Jul 26 2013

Awake, My Soul!

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.
D&J at Redondo

At Redondo with fellow Candler student, Jake Joseph

As the summer intern at the First UMC of Chula Vista, it is my… um… privilege?… to participate in all three worship services on Sunday morning. While I don’t always love arriving early enough to prep for the 8 am service each week, sitting alert in the chancel for those three hours does allow me ample time for the morning’s message to fully set in. Or at least, one would think so.

Out of the nine weeks I have served at this church in various ministries and capacities, I can still say Sunday mornings are my favorite. I love interacting with the congregation—sharing with them in the joys of their week, hearing stories about their families and recent vacations, and lifting words of support or comfort when they offer up tender places of need. I love experiencing the ways individuals come together to uphold one another by the unique bonds formed in a community of faith. I also appreciate the way their openness and vulnerability tends to pull me out of myself—loosening my grip on being the “best intern I can be,” and joining them in the humble journey of our life together.

In these years as a seminarian, I find there is a surprising ease with which I fall into the trap of self-exaltation. (a.k.a. “seminarian snobbery.”) With all of my fresh (if not still shallow) knowledge regarding the historicity of the gospels, traditional liturgies, and cultural sensitivity, it becomes harder and harder to sit in worship/meetings/casual lunches without examining all input through a (hyper)critical lens. In many ways I give thanks for this noticeable proof of learning—the way my education has become deeply embedded in ways that I cannot tune out in even the most sacred spaces. But, as I witnessed this Sunday, especially, my new scholarly perspective may at times cast shadows over the simple Good News intended not just for those in the pews, but for those of us in the fancy seats too.

This Sunday, my supervising pastor preached on the story of Nicodemus, and how even the most faithful people can get caught up in the external rules and functions of their religion—missing the true essence of what it means to be born of the Spirit. He preached, as John Wesley did, about awakening to God’s presence inherent within us as creatures of God’s creation, and inheritors of the kingdom.

It was only by the third go-round that I actually heard the message within the message. It sounded to me, then, more like this:

Chula Visita UMCDespite the challenges, stress, and seemingly constant to-do lists associated with being a seminary student and candidate for ministry, you are still called to be fully present to God and others. Though there will be times when it seems your work is what is most important, what truly matters is your engagement with your community and in the practical movement of the Spirit. Though you might find yourself emotionally drained, physically weary, and mentally fatigued, God is with you and in you—strengthening you that you might be fully present to others as a conduit of God’s love and mercy.  Wake up. You’re missing it.

As much as I love Mumford and Sons, Psalm 57:7-10 also reminds me to awaken from my frequented state of sleep-walking—from the disengaged distance of scholarly criticism and accidental liturgical snobbery—to be fully present to the reality of God’s glory all around us. And, while I am truly thankful for my newly acquired theological education, I am perhaps more grateful for the simple ways God gathers me back to Godself each and every day to remind me of my place in the kingdom as one who is in fact Spirit-born and called to bear witness to that Spirit in the world.

–Darin Arnston

Darin is entering her third year as a Candler MDiv student.  She is a native of Southern California, and her Candler Advantage internship allowed her to spend the summer at “home.”


Mar 1 2013

A Depth of Expression

The first time I saw the inside of Cannon Chapel was the first day of my orientation. I made a gutsy move in coming to Candler having never visited the school, or even Atlanta before, so after being funneled through check-in I quickly made my way to a seat in the worship space. Knowing the days of endless introductions and getting-to-know-you conversations were beginning, I felt comfort in the familiarity of stillness in a quiet sanctuary.

As I took in the space, I remember appreciating the raw and unfinished characteristics of the natural wood and bare concrete, as well as the seating in the round that gave even the architecture a dynamic quality–an expectation for something new. I don’t remember anything about that first service except the perspective I had from my floor seat near the organ and the distinct expectation that in that place I could expect the Spirit to move.

