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.


Jun 24 2011

Healing from Tragedy

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.

On April 27 of this year I sat in the living room of my third story, Decatur apartment and wondered where I would go if a tornado hit. I am sure many can recall that day, and the events of the night are etched into my mind. While I was safe in Atlanta, I knew that my home church community of Apison, Tennessee, was being ravaged by the spring storms. I had no idea the extent of the damage until the pastor of Apison UMC began to post updates on congregation members. He wrote things like, I have heard from the Smith, Jones, and Thompson families; Gene and Roxie are still missing; the two homes in front of Mark are no longer there. This news feed ran through the evening. He sent me a message telling me to pray for the community and that it was hit badly by the storms. I did not know the extent of the damage. When I saw that Atlanta’s Fox 5 was sending a news truck to Ringgold, Georgia (Apison and Ringgold are neighbors separated by only a state line on the map), I knew that things must be bad.

During the following days I heard it described as a war zone. I saw pictures and everyone cried that the pictures do not accurately capture the magnitude of the devastation. My heart grieved for the church family that is sponsoring and praying for me during my seminary education. The emotions were crazy; I felt lonely, guilty, and angry for not being with the people I loved. Disasters are disasters when they hit cities, but when they hit home disasters have faces, disasters have breath, disasters have names, and disasters have feelings. Still it is hard to describe how I actually felt while I watched my church family dig through trauma.

The only thing that gave me solace was that I knew that as soon as the semester was out I would be traveling back home to work in a neighboring church. This summer I am interning through the Candler Advantage program at Ooltewah United Methodist Church, which is in a community neighboring Apison. Through my position at Ooltewah, I have been blessed to be part of the relief efforts that will continue for the foreseeable future in the Apison community. In the midst of this tragedy I have seen strangers become friends and neighbors become heroes. People from as far away as New York and California have come to Apison to give of their time, talent, and energy.

While I am not working at Apison UMC, I am very blessed to be a part of a recovery and healing in my home community. The stories of everyday miracles are endless, from a dad and son lifting an unmovable safe off a trapped family to a church whose annual budget is barely $100,000 distributing over $20,000 in aid within five weeks of the tornado. God is at work, and I am so amazed that I have been graced with the unexpected opportunity to see the face of grace. Each week I ride my bicycle through the community. During my first ride, I cried; Saturday I smiled the smile of foundations being poured and Sheetrock being hung.

When I applied for the Candler Advantage program I thought that I knew what my summer was going to look like. April 27th changed all of that, but because of support of Candler I am engaged in life altering and world shaking ministry. The grace of humanity that I am witnessing through this disaster is shaping my ministry and giving life to my theological education. This experience is recreating me into a new person. Thanks be to God.

-Will Conner

Will is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler and a member of the  Holston Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.


Jun 7 2011

Lessons in Ethics and Gardening

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

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

Part I: Describing the Problem

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

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

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

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

Part II: Asking the Question

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

Part III: Constructing a Response

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

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

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

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

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

-Meredith Shaw

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


Jun 3 2011

Exploring the World’s Parish: An Indonesian Journey

The journeys God takes us on, and the unexpected pit stops along the way, are rarely ever dull, and rarer still are they purposeless. My recent trip to Indonesia with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute reminded me of this. Traveling with four fellow students, Candler professor Dr. Arun Jones, and a stellar team of Institute staff and volunteers, I spent ten days in capital city Jakarta learning about Christianity and ministry in the South Asian context. This was more than just an educational endeavor, however. In the truest sense of the word, travel itself is a process of self-refinement and personal growth.

This process began for me before we ever left Atlanta. I struggled with the conflicting desires of wanting to break out of my ordinary routine and wanting to stay safely within it. School had just ended for the summer and I craved the freedom of lazy evenings, fiction novels, and movie marathons. Instead, I was packing my bags for a seminar halfway across the world. A strange blend of emotions churned within me: the longing for adventure and new experiences mixed with an unsettling anxiety about traveling such a great distance and stepping so far outside my comfort zone.

