Apr 19 2013

Getting Dirty with Theology

Krista transplantingI recently spoke at my former high school’s chapel service on the topic of vocation and faith. I started the chapel by showing the students my e-mail signature lines of recent years. A year ago at this time, I would have signed my e-mail as: Krista Showalter Ehst, MDiv student, Candler School of Theology. Right now, I sign my business e-mails as: Krista Showalter Ehst, Farmer, Valley Run CSA. Quite the jump, right?

Those high schoolers, as well as many other folks who learn about my recent transition may wonder—what’s the connection? Three years of theological education and then…farming?

I’ll admit it. Sometimes when I’m feeding our pigs or collecting eggs, Candler’s classrooms seem a world away. But I don’t, in fact, think that these two pieces of my journey are disjointed. When I consider the recent shift from theological education to farming, I often remember Dean Love’s words at my Candler orientation– “we are,” she reminded us, “called to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.” She went on to challenge us to consider the next three years as an opportunity to love and worship God with our minds.  That framework was helpful for my time at Candler, and it’s continued to be helpful in the current season of my life. While farming, I have the chance to worship God with my strength; with the work of my hands and of my body.

Of course, as a good non-dualist, I hope that the activity of my mind and body are connected. While at Candler, in fact, I began to discover the intersections between theology/ministry/biblical studies and the hands-on tasks of caring for our landscapes. Reading Ellen Davis’ Scripture, Culture, Agriculture in Dr. Strawn’s OT class; working on a gardening curriculum for Georgia Interfaith Power & Light during my Candler Advantage experience; taking a directed study with Dr. Ayres on Religious Ed. and Ecology; exploring my tradition’s relationship to rural identity and agriculture through my thesis paper. Each of these experiences helped me to discover that the world of Christian ministry and theological studies need not exclude my passions for sustainable farming and food justice.

But now I’m out of the classroom and into the time of weaving these worlds together on a daily basis. It’s not always easy. Now that I’m away from the context of engaged students, provocative lectures, and assigned readings, it is harder to find folks who share and support my passions. Now that I’m away from the resources of summer internships and an academic community, it’s more of a challenge to explore creative vocational pursuits.

There was a part of me that hoped that by the time I left Candler, all my vocational aspirations would crystallize and come together in some ideal job. For me at least, it’s proving to be much more of a process. I’m farming now. And some days, farming seems totally unrelated to my Candler classes. Other days, the weaving together happens. Sometimes in more explicit ways: when I serve on the board of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light or advise the Mennonite World Conference planning team on how they can make the gathering more “green;” or when I work with a local church to plan a week-long “Peace and the Earth” camp. Other times, it’s in less obvious ways—attempting to nurture the diversity of the Genesis 1 creation poem by cultivating a small, interdependent and diverse farm. Attempting to heed the prophetic call to feed the orphan and the widow and the poor by offering a sliding scale program through our CSA. And then other days, the weaving together happens in dreams—dreaming of the farm as a site for youth and adults to consider their Christian discipleship through the lens of their relationship to land; dreaming of the farm as a site where our local community can find both physical and spiritual nourishment.

For now, though, morning chores beckon and I must go tend to those chickens and pigs. The journey has not been an obvious one. It has not been easy. But I am trying to trust that God is in all facets of the journey, weaving them together in her mysterious ways. And I’m trying to find ways of continuing to cultivate the love of God with all of my being—heart, mind, soul and strength.

- Krista Showalter Ehst

Krista is a 2012 graduate of the Candler School of Theology and is currently a farmer in Pennsylvania.  In addition, she serves on the board of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light and acts as an adviser to the Mennonite World Conference planning team.


Feb 21 2012

Thinking Globally with Candler

Patrick and Global Health TeamCandler School of Theology has offered me many opportunities to develop as a pastor.  One of the most formative experiences has been participating in the Emory Global Health Case Competition.  The event, which is funded in part by Candler’s student government the Candler Coordinating Council and other graduate school’s student governments, brings together students from the entire university to compete on teams to propose solutions to a current global health issue.  In one competition we proposed training community health workers and providing farmers subsidies in order to bring relief to the economic and health burdens of tobacco use and production in Gujarat India.  In the other competition we proposed funding food trucks with health food options, community/school gardens, and building capacity around an existing maternal health program to address the issues of childhood obesity in Mexico.  The problems were complex and the teams competing to propose the best solutions found out that solutions were even more complex.

