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.

Nov 12 2010

The Seminary Cycle

Over the past few weeks, many first-year students have been following Dr. Strawn, and his TA staff, on a journey through the Old Testament. Most recently we were lectured on the Pentateuch, tested on the Pentateuch, and many breathed a sigh of relief that we were finished with the Pentateuch.

Lecture. Test. Breathe.

Today, we turned our attention to the Former Prophets. Although we have gone through a large portion of Israel’s history – Abraham & Sarah, Moses & Miriam, Joshua & Caleb – three things remain the same. (1) The Children of Israel just don’t seem to get it. They continue in their cycle of disobedience, punishment, and repentance. (2) Theologian, Martin Noth, just won’t pipe down: he has something to say about everything! His theories go through their own cycles of being presented, disputed, and sometimes refuted. (3) For students, the time we have to breathe is very limited. By the time our tests are completed, and breaths taken, the cycle quickly begins again.

Lecture. Test. Breathe.

From Genesis to Judges, the Children of Israel engage in the same cycle of disobedience, punishment, and repentance. Judges concludes with the following verse: “In those days there was no king in Israel…” In today’s lecture, Dr. Strawn indicated that this verse sets the stage for Samuel and the monarchy. Will the coming of the monarchy change things? Will Israel finally find the courage to obey Yahweh? Will the cycle be broken? Although I have a few projections, I’ll save those projections to live with the question: Will the cycle be broken?

In many ways this question speaks to the life of this theology student. As my first semester at Candler nears its close – papers, tests, and presentations mounting – I am moved to a place of reflection. From this place, the so-called seminary cycle is, indeed, broken: I realize that this semester has been filled with so much more than just listening to lectures, preparing for tests, and gasping for air. Yes, these things have been a part of my Candler experience, thus far. But there is also a certain amount of preparing, practicing, and playing involved.

Prepare. Practice. Play.

Each week I begin by spending a few hours at my Contextual Education site, The Emmaus House.   Here, the rubber meets the road, and I am able to put the things I am learning in class into practice; playfully engaging in various activities, attempting to find out what works and what does not in various settings. Furthermore, I share my week with the best group of colleagues one can imagine. We all are engaging in preparation for and the practice of ministry, together. We even play together occasionally – occasionally meaning, every Tuesday at 8:00pm (GLEE!).

Although tests, papers, and lectures have been a part of my semester, they are not the dominant force shaping my experience. It remains to be seen if the Children of Israel will break their cycle – I’m sure Dr. Strawn will tell us next Tuesday – but I know that I have broken mine. Today I commit to a new cycle of preparation and practice, and I vow to play a little more, as well.

Prepare. Practice. Play.

Let this cycle continue on…

- Brandon Maxwell

Brandon is a first year MDiv student from Nashville, TN and a Student Ambassador.