.  Humbling in the sense that he is very intelligent and has bravely chosen to study theology in English; a difficult enough undertaking in one’s own language.  It is a wonderful gift to me to help him learn to articulate his ideas about life and God in ways that I have never imagined.

One-on-one interactions are not the only way I have interacted with people different than me.  As a class representative on the Candler Coordinating Council, our student governing body, I get to meet with other student leaders on a regular basis to discuss the ways in which we utilize our student funding for programs.  The council also encourages collaboration between organizations and offers several opportunities a year to discuss, in open forum, issues of cultural competency that help our community grow together.

I have also been involved in cross cultural dialog through classes that are cross-listed with other schools at Emory.  Classes with Business, Law, Nursing, and Public Health students have given me the opportunity to hear about issues in the world from a different academic perspective and also to talk about the church in a way that many people often do not experience; one as an active agent for justice.  One of the most fun and intense of the interdisciplinary opportunities available to Candler students is the opportunity to compete in the Global Health Institutes Case competition.  Interdisciplinary teams are formed, given a global health issue and then over a few days analyze, produce, and present a viable solution to the issue.  Not only did I make many friends from other schools, but the lens through which I see issues now incorporates little pieces of their law, health, and entrepreneurial perspectives.

Candler has offered me an authentic world-view-expanding experience. Through individual relationships, participation in Candler student organizations and doing interdisciplinary work, it is clear that I am not in Kansas anymore.  I am looking forward to taking this experience back home so that I can offer a theological lens with a broader world view to the communities I serve.

-Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a second year MDiv student from Hutchinson, KS and a Student Ambassador. In addition to his time serving the community, he serves as a class representative to the Candler Coordinating Council, is a Candler Conversation Partner, and is a member of the Candler Singers.


Nov 26 2010

The Gift of Uncertainty

Quentin SamuelsI participated in an interesting conversation with a prospective student a couple of weeks ago and, to my surprise, I gave some advice about the application and discernment process that I would not have given him two years ago when I first began this journey through Candler.  He wrestled with oft-noted questions concerning such topics as  whether this was the right “time” for going to seminary, what he would do with his degree upon completion of the Masters of Divinity Program, and what it means for God to place a specific call on his life different from people closely connected to him.  My advice to him was to embrace his uncertainty as a gift.  A divine one at that.  I challenged him to not view his uncertainty as a hindrance, but rather grounds for liberation.

Uncertainty during a process such as applying to divinity school is truly a gift from God and it took me two and half years at Candler to reach this epiphany.  Now, I know at this point, it is hard for some people to comprehend how uncertainty could be accepted as a gift.  Well, I thought back to when I was applying for Candler.  I questioned every aspect of the process.  I knew that from the point that I enrolled into the MDiv program at Candler my life would be forever changed.  But it was this feeling of uncertainty that provided access to a type of faith that I never knew existed within me.

First, uncertainty allowed me to be receptive to options for my life that I may have never considered, but ones that God had arranged for me.  Sometimes we can be so rigid in how we believe that we can serve in ministry that we impede our own ability to hear God speak to us in novel ways about our calling.  Secondly, my faith was totally dependent upon God’s direction during this process.  Uncertainty served as a gift by pulling me closer to God in previously unimaginable ways.  The process was both scary and exhilarating at the same time.  And surrounding it all was God’s grace working within me to provide peace and around me to open doors.

Furthermore, in thinking about uncertainty as a gift, my mind immediately turns towards one of my favorite Biblical prophets, Jeremiah.  His uncertainty in his call as a prophet could have stifled what God had in store for him.  But in turn, his uncertainty actually performed an alternate function in his life.  It pushed him to ask God specific questions about the worthiness of his call: questions that he might not have considered had he not experienced doubt.  What I feel has been the best aspect of this spiritual conundrum is that when we are uncertain, quite often we find ourselves asking important questions about our future, decisions, and calling that we might occasionally overlook if we are sure about what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go.  In many cases, it is through our questions that we unlock answers to this divine mystery that we call life.

So if you happen to be in a discernment process during this season, or hopefully applying to one of the programs at Candler, accept and embrace uncertainty as a gift.  It can work in your favor in amazing ways.  Uncertainty doesn’t have to be something taboo or a sign that you don’t have every aspect of your life sorted out.  Conversely, uncertainty coupled with the grace of God’s guidance, should be understood as avenues for God to lead you towards your destiny.

-Quentin Samuels

Quentin is a third year MDiv student from Washington, DC and a Student Ambassador.  He is also President of Candler’s Black Student Caucus and an active member of the Candler Baptist Community.


