Jul 3 2012

Go far, together

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.

Kenyan Children

“We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.  And it’s not only the creation.  We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free.” Romans 8:25-26.

You know that scene in The Sound of Music when Maria Von Trapp leaves the convent for the first time and bursts into the song, “I Have Confidence”? That’s kind of been my life lately—minus the tacky tweed outfit and hat.  From the moment I boarded the plane to Nairobi until now, I have had to silence this quiet, anxious voice inside me that says, “You really don’t know what you’re doing- do you?”  I hate that voice.  It’s so lonely! With that voice, all of my successes and failures become mine and mine alone.  But this past month, when I shush that voice inside me and listen, really listen to the Spirit move and work around me, I realize that I am far from alone.  It’s the stories and people around me that give me confidence that God really is at work through God’s people and if look closely, you can see it right in front of you.

Emmy in KenyaThis summer, through Candler Advantage, I have the opportunity to work at New Life Home Trust in Kenya.  New Life Homes has six homes across Kenya that provides care and support for abandoned and orphaned children.  New Life has been a part of my life since 2004, when my parents adopted my youngest brother and sister there.  Over the years, I have gotten to watch sickly, malnourished infants grow into healthy, happy family members.  Most of the children at the homes are adopted into Kenyan families.  But, there are twenty-five children who are in two family-style homes that have not been adopted due to special needs.  Though the majority of these children are HIV positive, some have been diagnosed with other developmental or behavioral disorders.  Over the years, only a handful of these children have been adopted.

Before I arrived, I tried to put together the perfect religious education curriculum that would take care of everything—feelings of loss and abandonment, Anti-retro viral adherence, self-love and acceptance, etc.  Here is an exaggerated example, “Class 1 Theme-Parents; Goal-Help kids understand that God is a father and a mother.  So, even if they never are adopted by parents, they will feel loved by God.”  Pretty lofty goal for one Saturday afternoon, eh? It should come as no surprise that my first few classes were relative failures.  Fortunately, those experiences have forced me to listen and watch those around me.  “Pole, pole” (slowly slowly in Swahili), I am realizing that what I am part of is a process that began long before I came here and will continue long after I leave.  In the meantime, being a part of this community has made me watch the Spirit groan, but it has also let me watch the Spirit dance in the lives of these children and their caregivers. There’s a Kenyan proverb that reads, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  I’m realizing lately just how far you can go, together.

-Emmy Corey

Emmy is a rising third year MDiv student and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, AL.

May 15 2012

When Formation Falls Short

I have been very fortunate to receive quality formation and education throughout my life—from my church and family growing up, from the public school system, from my college, and now at Candler School of Theology.   But, with this said, beginning in college I have had a growing awareness of the ways that education and formation fall short.  For me, these educational failures have occurred when communities create false dichotomies that the students and teachers are forced into: Are you a “head” or “heart” person? Is this “academic” or “devotional”? Do you prefer “theory” or “practice”?  I am interested in creating spaces for education and formation that break down these false dichotomies and seek to bring about the holistic transformation of all people involved, and subsequently the real world.  Therefore, I have been exploring these questions through Candler’s Religious Education Certificate Program.  This exploration includes a Religious Education training retreat I attended which explored digital storytelling as a form of education and formation.  The digital story I created, which is found below, is the product of this 2 day retreat.  In it I sought to respond to the prompt “What is an instance where you learned something significant?” I hope that it illustrates the type of education and formation that has been transformative for me and which I hope to be a part of in the future.

-Eric Rucker

Eric is a rising second year MDiv students from Kansas City.

Aug 22 2011

On Being Clumsy (Or, How Theological Education Works)

Photo by Steven Depolo

Orientations. “How could I have forgotten how to do this?,” I wondered, as I stumbled around the dance studio. My balance was off, I couldn’t keep up with the choreography, the turns made me dizzy. It was my first time in a dance studio in several years and while I was not naïve about how quickly I could regain my footing in that semi-sacred place, I had hoped it would feel better than this. I wanted to leave.

I mean, I really wanted to leave. This was the place to which I’d been longing to return, and here I was, wanting collect my clumsy self and run out the door.

But this is how it is, isn’t it, when you start something new, or return to something after a long sojourn? It is clumsy, and awkward, and sometimes you just want to run out the door. You may be feeling this way as you make your way into a new school year at Candler—whether it is your first or your fifth—and you may be wondering exactly when you’ll stop stumbling around and find your sure footing here.

This is my first year as a member of the Candler faculty. Before arriving here this summer, I was teaching at another institution for four years. This is not, however, a brand new place for me: I did my graduate work in the Graduate Division of Religion here at Emory. In some ways, I am coming home. I know and love this place, and yet… I am a stranger. It is just a little bit disorienting!

Disorientation assumes a contrasting sense of orientation. A boat at sea gains its orientation, even in the midst of a storm, from the place from whence it came, the lighthouse on the shore toward which it sails, and the resources (like maps and compasses) available to its crew. A dancer’s orientation gives her grounding when she is (even intentionally) off-balance. As a novice dancer practices her turns, balance does not come easily. Once she learns how to fix her gaze on a stable object, however, the situation changes. Over time, she develops a deep awareness of the relative position of her body on the studio floor. It is in the midst of the space between disorientation and reorientation that the art of dance is expressed.

In our faculty retreat this past week, Dr. Joel Lemon suggested that theological education is also, in part, about the dialectic between disorientation and reorientation. As students, you may find yourselves disoriented by a seemingly strange idea or way of thinking in a seminary classroom, vigorous and challenging discussions with your colleagues, unfamiliar practices in our shared worship life, or the dynamics of building a new community. At the same time, you likely will find yourselves unexpectedly reoriented in the very same places: a new insight that puts together long disconnected ideas, the community gathered for the communion meal, or the discovery of shared experiences or values in the midst of rich diversity.

Both of these moments—disorientation and reorientation—find their meaning in our core orientation. In the Christian tradition, we are grounded—oriented—in our baptism, where we receive both grace and challenge, where we are both embraced and sent. We emerge from the waters of baptism with our core identity:  we are children of God and members of the Body of Christ.

And so here, in the midst of Candler’s orientation week, I invite you to dive whole-heartedly into that dialectic between disorientation and reorientation, trusting in the deep identity given in baptism. Allow yourself to stumble around a bit, and embrace the disorientation that comes with significant moments in one’s process of vocational discovery. When those moments of reorientation arise, whether unbidden or through deeply intentional practices, offer thanks for them.

Be your full, flourishing, and clumsy self.

- Dr. Jennifer Ayres

Dr. Ayres is Assistant Professor of Religious Education and Director of the Program in Religious Education at Candler and a graduate of Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion.

Mar 18 2011

What Are You Doing Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Brandon Maxwell

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