Apr 1 2014

Staying Fit in Seminary

Katie O’Dunne describes her endurance training for a Half Ironman and how it informs her studies at Candler School of Theology.

Katie O’Dunne is a second-year MDiv student in the Faith and Health Certificate program, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador. 


Mar 25 2014

A Theology of Bricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Aaron Carr

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


Mar 11 2014

Snowpocalypse & Table Fellowship

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

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

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

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

–Jessica Beverstein

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


Feb 25 2014

What is the value of an African American male?

Is the worth of an African American male priceless or is it comparable to meaningless matter, insignificant and cheap?  For centuries the value and worth of the black male in society has come under question, as if God didn’t create everyone equally.  Who are we as a society of brothers and sisters to determine otherwise?

As I sat in my room and watched the Michael Dunn verdict, I immediately reflected on the question: What is the value of an African American male?  The jury convicted Michael Dunn on four of five charges against him, but were indecisive concerning the murder charge.  How can you be uncertain when 17-year-old Jordan Davis was unarmed and was unable to protect himself from the rage of Michael Dunn?  Furthermore how could you shoot into a car because of loud “thuggish” music and then go home as if your actions were normal?  A mother and father have lost their son because someone felt threatened by the face of difference rather than seeing the heart of similarity.  A split jury, some who will never see the black experience, has decided that a mistrial is better than convicting a man who killed out of malice towards someone different.  Is it a matter of changing the laws or changing the individual who views African Americans as inferior second-class citizens?

One could pontificate that the laws need to be amended, but the world will always have its stance on the value of an African American male.  This ongoing sense of injustice has continued to be a huge problem within our society.  Some may deem that we should worry about other issues.  Some may revert back to the argument about black-on-black violence, but is this a mechanism to cover up the overall injustice towards African American men?  Should we ignore these new Jim Crow laws and modern-day lynchings of African American men?  Several African Americans have been mistreated by the judicial system that is only designed to work for people with privilege and power.  Brothers such as Emmet Till, Oscar Grant III, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Danroy Henry, Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and several others have been victims of an unfair system that judges based on “the color of the skin rather than the content of character.”

When personal bias and bigotry enters the soul, it damages the very fabric of what it means to be alive in this world.  Being alive in the world means waking up everyday acknowledging that God created everything well without blemishes.  Personal difference is not a blemish but rather it is the gateway to exploring the essence of God.  I am not a blemish and I am not an enigma.  I am an educated black man who may be different on the exterior because of my skin, but I breathe the same air as those from other cultures.  I am a black man who longs for the moment when we all walk down the hallways of schools and jobs with love towards one another.  I am a black man who wants people to see my rich value rather than my skin tone.  I am not a monster.  I am human.  We all are precious in the eyes of God and we should cherish the fact that we are worth more than silver and gold.  With our seminary experience let’s change the world so that everyone can be treated equally and fairly.

–Lawrence Waters

Lawrence is a second-year MDiv student at Candler, a student ambassador, and president of the Black Student Caucus. He is a licensed minister in the American Baptist Churches (USA) and has served as a youth pastor for several years.


Feb 18 2014

Chaplain on the Hall!

prison“101, Chaplain on the hall!” I call out, as the officer on duty buzzes me through the second of two doors leading to a long corridor. As I enter the hallway illuminated by fluorescent lighting, another officer sits on duty in the first small room to the left. I walk further down the hall and observe the many doorways; each door containing ID cards giving the names and faces of two inmates residing within. As I move deeper into the heart of the passage, I catch a glimpse through an open door of two obviously pregnant women dressed in prison attire, confined to a room and serving a sentence. Somehow, these pregnant women have landed in the Georgia Department of Corrections. Then the realization occurred to me that I came to seminary and now I have somehow landed myself in prison.

The past six months or so, I have spent time as a chaplain intern at the facility that houses all the pregnant female inmates in the state of Georgia. My time has consisted of building relationships with a group of marginalized women and offering a pastoral presence in the midst of unsettling circumstances. Candler’s Contextual Education program has provided an avenue that intentionally placed me in the path of the marginalized and facilitated authentic relationships through community with strangers and peers.

Reflecting on the ministry of Jesus reveals that he was on the move. Where was he going? Towards the Cross. What was he doing? Intentionally placing himself in the midst of the marginalized. For example, Jesus encountered the Syrophoenician woman who because of the status of her daughter and the fact she is a woman would have been considered twice marginalized. He cured the deaf man—another marginalized person. Among many examples, Jesus continually placed himself among the hurting and oppressed.