Indonesia is about as far away in the world from Atlanta as you can go. However, after disembarking in Jakarta and spending ten days there, I came to discover that, in some ways, Indonesia is not so different from our fair southern state. In Indonesia, the air is just as heavy with humidity, the tea is just as sweet (though served piping hot!) and the hospitality is warm and welcoming. Our hosts made us feel right at home, even many thousands of miles away. For example, our host mother made us hamburgers and French fries for breakfast one morning! She also gifted one of us with a package of Kraft singles after he mused that he had been missing cheese. These seemingly small and somewhat quirky gifts of hospitality that brought a piece of America to Indonesia warmed our hearts as much as our later gifts of handmade traditional shawls that assured we would bring something of Indonesia back to America.

Many of my anxieties crumbled in the face of the overwhelming hospitality of my new Indonesian friends. What was left of my defenses toppled as I heard more and more ministry stories from local church leaders. There was the pastor who had baptized a young woman from a Muslim family who now has to mediate between her and her displeased father. Then there was the woman who is pastoring in an area devastated by a recent volcanic explosion; she loves and cares for her neighbors (physically and spiritually) without expecting anything in return. There was also the passionate young pastor with a skill for church planting who has his sights set next on the province of Papua. The challenges facing Indonesian pastors seem daunting to American Christians whose greatest fears in evangelism are embarrassment and rejection; Indonesian Christians work within a majority Muslim context in which Christianity is still considered taboo from its colonial associations. Yet these Methodist pastors are filled with God’s fire and minister to their communities with a zeal that would make John Wesley proud.

Before we left Atlanta, our group was asked to share what our greatest expectation was for the trip—our purpose in going. My answer was that, as an aspiring United Methodist minister, I have a responsibility to engage myself in the work of the global church. No Methodist pastor is an island, to borrow from Donne, and our connectional ties should extend beyond annual conference lines. To be a Methodist minister anywhere implies a bond with Methodist ministers everywhere. The struggles and triumphs of my Indonesian brothers and sisters should be mine, and mine theirs. I found this to be overwhelmingly the case; my greatest teachers were the pastors in my Wesley group (a small group of intimate sharing and accountability) during the seminar. They candidly shared the stories of their ministries and exposed their own vulnerabilities and challenges. Not only will I always remember them in my prayers, but I will remember them also during my studies of preparation for ministry. They are my ‘on-the-ground’ teachers, the ones who have shown me what passion for ministry looks like.

There are great things happening in Indonesia. And it is amazing how God can use a powerful tide of faith in a distant country to impact the singular faith journey of this one seminary student. With one more year of school before me and the looming question of “what’s next?” pressing ever closer, there are as many challenging months before me as there are behind. But I have been renewed in the living remembrance of what ministry is all about: living a passionate, infectious life of discipleship. It has taken a journey away from the familiarity of home to show me how to renew the faithfulness of my life and service. Our home environments can easily become all too comfortable so that even the most stretching of callings—that of the pastor—can ease into dull routine and habit. I thank God for the education that takes us outside of ourselves and shows us the bigger picture in which and towards which we are working: the very kingdom of God on earth.

-Whitney Pierce

Whitney is a 3rd year MDiv student from North Carolina and a regular contributor to the Beatitudes Society blog.


May 11 2011

Unique Perspectives for Common Good

A few weeks ago, as the final project in our oral speaking class taught by Dr. Rubin, international students at Candler held a “Mini Symposium.”  The title of this symposium was “International Student Perspectives on Resolving Conflict in and through the Church.”  The presenters in our symposium consisted of six Korean students, including me, and two African students.  We felt wonderful community support from Candler faculty members (Rev. Ellen, Dr. Kraftchick, and Dr. Jenkins) and American students who came to listen to our presentations, and we had a great time sharing unique perspectives based on different social contexts and on resolving conflicts.  One purpose of our class was to enhance our ability of oral speaking in English, but as an international student at Candler, I also learned the importance of my presence at Candler.  Sometimes in my first year, I felt difficulties due to my different cultural aspects and social context from my American classmates.  However, through this symposium, I found that my differences contributed to diversity at Candler, and this diversity can serve to give unique insight to the dominant culture.