Though neither team that I competed with won the competitions, a few Candler students have been on winning teams and earned the cash prize offered.  Though I am a competitive person this was truly a time when the experience was worth the time investment required to participate.  The interdisciplinary teams were composed of colleagues from the graduate programs in business, law, public health, development practices, theology, medicine, and nursing as well as the college of arts and sciences .  I was randomly assigned to a team in my first competition and was part of a intentionally formed team in my second go round.  In each competition we received the case and background information on a Monday and had until Saturday morning to research, brainstorm, and put together a professional proposal.  On Saturday morning the teams competed against each other with expert judges deciding on the best presentation and navigation of questions following.

In this experience I had my global perspective broadened.  I was able to think about and research how faith based organizations around the world were addressing the issues of people living on the margins.  As a theology student on the team it was often my role to consider people’s responses to programs based on their faith commitments and the overall ethical foundations of our proposed solutions.  Even more importantly I learned how to better communicate with people who have different ways of seeing and interpreting the world.  We all had a different way of talking about justice and health and had to either find a common language or learn each other’s languages in order to effectively communicate our ideas to one another.  I believe this will be an amazing tool for me in the local church as a pastor who believes we should be engaged with community health issues.  Empowering a congregation full of doctors, lawyers, nurses, business women and men, etc. will require knowing how to effectively translate theological themes that inform our involvement, effectively hear what other disciplines have to offer, and then translating that for other members of the congregation who have different vocations all together.

Candler is fertile ground to grow as a student of life and especially as a pastor.  The Global Health Case competition will be one of the things I miss the most about my time at Candler.  There are many other ways to get involved in community health at Candler.  One could do a dual degree with the public health or development programs, go on a trip half way around the world with organizations like International Relief and Development, take courses that introduce the intersection of faith and health, get involved with the Religion and Public Health Collaborative or Interfaith Health Program, or make friends with like minded people from one of the other 6 graduate schools at Emory.  If you are interested in how the church can be involved with community health, then Candler is the school for you.

- Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas, a member of the Candler Singers, and a Student Ambassador.


Jul 15 2011

Different Standards of Growth

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.

A couple of weeks ago we pulled out all our summer squash plants because they were slowly being killed by vine borers. Our tomatoes are looking diseased. The purple beans are growing well, but they’ve had a few unfortunate encounters with little feet trampling over them. The sweet corn looks promising, and the eggplant and basil are doing great, but there’s only so much you can do with eggplant and basil…

Let’s just say that some of my hopes for an abundant garden at New Life Covenant Church this summer, from which I’d deliver overflowing baskets of produce to local neighbors, aren’t quite being fulfilled. But that’s just fine. Because other hopes which I hadn’t even imagined or articulated are being fulfilled in much more meaningful ways.

My Candler Advantage summer internship is based at New Life Covenant Church, a small, multi-racial church in the English Avenue neighborhood of West Atlanta. The church started close to 20 years ago in a converted crack house. Though their worship space has since changed, they’ve been consistently committed to the well-being of the neighborhood and community around them. In a neighborhood that’s seen the sobering effects of drug dealing, crime, and urban poverty, New Life’s desire to “see God’s shalom experienced in people’s lives and lived out on the streets and in the homes of English Avenue” is an invaluable one.

One way New Life has worked to reveal God’s beauty and shalom has been through the community garden they installed a few years ago. Much of my work this summer has revolved around the garden, taking leadership of its basic maintenance and using it as an educational site for the church’s summer youth program. As I’ve already mentioned, I haven’t managed to coax enough produce out of this garden for all the community meals and vegetable deliveries I had hoped for. But I think it’s for the better. My experience of ministry at New Life, both within and beyond the garden, has pushed me to expand my notions of what “growth” and “success” are.

As a congregation, New Life is definitely on the small end of the spectrum, with about 40-50 members and probably a few less than that attending on any given Sunday. You can imagine that with its size, the church doesn’t necessarily have endless financial resources. Yet although New Life’s membership or checking account may not be growing exponentially, they are a congregation that experiences and facilitates impressive growth. They provide a consistent place of structure, support, and care for neighborhood kids through their after-school and summer youth programs; they strive to bring beauty through regular garden work days and neighborhood clean up efforts; they work to build relationships with their neighbors, and offer what help they can when folks lose their jobs, have a family member put in jail, or are evicted from their apartment. Most of all, they are present and they pray. Many of the members live in the immediate neighborhood and as a result are very aware of different goings on. Concerns are constantly being brought to the larger body, uplifted during bible studies, prayer walks around the neighborhood, and times of prayer before and during Sunday worship.