The opportunity as a seminary student to serve prison inmates who seem cast aside by society has helped me see the presence of God and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of these women. The reality is that our world is indeed dark at times and yet, through this journey, God’s presence has been manifested through genuine relationship and has become ever so clear during my journey as Chaplain over the past months. What has become even more evident to me is the worthiness of these women and the reality that each woman at the facility is a child of our Creator God. There is not a soul on Earth that is not worthy of the Grace of God.

Mark 8:34-35 says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

So, let’s get movin’, friends!  We’re all going somewhere—I challenge each to take the scenic route in life and see the unmistakable richness of God and experience wholeness through community with one another.

–Emily Edwards

Emily is a first-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. She lived and worked in Ocala, FL, before relocating to Atlanta.


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.


Jan 14 2014

Working Out the Numbness

Mandela TutuThere are two things that I don’t like very much: numb-heads and numb-legs. We’ve all sat in that meeting/class/small group that felt like you needed to just get up and do something rather than talk anymore. By the end of it, your head is just numb.

Often those meetings have another side effect: numb-legs. If I sit for too long, my legs go to sleep and my lower back feels numb. The worst part is when you attempt to stand up and walk it out. You try to get up and walk, only to have that horrible tingly feeling all over as you wobble around until your legs are normal again.

This past week I’ve been completely immersed in my 1-week intensive course on the topic of reconciliation. For the past few days we’ve explored the journey of reconciliation from many angles. It’s a topic I’ve learned is deep, complicated, and powerful.

It’s also a topic can be difficult to put into action. We looked at reconciliation efforts in places like Rwanda and South Africa. As we did, we discussed and critiqued what has been done in different situations. Sometimes these discussions can be frustrating as we critique too much. If anything doesn’t meet the ideal, then it gets picked apart. After a week of this, you get numb-headed.

I can’t help but draw a conclusion between these two frustrations of numb-headedness and numb-legs. In class, we often critique the latest strategy or model. Maybe that’s a church model, maybe it’s a model of reconciliation, or maybe it’s a strategy for effective evangelism. The truth is, we can only sit around critiquing for so long. We have to stand up and get on our feet. I believe we’ll find out it was harder than we expected. Our legs will tingle. We’ll wobble around, and hopefully we’ll find a way that feels right and our legs are strong again.

I always feared coming to seminary because I’d rather be in the field of action than sitting in a classroom. As I’ve been here at Candler I’ve learned that critique is necessary because no model, system, or strategy is perfect. Critique helps us get closer to the ideal. Candler helps me engage in important critiquing. Admittedly, I’ve felt that numb-headedness come around a time or two, but this has also been a place where our legs are moved into action. Learning happens within the context of serving others through Contextual Education I and II. Candler has been a place where critique and action meet face to face.

In their book, Reconciling All Things, authors Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice write about leaders saying, “Leading is not about knowing where you are going. It is about starting somewhere then taking a next faithful step, then another and another.”[1]

I find this to be true in almost any line of ministry. At times the critiquing can create fear of going out and being the church God is calling us to be. Yet we have to get up, work out those awkward first steps, and continue faithfully.


[1] Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, Reconciling all things: a Christian vision for justice, peace and healing, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 129.

–Mark Kimbrough

Mark is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler.  From Springdale, Arkansas, he completed his undergraduate studies at The University of Arkansas.


Dec 3 2013

Seminary v. Law School

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

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

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

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

–Mercy Lineberry

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


Nov 26 2013

“We just need to preach Jesus”

MikeThis was an entirely unexpected response to my forty-five minute presentation about a new model of ministry for connecting with second generation Americans. I had spent the last six weeks researching, writing, and praying about how to make meaningful relationships with the growing population of children of immigrants who have no church home. I had carefully prepared a speech and a slideshow that detailed the nuances of my plan, and I had shared my ideas with family, friends, fellow students, and Candler professors. They provided helpful feedback to flesh out my ideas and polish my message. I may have been terrified when I stood up to speak at the General Board of Discipleship conference in front of roughly seventy-five ordained United Methodist elders, but by the time I was finished, I felt relieved. I believed that I had brought a practical message of hope and encouragement to church leaders. Then, when I opened the floor for discussion, one of the first comments hit me like a brick in the face.

“We just need to preach Jesus.”

Did this person not just hear a word of what I said? Is he unable to see why this plan has such potential? Did I ever mention that we should not bring the good news of the risen Lord wherever we go?