The topic of my presentation was a lesson from inter-religious dialogue in the ministry of Rev. Won Yong Kang.  First, I introduced a social conflict raised by some conservative Christian groups in South Korea.  In 2007, Christians Youth Union held a massive prayer gathering for the destruction of Buddhist temples; this gathering caused a serious social conflict among religions in South Korea.  In order to resolve such a conflict among religions, I suggested following the pattern of inter-religious dialogue among six major religions in South Korea like that led by Rev. Won Yong Kang in 1965 as an alternative in relationship among religions. (Rev. Won Yong Kang was a Korean Presbyterian pastor and studied at Union Theological Seminary, so he was greatly influenced by Christian Realism)  Rev. Kang emphasized that believers should transcend the issue of salvation for members of other faiths, because this issue often cause violent behaviors to other religions.  Rev. Kang hoped that through inter-religious dialogue, believers can be more morally and spiritually mature by learning from other religions and serve the common good, especially social justice and peace.  While preparing my presentation, I found that there is a “Christian Dialogue Academy,” which keeps alive the spirit of Rev. Kang’s ministry, and this organization leads inter-religious dialogue to seek the common good. For example, one project involved gathering leaders of various religions to discuss a way to revitalize the rural economy in South Korea.

Even though I could not search all the specific aspects of Rev. Kang’s ministry, I found one possibility to make peace in society as well as among religions. When we consider the relatively short history of Korean Protestantism (about 100 years), Rev. Kang’s leadership is very striking, and his ministry was a prophetic ministry which attempted to give alternatives to the dominant culture (according to Brueggemann’s definition). Social conflict among religions is not a problem of only South Korea.  This issue is prevalent throughout the world, and I am confident that a Korean Pastor’s peaceful and active ministry can be one example for resolving the social conflict.  Similarly, as a Korean student at Candler, I want to keep contributing to Candler’s diversity by introducing unique perspectives based on different social context from American’s.  For me, this contribution is one of best my “joys” at Candler.

-Won Chul Shin

Won Chul is a rising second year MDiv at Candler from South Korea.


Apr 26 2011

Brian Green on the JD/MTS Program

Ever wonder what types of issues are discussed within joint degree programs at Candler or why student choose to pursue two graduate degrees simultaneously? Here Brian Green talks about his experiences within Candler’s MTS program, the JD program at Emory University School of Law, and Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion:


Apr 15 2011

The Seminary Experience

With two weeks to go, my time as a first-year seminarian is almost complete. Like every other academic year, the exams and papers have whirled by and the summer welcomes my return. But this year has been different, and it deserves some reflection.

When I applied to seminary, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but hoped that my role as a minister and person of faith would be clarified simply by applying – as though seminary would be some kind of all-knowing crystal ball. What a funny thought.

At the time, I was living in France, teaching English to French students and traveling to new locales every other week. The two years prior had been spent in coastal Mississippi, teaching 9th-12th graders History, Government/Economics, and Geography and coaching Track and Cross Country. On top of teaching, I had spent two summers in South Bend, IN participating in an intensive summer-long graduate program. By the end of May 2009, I was exhausted and in need of sleep and self-care. France had become not just an opportunity for adventure, but also a respite from the exhaustion that comes with teaching in the United States.

After four months of relaxation, I became restless. Sure the 12-hour work week was nice, and I loved each of the bakeries lining our small community’s streets, but I needed a challenge. So I applied to seminary.

When August rolled around, I couldn’t contain myself. Eager to meet my classmates, and even more excited to dive into my studies, I began Contextual Education at Metro State Prison as an intern prison chaplain four hours a week, I enrolled in classes, and  immediately connected with people in my advising group. Life was perfect.

It wasn’t until October that I started panicking. In the middle of writing a paper for Old Testament, my knees started to buckle. “What am I doing here? I don’t even like this stuff!” “Ugh, I hate writing this paper. I mean, I’m not even going to be ordained!” When my boyfriend looked at me and said, “You don’t really seem to be enjoying what you’re learning,” I thought “Oh, crap. I think you might be right.”

After that, I started to look for an exit plan. I made a pros and cons list. I talked to my sister, my mom, and my cousin. I cried to my boyfriend. I prayed, sort of.

Gritting my teeth, I entered January term with uncertainty. Not only was I uncomfortable, but I felt strange. I’d always been the person to say, “Grow where you’re planted,” and here I was trying my hardest to avoid my commitment to seminary. I was scared about what others might think, worried about what it would mean if I left, and mad that I had made a poor decision. Most of my questions ended with the question all of us ask as some point or another, “Do you even know who you are?”