This steady, locally grounded, committed form of ministry is one I’ve been privileged to participate in this summer. And as I’ve witnessed some of the challenges and blessings of this ministry, some of my own expectations have been re-shaped. It’s really not so much about results as it is about the day-to-day realities of being in relationship. Who cares if our summer squash plants died? The kids had a blast pulling out the plants and squashing the vine borers, and they learned a bit about plant cycles and pests in the meantime. Who cares if basil is one of the only things producing in any abundance? We made pesto grilled cheese sandwiches, the kids learned a little about harvesting and cooking, and one of them even begged to take home the leftover pesto with him. Only one cucumber on the vine? It’s totally worth it when a young boy—living in a tiny boarding house with relatives while his mom is in jail—is incredibly excited to take it home.

It may not be easy to quantify. But we’re spending time with one another, getting our hands dirty and experiencing the joys and challenges of gardening together. It’s ministry. It’s most definitely growth. And it will be an experience that continues to inform and shape whatever ministry I find myself in next.

- Krista Showalter Ehst

Krista is a third year MDiv student from Pennsylvania and a graduate of Goshen College.


Jul 11 2011

The Root Level

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.

Hello, I am Patrick McLaughlin and I am working this summer through the Candler Advanced Summer Internship program.  My aim is to further explore how the church can be a community health promoter by better understanding the determinants of health that lie in our agriculture communities.  I have spent time with friends and family who are farmers, seed distributors, fertilizer salespeople, ranchers, feedlot operators, ethanol producers to gain their perspective on sustainability, health of people and the land, and life with God.  Check out my video to see how my summer is going and keep an eye out in August for a follow up video!

-Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick is a third year United Methodist MDiv student from Kansas and a Student Ambassador


Jun 7 2011

Lessons in Ethics and Gardening

Soon into my first year in theology school, I realized that the kind of learning cultivated at Candler goes beyond the surface. Not every class provides a life-changing learning experience, but something is bound to catch each student at his or her core, to be transformative.

For me, it happened this spring. In Introduction to Christian Ethics, we were each tasked with pursuing a moral question that held some weight for us personally. We weren’t just learning about ethics, we were doing ethics. I chose to write about food and agriculture-related justice issues as they relate to both the environment and poverty.

Part I: Describing the Problem

Environment: I began with the premise that our earth faces an ecological crisis. Climate change/environmental degradation are real, measurable, and furthermore, human-induced. Which leads to the second premise… the choices you and I make about the food we eat each day can have a profound impact on the rest of the biosphere. The interconnected issues of agriculture, environment, and food provide an opportunity for our response: to promote justice for the environment.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now, choosing not to eat meat because of the sustainability issues surrounding the industry’s practices. This decision has posed a problem for me, on occasion, in the form of cognitive dissonance. I am aware of the privilege of being able to ask “what will I eat?” rather than “will I eat?” each day, and so my choosy eating habits feel a bit elitist. Which leads to the part about…

Poverty: Persons of lower socio-economic statuses don’t get to choose the option of organic produce. Eating healthy and “green” is a class-based privilege in America. Making the choice to eat food that is produced in a way that is environmentally sustainable sounds good, but if it is only an option for an exclusive population, is it really a just choice?

So, I found at this intersection of ethical issues a dual-responsibility: to promote justice for the environment and justice for people by providing accessible nutritious food that is produced in ways that care for the environment. Unfortunately, these two forms of justice can seem mutually exclusive. Making healthy produce accessible often involves mass-agribusiness methods of production (which aren’t good for the environment).

Part II: Asking the Question

We reach a difficult point when choices that cultivate different aspects of the good life come into conflict with one another. It is at this intersection that I thought, read, wrote, and studied all semester: What is our Christian response to be in the tension produced by these competing goods – accessibility of healthy food for all and agricultural/environmental sustainability?

Part III: Constructing a Response

By the end of a lot of research, reading, and thinking, I returned to my personal engagement with this moral question with a renewed commitment to eating food produced in ethical ways. Personally contributing to the consumer demand for ethically produced food still seems like a constructive personal response, even if it is not one that everyone can afford to make.

In the process of thinking through the question, I also sought a way to transform my communal experience of food. Rather than just exercising my personal privilege to make decisions about what I eat, I knew I could work to extend that right to all people.

In my local congregation, I am part of the “Green Team” that is leading a theological response to the issue of land care and food justice. This May, we planted an organic community garden. We have been tending the earth and plan to share our harvest with a local food-pantry. The goal is to extend access to healthy, sustainably-produced food to those in our urban community.

The garden is a literal and theological common ground for the participating community members as we reconnect to the source of our food and the Source of all life. There is hope for a system that allows for environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural practices, and it can begin with Christian communities and individuals committed to justice for land and people.

The learning that started in class continues to disrupt my everyday life. (Indeed, I am in the garden almost every day.) My first year at Candler is marked by learning that has cost much time and commitment, learning that continues to form my ministry, learning that transforms.

