Jun 24 2014

Take Me to the Water

by Brandon C. Harris

For three days I agonized over my sermon. It was my first week at Heritage Fellowship Church in Reston, Virginia and already I had to preach – and for a baptism at that. I wrote and rewrote. I prayed and consulted fellow seminarians on Facebook. What in the world was I supposed to say to five youth preparing to be baptized on a Wednesday evening?

Part of me wanted to tell them good luck and Godspeed! Following Jesus is never easy and he has a track record of taking folks to places they never wanted to go, like seminary.  What could I say to five middle and high school aged youth who had decided that they wanted to follow Christ, who were willing to submit themselves to being immersed in our large baptismal pool. How I agonized and prayed.

I wanted to draw on my rich theological education and say something profound about baptism. However, as I stood before their eager faces that evening, hoping to say something meaningful to them, I realized my words were not needed at all.  God’s word, alive in the testimony of those five youth, was more powerful than anything I could say. We laughed and we cried as we heard them witness of God’s presence in their lives.  A young man testified of how God’s grace – through the love of his family and the goodness of God within his life – led him to seek a relationship with Christ.  A young woman testified of how she lost her mother and was displaced from her family and how Christ had been her constant companion.

That night the youth of Heritage taught me a lesson not found in any classroom. The love of God shown in the ordinance of baptism became alive.  As they rose out of the waters, the smiles that emerged and the glow on their faces displayed to the world that they belonged to God.  There in the waters of baptism those five youth were born anew. That night we saw the face of God in those youth.  I will not remember that night because of the words spoken in a sermon or the lyrics of a song, but because of the testimony of one young man who proclaimed, “Jesus loves me! Why wouldn’t I want to be baptized?”

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

Brandon Harris is a 2nd Year MDiv from Rochester, New York. Brandon is a Licensed Minister in the Church of God and Christ and is a member of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He is serving this summer as a Pastoral Intern at Heritage Fellowship Church a Non-Denominational Church in Reston, Virginia.






May 13 2014

One Step at a Time, One Step Ahead

Alisha1We millennials have been told all of our lives that pursuing a higher education was the way out of our respective neighborhoods, the necessary step to “have more than our parents did,” and an essential part of being ready to compete with an “ever growing job market.” Some of us have been on a life long journey to meet the expectations and standards set by the generation before us and when we fall short, the pressure can be insurmountable sometimes.

We spend so much time being concerned about what is coming that often times we miss the opportunities and moments right before us. In turn, some of us are so focused on the right now we’ve given little thought to tomorrow. It’s a balancing act of sorts, to take life one step at a time while remaining one step ahead, you know?

We toe the line of being able to take things one step at a time while remaining one step ahead. Learning to pace yourself yet be fiercely prepared for what is to come is a skill that many people struggle to master. Shifts in ideologies and schools of thought have been critical in analyzing what it truly takes to be successful; what is it that we can say about preparing for our future that we have not already heard? How do we demystify the unknown?

I find some semblance of understanding when I think about a story written by Qoheleth, the Jewish writer attributed to have written the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes. It is in this book where some of the most renowned pieces of wisdom literature, religious or otherwise, have taken its words to reshape our understanding of life and its purpose. Though there is no evidence that he studied Ecclesiastes, playwright William Shakespeare’s work has similar themes found in Ecclesiastes, one of a fleeting life worth living. The following words, spoken by a grieving Macbeth, speak to life’s evanescence:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale,

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(Macbeth, Act V, Scene V)

Shakespeare offers even more insight (are we sure he didn’t study Ecclesiastes when writing this stuff?) in the play As You Like It when we learn that “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players.” Shakespeare follows the life of a (every) wo/man from a “puking” infant to a person who enters a “second childhood” “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

The wisdom that Qoheleth shares with us is plentiful and William Shakespeare’s ruminations live forever in the annals of literary history. I think the most important message that both authors send is simple: life is fleeting. One minute we’re here and the next, we’ve transitioned on to another life. What is to be said, then, about how we live our lives one step at a time and, at the same time, one step ahead?

Alisha3This paradoxical idea of being present yet looking toward the future narrows the intent and purpose for which we live, doesn’t it? I mean, we’re keenly aware that the decisions we make today are happening in the now, but the reverberations of those decisions can last for generations. What we do now casts a picture of what our future will be, and sometimes we can lose our grip on our present reality. On occasion, we can be so consumed with getting to the next step that we are no longer present in the right now. We miss the opportunities to create lasting relationships or enjoy the process of living because we must get to the next step.  In turn, everything we do is about today and tomorrow, simultaneously.

I remember being a burgeoning 20-something whose dreams were big and goals were lofty! I remember feeling like I was unstoppable and I knew what the hell I was doing; sage advise from parents or mentors seemed to go in one ear and out the other as I raged forward with my “this is what I will do TODAY!” plans – all the while thinking I had the future in mind, but realizing that I had no clue what the future would hold for me. What is this thing, this difficulty in being able to be present in today and conjecture what will happen in the future?

A 2010 report by the National Institute of Mental Health discovered the prefrontal cortex of our brains, the part that gives us the ability to reason, have foresight, and make good judgment calls, doesn’t fully develop until you reach age 20 or 21. Scientists note that this is the reason that teenagers and young adults seek out the “thrill” in life like trying out a new roller coaster, racing cars or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. While there may be a physiological deficiency in young adults (thought I can think of some 30, 40, and 50 year olds who have this difficulty, too!) there’s something to be said about being aware of how today’s decision impacts tomorrow’s future.