My existential crisis did not end with one decisive event. Instead, it morphed into a process of discovery in which I started to examine more closely the elements of seminary that had made me most uncomfortable. What I realized is that I had been sitting in an Old Testament classroom discussing the significance of the three worlds of biblical interpretation, redaction theory, and exegesis, but I didn’t have the faintest clue what any of those things meant. I had spent every Friday working in the lock-down ward of a women’s prison, speaking to women through a rectangular flap in the door and feeling exhausted by and disenchanted with our justice system. I had absorbed myself in research about the American sex industry and the ways in which pastors can help care for all persons involved in such forms of entertainment. I missed teaching so badly, that I blamed seminary for robbing me of my gifts and talents. And lastly, I struggled to establish for myself a place in which I could foster my artistic side and produce creative projects. It seemed that I had become so overwhelmed that I couldn’t see the proverbial forest through the trees.

When I awoke to this realization, I was able to see seminary for what it is: a place in which human beings come to learn, grow, and be challenged in the name of God. It’s not about earning a formal degree or a collar so that you can become a minister in a church someday. If it is, you’ll probably burn out pretty quickly. It’s not about having all your ducks in the row. If it is, you’re in for a messy surprise (see: Job). It’s not about loving every single service experience, every single lecture, or even every book of the Bible. If it is, you are a better person than me. It’s not about being holier than thou or about power. If it is, we’ve lost Christ in the midst of it all. And, it’s not about always being comfortable, always knowing what it means to be a minister, or always liking what you’re doing. If it is, no one would last. Instead, it’s about journeying alongside other creatures of God who seek to discover new ways of conceiving of the Divine, communing with the cosmos, and living into the fullness of Life. We seminarians do this not because we think we have the answers or because talking to others about God is easy or even always natural, but because we know that our lives are sustained and enriched by union with the Most Gracious.

If you’re contemplating seminary, I’d encourage you to pursue the journey. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. If you’re a current student, I appreciate your presence, thank you for your endurance, and admire you for your voice. If you’re a graduate of seminary, I pray that the three years you spent at Candler continue to challenge you and inspire you for the rest of your ministry on this earth.

I have no doubt Candler was the right choice for me, even if there are days I wish it were otherwise. Not only has it shaken me, but it has also grounded me and changed me for the better. And, when all is said and done, there is not much more I could ask for in a seminary.

Amen.

- Jacqueline Jeffcoat

Jacqueline is a 1st year MDiv student from Fort Worth, Texas and a Student Ambassador.


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.


Jan 28 2011

Worthy of Your Call

As seminary students, we spend a significant amount of time wrestling with our call to ministry. We analyze it, discuss it with our friends and in the classroom, and we are always trying to come up with new and better ways to articulate it.

A few of us have a concrete vision of exactly what God wants from us, but most of us only have a hazy picture at best. However, it’s easy to come to terms with this as you begin to realize, that not only are you in good company, but that it’s okay not to have all the answers.

But sometimes I think we assume our call is a future one, hidden beyond all the caps and gowns of graduation. I think we forget that regardless of where God leads us in the future, he has led us here in the present.  A present call, I’m discovering, is much more difficult that a future one.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4[1], “Therefore, as a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

Now that perhaps is even scarier than having a call in the first place, having to live a life worthy of it. After all, it is a dangerous request Paul is making.  It requires us to take personal responsibility, stops us from resting on our laurels and reminds us that we have far to go.

But Paul doesn’t stop there.

He talks about attaining maturity, as though realizing you have a call is really only one of the first steps.

He talks about pursuing unity in Christ, reminding us that perhaps our call is bigger than just ourselves and that we were each called in order that body of Christ might be one.

He tells us to build each other up, to be careful what we say, to not speak in anger or bitterness, to love each other and forgive each other.

He seems to be concerned with how we live our everyday lives, with how we live out Christ in our routines and chores and arguments.

So maybe the question we discuss should include more than an analysis of our call, but a conversation about how we are living up to it and how we can help each other pursue that life that fully reflects both our call and the Holy One who gave it to us.

Ephesians 3 has some encouragement, and this is my prayer for you, for Candler, and for the whole Body of Christ as we strive to live lives worthy of our calling:

“ I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[2]

-  Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a 1st year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador.


[1] Notably, Ephesians is one of the disputed letters. However, that conversation will have to wait for another day, or maybe another blog post.

[2] Ephesians 3:17-19


Jan 26 2011

Kevin Murriel on Candler Advantage

New for 2011, each week we will feature a member of the Candler family sharing one of their stories by video.  Our first post is from Kevin Murriel:

Kevin is a third year MDiv student from Mississippi and active in many aspects of the Candler community.