-Meredith Shaw

Meredith is 2nd year M.Div student from Lexington, KY. She ministers to youth at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta and is an Assistant for Missional Congregations at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.


May 6 2011

Candler Student Jason Meyers, “Why Church?”

Young Leaders of the Church is a series from Day1 designed to highlight the young talent of today’s churches, and their ability to reach the next generations.   Candler MDiv student Jason Meyers was selected to share a short message about “Why Church?”

This series is being done in partnership with The Fund for Theological Education, for more information please visit http://fteleaders.org and Day1 today!

Jason is involved in a variety of activities at Candler – including Creation Keepers and his work as a writing tutor – and in the greater Atlanta community.  He is also an accomplished poet, and regular blog readers may remember his Lenten Meditation, “Thinking of Romans” from a few weeks ago.


Mar 30 2011

Lenten Meditation #1

During a Candler chapel service known as “Songs and Prayers for the Lenten Journey,” several students shared spoken word reflections.  For the next few Wednesdays we will share some of these reflections with you.

This week’s reflection is from second year MDiv Jason Myers.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Thinking of Romans

My window faces north, Lord,

I seek you there.

The sun moves behind me, Lord,

you move the moon.

It is eight in the morning, Lord,

the sun is at my right hand.

The grass is sweet in the early quiet, Lord,

the night spills sugar.

I had a bed to sleep in, Lord,

and time to dream.

None of these gifts, Lord,

do I deserve – not the

coffee in my cup, Lord,

the embrace of friends,

the smiles of strangers, Lord,

you spend so lavishly

while I wait and wait and wait, Lord,

as though the gift was not already given.

 

Jason is involved in a variety of activities at Candler – including Creation Keepers and his work as a writing tutor – and in the greater Atlanta community.  He is also an accomplished poet.  You can find more of his work here:

http://www.ecotonejournal.com/index.php/authors/details/myers_jason/
http://www.cortlandreview.com/issue/45/myers.html
http://www.bu.edu/agni/poetry/online/2010/myers.html
http://www.terrain.org/poetry/26/myers.htm
http://www.theparisreview.org/back-issues/180
http://bhjournal.com/issues/Vol8_1/jason-meyers.php


Jul 29 2010

“Till it and Tend it”: Judiasm and Sustainable Food

Artwork by Rev. Dr. Gina Rose Halpern

There are wonderful conversations happening at Candler and other Christian places about food, land, and sustainable practices by humans as we care for our earth. Here’s a great article by Ari Hart, a Jewish seminarian, part of a series on Jewish calls for justice and responsibility in the way we support food, farming, and care for creation.


May 1 2009

Earth Day and a Green Emory



Two weeks ago, Emory and Candler celebrated Earth Day along with millions of people across the globe. You may not know this, but Emory University is one of the leading universities in the country in terms of environmental consciousness and sustainability.

One of the student leaders on Candler’s campus in terms of Greening the seminary and sustainability issues is Alison Amyx (pictured right). In honor of her green activities on campus, Alison, a first-year Master of Theological Studies student, won the Myki Mobley Memorial award at the 2009 Candler Honors Day awards. The Mobley award is given to an MTS student who “demonstrates both academic excellence and significant social concern.”

Alison hosted two events on campus on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22 featuring Dr. Katy Hinman, a 2006 Candler MDiv grad who also holds a PhD in Ecology and Evolution from SUNY Stony Brook. Dr. Hinman is the Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL), a non-profit group in Atlanta working with faith communities (churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other centers) on issues of Creation care and energy conservation.

Earth Day also included a screening of “RENEWAL,” a documentary film about the efforts that faith groups of all stripes around the world working are taking to combat climate change. Click on the image to the left to watch a short clip.

One of the reasons I love working at Emory is its institutional commitment to put energy (no pun intended) and resources into sustainability. Due to the work of Alison and other Emory faculty, staff, and students, Emory has the following green distinctions:

  • Earned one of only 11 spots on the Princeton Review’s “2009 Green Rating Honor Roll.”
  • More LEED certified building space than any other university in the nation (including the Theology Building, which is in the process of LEED certification)
  • Named “2008 Distinguished Conservationist of the Year” by The Georgia Conservancy.
  • Offered 129 courses with a sustainability component or focus, including 13 in Theology, Religion, or Philosophy.
  • Featured on CNN and CNNU for our green initiatives (see below)

CNN piece, April 22, 2009,on sustainability at Emory

(4 minutes, 24 seconds run time)

CNNU project, April 29, 2009 on student involvement in environmentalism

at Emory. Look for Alison Amyx’s nine- seconds of fame from 1:59-2:08. (3 minutes, 20 seconds run time)

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