Taking the next step towards our future, it seems, has to be intentional. It cannot be a fly-by-night, roll the die, let’s-see-what-happens type of experience. It must be something that you do on purpose. We must forget what childhood shortcomings we may have lingering in our minds. We even have to overcome what struggles may have followed us into adulthood. We have to find a greater reason to push forward to do, as Ethicist Dr. Katie Cannon calls it, “the work our souls must have.” We must also remain present – be aware of our surroundings and the people and places that serve as the background to our life’s narrative. What moments we miss as we sprint after our futures, leaving invaluable memories behind.

This balance between being aware of today and mindful of the future offers us a stable grounding for addressing life’s most important decisions like career, love, money, and family. It’s a skill that we never stop learning how to master, a gift that continues to impart joy with every waking moment. What are some ways in which you are learning how to take life one step at a time while looking towards the future? What newfound truths can be discovered as you venture through life with the promise of a bright future serving as your guide? Feel free to leave your comments below!

“Just as we have two eyes and two feet, duality is a part of life.” (Carlos Santana)

–Alisha L. Gordon

Alisha is a rising third-year MDiv student and ESOL Writing Tutor at Candler. A 2004 graduate of Spelman College, Alisha has written for various online and print publications including Upscale Magazine, The Huffington Post, Hello Beautiful and her own personal blog Find the Pieces.

May 6 2014

A Time To Laugh

The other day, I was writing my last term paper of my second year at Candler, for my ethics class. That week had been full of papers, and I was feeling like I had squeezed out every drop of God-juice that was in my brain. My friend sent me a funny text message, and I sent her back an amused reply and said with resignation that I was working on my ethics paper. She said she was sorry to have bothered me and would let me get back to work.

I was doing exactly what I like to think I never do: taking myself too seriously. A similar thing happened in class the other day. My professor said I was too serious and needed to lighten up and take some cheap grace. I could hardly believe it. Too serious! I called an old buddy of mine on the way home and told him of the professor’s assessment. “What?” he said, laughing, “You?” It was good to learn that he could not believe it, either.

It had shaken me up, this image of myself as joyless and severe. I had come to seminary feeling like I had an intuitive closeness with God. Then seminary really hit. My small arsenal of spiritual maxims had been turned upside-down, and my faith sometimes felt defective. Occasionally during my morning devotion, I felt like I did not even know how to pray correctly, but then whenever I tried to force a change in method, it was like putting a raw egg and orange juice into a bowl of frosted flakes. All were good for a complete breakfast, but there was no need to change everything about breakfast.

I cannot be anywhere that God is not; I just have to look. I remember also laughing heartily with some classmates once during a study session. We were all in the same boat, and this was going somewhere, and we just had to enjoy the ride. When we take ourselves too seriously, we deceive ourselves that we know absolutely God’s will for us, and that we would realize that will if only those around us would get with the program. We stop listening to God. Laughter happens when we are able to stop reacting in fear toward something, and give up any delusion that we can control or explain any of this. Even when we are cracking up with our friends, it’s like we’re sharing an inside joke with the Almighty.

So, I do not have to worry. The glorious symphony, which I know intuitively, is actually not far removed from the theological head-scratching that seminary demands. I must employ the “Under Construction” motif (from 2013 New Student Orientation) that has been so appropriate this year with all the literal and figurative construction on campus. The book of Ezra tells of the Israelites rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile: “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord.” (Ezra 3:10-11) The music comes from the same place where the foundation of the temple is being laid. When I can accept that, I can throw up my hands, give up control, and laugh, knowing that I am loved perfectly by God.

So I sent my friend another text message: What do you call a fish with no eyes?

Answer: A fsh!

–Josh McDaniel

Josh is a rising third-year student at Candler and a ministerial intern at Chamblee First United Methodist Church.

Apr 22 2014

“What Does It Mean To Be Saved?”

The question came from a 13-year-old girl in leopard print skinny jeans and black Converse All-Stars.

This is exactly the type of question I had anticipated in teaching the confirmation class as part of my second year of Contextual Education. In fact, I had been trained to shape my lessons around the questions I wanted my students to ask. I had also been taught Wesleyan theology by Dr. Rex Matthews, so I thought I was ready to jump into these deep theological issues head first.

Despite all of this formal preparation, I was not ready for the responses that the lessons would generate among the adult mentors who had volunteered to be part of this process. My senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Cyndi McDonald, had told me time and again that the number one factor in determining whether or not a young person will return to church as an adult is the number of meaningful relationships that young person has with adult members of the church. So when we sat down to make plans for the confirmation class, it was a no-brainer to invite adults to participate. I had hoped they would share their personal stories and experiences with the youth and build lasting relationships. After all, I am only placed in this church for one year as an intern, and Pastor Cyndi is a United Methodist Elder, so she will eventually be appointed to a new congregation. That means that the adults of this church are the ones who must take responsibility for nurturing these youth into mature disciples, just as the community has done since they were children.

I was prepared to watch the intrigue and curiosity of the youth who are discerning what it means to be a follower of Christ, but I was shocked by the joy and delight that these classes generated among the adult mentors.

They are loving learning and re-learning why we do what we do. They marvel at how the youth raise questions about the Bible and their challenges to understand God in the confusing politics of middle school. They cherish the honest moments when we reach the point of admitting that God is good, but God is also mysterious.

I must admit, all of this excitement and education is not a direct result of my pedagogical efforts. Candler has absolutely prepared me to mold a lesson to fit the learners and the location, but Candler could not have prepared me for the moment that I could witness God moving hearts.

We recruited the adult mentors to help engage the youth, but the youth have engaged the adults. It only makes sense that love would grow in both directions, but my focus on the youth blinded me to that truth. We are in the process of affirming what we believe and how we worship, but God is in the process of confirming that the Spirit is moving among those who seek to be disciples of Christ.

–Clair Carter

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

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.