Nov 1 2010

Cloud of Witnesses

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 11:1

I have been told that Halloween is every Candler student’s favorite pagan holiday. Now, there are a few comments that could be made about this. (For instance, only at Candler do people tend to distinguish between pagan and religious holidays). But that conversation will have to be another blog post, because in all honesty, I’ve never cared much for Halloween. I mean, I appreciate it, but mostly, it is has served only to signify that Christmas is less than two months away. (Though I did just learn that if you go to Chipotle dressed like a burrito, they give you a free burrito.)

But Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, which means many churches will simultaneously be celebrating All Saints Day. This holiday, which is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic tradition, serves as a day to remember those saints who have gone before us in this Christian journey, to remember those Christians who have served as an example and a guide to us in our own struggles. In the Catholic tradition, this function mainly to celebrate the literal saints, but in Protestant circles, it has been broadened to include all believers.

Pitts Theology LibraryNow, this is a holiday I can get on board with, even if doesn’t get me a free burrito. The esteemed Dr. Ellison teaches in his pastoral care classes that every person has a community of saints who helped get them where they are today. People who prayed and worked and dreamed so that we can be where we are right now.

They are our very own cloud of witnesses, and we should remember them.

It’s easy to overlook them, I think, especially in a society where independence is so valued and the mindset is that if you want something you have to get it yourself.  Christianity tells us otherwise. We are not supposed to do it on our own, and in fact, we can’t. Some of our community we know. It’s our parents and our grandparents, our mentors and our pastors, but some of them we don’t. For instance, the mere fact that I’m at a seminary right now means that women who I won’t ever know worked to earn me that right.

I often study in the Pitts Theological Library, which at one time served as the entire theology school. The main area is where the old chapel used to be, and when I study in there, I can’t help but be drawn into the community there that’s greater than myself and the class of 2013. It is a holy place. People have been praying, worshipping and studying here for a long time. The questions that I am wrestling through have been wrestled through many times there. But they persevered.  And their perseverance gives me hope, and thus I can run the race set out before me.

How did you remember your saints, both known and unknown, this year?

-Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a 1st year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador


Oct 1 2010

Spirituality as a Source of Sustainability

Each summer Candler students intern with International Relief and Development (IRD) along with graduate students from the Rollins School of Public Health.  This article is a “success story”  and reflection from one student’s time working with a grant to decrease infant mortality through increased education on nutrition.

To avoid the heat, the ceremony began early.  The rented red plastic chairs were full and the babies were pacified with dried noodles.  Rising to speak was the village chief; behind him a man in orange robes came into view.

Cambodian Health TrainingThe presence of a monk at a Child Survival Program event is uncommon.  The target of International Relief and Development’s USAID funded grant is to decrease the morbidity and mortality rates of children in the struggling Teuk Phos district of Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia. IRD’s scope of work is not focused on the impact religious leaders have upon their communities.  But should it be?  The relationship between religious figures and the masses in Southeastern Asia has historically been strong and is currently one of the major elements keeping this rural region hopeful.

The pagoda, the road side shrines, and the daily chants all help to add color to the life of a Cambodian village.  And for most villages involved with the CS Project, this distinct religious atmosphere appears to be segregated from the work IRD is doing.  IRD hosts training meetings to help villagers care for their bodies; Buddhism offers blessing ceremonies to help villagers care for their souls. While it would seem that health and religion have separate aims, they are actually two sectors of the local economy that are beginning to become further integrated.

It may be true that health and religion are very distinct disciplines, but IRD’s work has been greatly strengthened by employing the help of local religious leaders.  Within this particular community, health and religion have one major thing in common: education.  IRD seeks to provide villagers with nutritional training so that they may become more healthy and self-sufficient.  Faith practitioners hope to see villagers gain an increased passion for study so that they may become more informed about and active within their own spirituality.   Partnering with the local religious community is a highly beneficial way to ensure that IRD continues to serve as a vehicle for education.

Cambodian PagodaVillagers themselves have voiced excitement over such a partnership.  In 22 interviews conducted with local villagers within the Teuk Phos district, it was nearly unanimous that the aid of monks, achars (village elders), and nuns would be a helpful addition to the work IRD is currently doing.  Sorn Chankoy, a 24 year old mother of one, lives too far from a pagoda to attend religious functions regularly.  When asked if involvement between IRD and the local religious community would be positive or negative, she claimed that “Monks have a lot of experience teaching. Monks are the model. They are respected.”

Thirty year old Pach Sopheap echoed Sorn’s sentiments, expressing enthusiasm over the connection between IRD’s education and the education provided by religious leaders.  Pach lives near a pagoda, so she is accustomed to receiving teaching from monks.  In fact, monks already “help educate about feeding and hygiene” in her community.  “They help to remind us,” she said.  By providing formal training on nutrition and health to local monks, their role of “reminding” is only fortified.