I chose Candler for many reasons, but their emphasis on student involvement in worship was a top selling point. I imagined, and it proves to be true that the chapel serves as sort of laboratory for students to experiment with different elements and styles of worship. It is a place to try things on, to mix genres, to do something somewhat radical with the expectation that the Spirit will use what we bring, provided it is an authentic gesture pointing to the Word.

This school is ripe with artistic and liturgical gifts. From trained and professional vocalists to seasoned and gifted musicians, plus the added hundred or so robust congregational singers, the musical elements of worship are offerings worthy of the One they praise. Add to that the occasional dramatized reading, non-traditional (read: not-so-cheesy) liturgical dance, or poetic prayer, and the embodied Presence is witnessed among us.

While I am ever challenged by the intellectual prowess of my peers, and grateful for the thoughtful engagement of difficult and problematic theological perspectives, I am also captivated by the artistically pastoral gifts that are selflessly lent to prayer and praise in worship each week. The enlightenment and growth in the classroom seems to spill over into what is offered in worship–adding to the depth of expression and interpretation within that space.

I am only a little over halfway through my time in seminary, but already sense that when I leave it will be our worship together that I miss most. Some of my most treasured and moving experiences on this journey have taken place in that chapel. While seminary can feel overwhelmingly taxing and sometimes even isolating, it is together in worship that I am reminded of our commonality and shared mission as leaders of the Church. It is where I sense most strikingly that when we offer all of ourselves–our gifts and will– to God that we will truly be used for the transformation of the world and the building of the kingdom on earth.

May it be so.

- Darin Arntson

Darin is a second year MDiv student from Southern California, a member of the Candler Liturgical Dancers, and a Student Ambassador.


Oct 12 2012

Any questions?

While studying in Panera the other day I was cornered by a talkative stranger. (How people think open books and vigorous typing on the laptop is an invitation for dialogue, I’ll never know…)

Unfortunately, I missed the warning signals telling me not to divulge my current course of study to this person, and he wasted no time in rattling off every negative stereotype and over-generalization about Christians he could think of. (Nice to meet you, too…) Luckily, I had just been working on a small group study about engaging in difficult conversations, so I listened patiently to his critiques and concerns. As it turns out, virtually everything he dislikes (ok, hates) about Christianity I am not so fond of either.

It is incredibly disheartening to meet people who are curious about faith –often deeply spiritual– who have for one reason or another been completely turned off to the Church. Some examples my new friend mentioned include arrogance, hypocrisy, judgment (especially regarding persons who identify LGBTQ), and general closed-mindedness. For someone like him with deep philosophical questions about the roots and guts and core of life, the faith presented to him by Christians seemed presumptive and shallow.

If there is anything I have learned in seminary thus far it is that this faith is not shallow….

Not having a background in religious studies upon entering Candler, I have found my Old and New Testament classes to be extremely challenging (and I don’t just mean the work-load). The Bible is meant to be our most instructive, concrete illustrator of the character and works of God. But as such, it is a conflictive, confounding document– creating in us more questions than answers every time we read it.

Studying the scriptures in such an academic environment has instilled in me a greater awareness of all that I still don’t know. Adding to biblical knowledge centuries worth of theological nuance and doctrinal subtlety, ethical standards and practice, liturgical tradition and the arts of care, I wonder how I might ever be well-enough equipped to bear the Good News, the Word of God, to the world in a way that is not only faithful, but honest and true.

There is just so much to learn.

Conversations like the one today, with strangers or even close friends and family, remind me why this work in seminary is so important. It is not only a time to receive information (though one might often feel reduced to a sponge-like existence), but to wrestle with the meaning behind the text, biblical or otherwise. It is a time to test the waters. To push against things to see how far they will lean before toppling over. To discover one’s own boundaries, and explore those set by others as well. Because in the real world people have real questions, and I know I cannot in good conscience ever claim to have all the answers.

But I can say I have wrestled, and have been faithful in listening for God’s voice among the multitudes of others. And I can do my best to provide the space and encouragement for others to do the same.

God bless us all on the journey.

- Darin Arntson

Darin is a second year MDiv student from Southern California and a Student Ambassador.