ClairAll of these thoughts raced through my mind, and this could have been the beginning of a very ugly and public confrontation that would most likely mean an effective end to my public speaking opportunities. Fortunately, my classroom experience at Candler had prepared me for this moment. I listened to the objections of this participant, and I offered a brief defense of my views that took seriously the concerns he had raised. Another participant joined in to say that both models were useful and we did not have to choose between the two. In the time-honored Methodist tradition, we did not come to a consensus, but we did become conversation partners. We were able to incorporate these opinions into a fuller vision for our mission going forward.

Because of the diversity of age, race, gender, and theological thought at Candler, I have had many opportunities to hear views that clash with my own. These moments of tension lead to deeper discussion for everyone involved. We do not usually change our minds or declare that one argument is more worthy than the other, but we do learn what it looks like to live and work together without uniformity. I delight in the idea that God calls each of us to the task of building the kingdom with unique skills and distinct perspectives and that the kingdom absolutely needs all of these people and practices to reach the ends of the earth. Candler has taught me to speak with the confidence of a graduate level student and the humility of a child of God. We do need to preach Jesus, but there is no limit to the number of ways that we will find our voices in this calling.

–Clair Carter

Clair is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. Originally from Louisiana, she is a graduate of Oglethorpe University.


Nov 19 2013

Keep Going

It was Harriet Tubman who said, Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

The road to success is not an easy one. The truth is, the journey to success may be the most confusing and painful journey you have ever taken. People who you thought loved you may leave you. The people who have been assigned to help you may hurt you. People may define you by your situation or present circumstance. But it is the strength, the patience, and the passion of dreamers that propels them beyond their present reality and encourages them to keep going.

It takes courage to dream… it takes courage to keep going and at times it’s not easy.

I especially learned this in my first year at Candler School of Theology as I participated in Contextual Education at Genesis Shelter, a homeless shelter for families with infant children. Each week I observed women who had escaped the stranglehold of domestic abuse, childhood neglect, and societal indifference, to a place of abject poverty and income inequality. Through it all, they persevered and pursued waning dreams with the hope that their children’s lives would be better than their own.

In his poem, “Mother to Son”, Langston Hughes describes a conversation a struggling mom has with her child. She says:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor –

Bare.

But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometime goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

‘Cause you finds it kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now –

For I’se still goin’, honey,

Ise still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Like the mother in this poem, my mother became my inspiration. I watched my mother keep going. I was 5-years-old when she left my father. We moved into a tiny three-bedroom house in the country. My mom paid $60 for rent. The rooms were so small they looked more like cell blocks than bedrooms. The house was infested with roaches and rodents. We didn’t know how poor we were.

But she kept going.

She had to deal with a failed marriage, and three hungry, growing kids at home. People passing judgment and making assumptions, but she kept going. She worked at night and slept during the day to make sure we had food to eat and a roof over our heads. The road wasn’t easy, but she kept going. There were tacks in it, and splinters, and boards all torn up… But she kept going.

It was her perseverance that gave birth to the dreamer inside of me.

It was her will and tenacity that made me believe I could be the first in my family to graduate from college. It was her bravery and relentlessness that inspired me to go from academic suspension to the dean’s list. It was her faith and prayers that kept me out of jail and away from the wrong crowds.

And now as I navigate this road, this journey to success, I am faced with my own challenges. I am faced with my own splinters, tacks, torn-up boards, and bare floors. I am faced with the challenge of pursuing a dream with little resources. I am faced with the challenge of feeling misunderstood and playing small to accommodate the comfort of others. I am faced with the threat of never measuring up to the standard society has set and the fear of failing; but I cannot turn back. You cannot turn back. You cannot sit down on the steps. You have to keep climbing. You have to keep reaching.

When I feel like I cannot continue, like giving up is the best option, I am encouraged by the women at Genesis, the actions of my mother, and the advice Harriet Tubman spoke to the dreamers. She told those who were trying to escape slavery and make it to freedom:

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they’re shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”

So I encourage every dreamer to keep going.

When others believe they know what’s better for you than you yourself, keep going. When folks use their position and power against you, keep going. When you have to navigate a broken system that fails you at every stop and every turn, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever quit. When you have to hide and cry so your kids don’t see it, keep going. Someone’s dream is reliant on your determination.

Keep going.

Don’t allow your dream to die in your current situation. You may have to go alone; you may have to go in the dark – where there is no light. But don’t you stop. You’ve come too far to quit.

Keep going!

This is dedicated to my hero, my inspiration, my mother. I love you with my whole heart.

–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.