So far, IRD has provided training to 8 monks.  While the monks continue their religiously focused work such as performing blessing ceremonies and being present for village visitors at pagodas, they now incorporate health based messages within their work as well.  Since religious and nutritional messages are disseminated together by an educated and respected member of the community, IRD’s educational aims reach more people and are likely to be more widely adopted. The monks also submit monthly reports to IRD detailing the impact of their health messages.  According to IRD’s second quarter report from January – March of 2010, religious leaders have reached over 3,250 individuals at 56 ceremonies.  Ranging from weddings and funerals to birthday celebrations, religious leaders have been persistent in spreading health messages on immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding, diarrhea prevention, and the importance of clean water.

Mother and ChildBy providing local religious leaders with formal training in health, IRD taps into a source that is able to meet needs for sustainability.   Individuals who are already committed to meeting community needs are the perfect population to receive increased training.  While their technical skills may fall short of IRD’s health practitioners, their values and passions don’t.  Taking on the responsibility of ensuring that village health issues continue to be addressed is a fitting task for the religious community, for religious leaders are strongly committed to being advocates for the well-being of their villages.  The level of trust and confidence villagers place in religious leaders is high, so nutritional based messages are more likely to be positively received.  Also, because religious ceremonies are held year round, health messages will be heard year round.  The mobility of monks allows them to reach more individuals than IRD volunteers are able to reach, for they continually travel from village to village performing ceremonies.  Religious figures are more than qualified to teach and advise on nutrition and hygiene; their impact and influence is far reaching.

Religion in Cambodia is not going anywhere fast.  IRD’s Child Survival Grant, however, is. Ending in September of 2010, the project is phasing out and local volunteers will tackle the task of ensuring that what IRD begun is continued.  In an effort at being sustainable, what better than religion to take the reins?

The stitching of this country’s social fabric has been, at times, a little jagged.  Regimes have risen and fallen.  Dictators have invaded and evacuated.  Atrocities have hit and demolished.  But religion has been a uniting and encompassing thread, holding the broken pieces together.  Religion has provided a steady presence of peace and hope. In these times of sickness and disease and death, religion is capable of providing life; if not with the needle of a doctor, then with the word of a teacher.

-Sara LaDew

Sara is a 2nd year MTS student from Greensboro, NC and a Student Ambassador. Last summer, she spent two months in Cambodia as an intern with International Relief and Development through a partnership with Candler.


Sep 24 2010

Spiritual Gifts: Knitting for Our Neighbors

I firmly believe that utilizing our spiritual gifts in an effort to give back to our community is of utmost importance.  My favorite aspect of Candler’s coursework is Contextual Education (ConEd).  Through ConEd I, every Candler student is given an opportunity to explore his or her spiritual gifts during their weekly hours on site in a church, hospital, foster home, or outreach community setting.  One of Candler’s professors took it a step further with her spiritual gifts and began a knitting group called Project Warmth: Crafting a Better World.

Dr. Karen Scheib, Director of the Women, Theology and Ministries Program, recognized knitting and crocheting Balls of Yarnas some of her spiritual gifts, and she chose to use these gifts in an effort to further help those in our ConEd I communities.  To that goal, she created Project Warmth and invited everyone to be involved. She began by purchasing loads of yarn and multiple sets of knitting needles.  Dr. Scheib was excited to share her gift and teach all of us how to knit so that we could give back to the communities in which we had become so entrenched and attached.

Quilt SquaresLast year, Dr. Scheib was the faculty advisor for my ConEd I group which served at the United Methodist Children’s Home.  For this particular ConEd site, we planned to make a patchwork lap blanket to give to them.  Each of the students in my group helped knit different colored squares that Dr. Scheib finalized by crocheting together into a blanket.  She had many ideas for other sites such as hats and scarves for homeless adults and baby blankets and mittens for underprivileged children.

God makes each individual uniquely different and blesses us with a variety of spiritual gifts; I can safely say that knitting is not mine.  What was supposed to be my square wound up looking like some unnamed shape!  While I certainly believe that more practice would have helped, I was never able to relax for fear of messing something up!  I have no doubt that through the years of ministry that I have ahead of me there will be many more “false starts.”  But I believe that I will be guided to my appropriate niche each and every time if I remain patient and steadfast in my relationship with the Lord.

For many of my classmates, however, knitting actually became a spiritual discipline and served as a form of self-care – a skill which is really stressed at Candler.  Despite all of the reading, papers, and extracurricular activities, all of us must find the time to take care of ourselves.  Taking time out of our day for knitting gave us time for reflection and meditation amidst our chaotic schedules.  Dr. Scheib explained that we were doing something for ourselves by knitting, but also doing something for others by giving to charity.  The dual purpose of this project helped and continues to help all of those involved.  I believe that all of us have gifts that can be shared with the community at large, and I admire Dr. Scheib for sharing hers with not only the Candler community but also with those in need throughout the greater-Atlanta area.

- Mia Northington

Mia is a 2nd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.