Feb 11 2013

Thou Shalt Love Your Facebook Friend?

Facebook memeOnce upon a time there were two topics that were supposed to be off limits: politics and religion. These were the topics that were considered inappropriate to discuss around company. But then internet happened and brought with it facebook and twitter and thousand different ways to express our every opinion, and we decided to throw all that decorum out the window.

So now I’m learning to navigate facebook at my own risk, because my facebook can be angry place to be.  There are sweet church folk posting hateful statuses about the government, high school friends ranting about conspiracy theories, and old college friends angrily picking fights about religion.  At times it seems that all the internet is good for is showing me racist, ignorant, angry, awful things from all directions. So when I see statistics about how divided our country is, I’m not really surprised.  Because it appears to me that everyone’s angry, and no one seems to do know what to do about it.

My first thought is that maybe this social media experiment has failed. Maybe it was better when we didn’t know what everyone thought about everything. Before anyone would could find a blog post supporting their point view and offer it as “evidence.”  Before 140 characters became an acceptable way to share your religious views with the world.

Because, Lord knows, it was a lot easier to love our neighbors before they became our facebook friends.

Frankly, it seemed like too much of a mess for this seminarian to want to deal with it. But then my (wise) husband made an observation as I was ranting about pastors who post hateful things on Twitter and how I’d rather people just stick to posting pictures of their cute babies.

“That’s what’s both good and bad about it, I guess. It’s life without the filter. It’s the whole human experience right there for us to see.”

The whole human experience. What it means to be human somehow displayed on our computer screens. A whole mess of a world.

A world that God still loves.

And somewhere along the line, I’m pretty sure I’ve learned that as Christians we are called to love it too.  I’m not sure how as ministers we are supposed to speak love and truth on the internet. I’m not sure what it looks like to be a witness to Christ online, and unfortunately, Candler doesn’t offer a class on how to do pastoral care over Twitter.[1]

Jennifer WyantI’m not sure how to love facebook friends as they offer hate.  I’m not sure how to offer grace in the midst of frustration and anger.  Or when to comment on a post and when to just leave it alone.  Or what it looks to be an example of Christ in a hurting, messy, angry, lovely world.

But then again, I’m still figuring out how to do all that in real life too.

So maybe the only thing we can do is pray for grace as we figure out how to best love God with our digital selves.

And try to love our facebook friends as we love ourselves.

- Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta, a graduate of The University of Evansville, and a Candler Student Ambassador.



[1] Other classes I wish Candler would offer include “How to Use Church Copiers” and “How to Eat all the Food Your Church Feeds You and Not Gain Weight”


Sep 28 2012

Word of God Speak?

“And if we’re going to be faithful to scripture, we must learn to love it for what it is, not what we want it to be.” Rachel Held Evans

Jennifer ReadingThis might seem like an obvious statement for a seminarian to make, but I think about the Bible a lot. So much so that for a long time, the Bible had been mentally reduced to a seminary textbook which  I lugged begrudgingly  from class to class. After all, I have spent the last few years reading, exegeting, parsing, translating, exploring, preaching from, wrestling with and sometimes almost drowning in the Scriptures. And I should tell you that it is hard to love something when it’s your homework assignment.

But lately, I’ve noticed that the Bible has snuck up on me again.

Because I used to think that I understood the Bible (after all, I was the 8th grade Bible champion back in 2001). But in many ways that Bible I understood was so flat and I thought I had figured it out. I used to think I loved the Bible but I think in many ways, I had no idea what that even meant.

But now I spend my lazy Saturday afternoons with my Greek New Testament flipped open to Romans with multiple commentaries scattered around my kitchen table and I fall asleep at night thinking about Genesis creation stories and what they mean.  I struggle with the Bible all the time. I fight with it. I want it to say what I think it should say and when it doesn’t, I want to pretend that it does anyway.

It confuses me, because I don’t know what to do with Joshua…or Daniel and I certainly don’t know what to do with that story where Elijah has two bears eat all those children.

It overwhelms me, and I don’t know what to think about it. Because the claims it is making are too expansive for me to grasp.  So I just stop. I move on to Kierkegaard or Barth, but they never let me stay away for long. Before I know it, I’m back in Romans wondering what exactly Paul means when he talks about the righteousness of God.

But it also still finds ways to inspire me, like when I stumble upon verses in Jeremiah that say: “

Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

And in all this struggle, I am beginning to see that the Bible is deeper than I ever imagined. It is more complex and beautiful that I ever gave it credit for being.  And now as I read it, I hear the different voices that speak out across the generations to tell me something about what it means to be a Child of God, and about who that God is. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it in her book, The Preaching Life:

“[Because of the Bible] I am not an orphan. I have a community, a history, a future, a God. The Bible is my birth certificate and my family tree, but it is more: it is the living vein that connects me to my Maker, pumping me the stories I need to know about who we have been to one another from the beginning of time, and who we are now, and who we shall be when time is no more.”

It is a testament to who God is, and just like God, it is too intricate to be condensed into devotional or even a textbook. And so, I’m learning how to love the Bible again, learning how to love it for it is in its entirety and not just love the pieces that fit into my little ideas about God and God’s people.

And I’m learning what it means to say that this book is the Word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

-Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.


Feb 3 2012

Pilgrim’s Progress…or to the Holy Land and Back Again

pil·grim/ˈpilgrəm/

Noun: a person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of  religious devotion.

(Note: not a person who wore a funny hat and traveled on the Mayflower.)

 

Jennifer WyantAlmost three weeks ago, I walked a prayer labyrinth in Nazareth. I was trying to figure out what it meant to be more than just a tourist, more than just a traveler collecting memories for the scrapbook.

I knew how to be on a trip, but what I didn’t know was how to be on a pilgrimage.

I had joked with people before my trip to Israel with the WMEI[1] and 23 other seminarians that I was going to look for stones that Jesus had walked on, but in reality, I didn’t know if I would see any.

You see, seminarians can be a tad bit skeptical. We tend to question most everything we hear. I wanted to hear archaeological evidence on every sight. I wanted proof at every place that this was in fact the place where Jesus had been.

But then our tour guide, Wisam, a Palestinian Christian, spoke to us outside the Church of the Annunciation as we huddled together in the wind:

“It’s not that Jesus might have been here that makes this place holy. Jesus did not come to make stones holy. It’s the people who came here to worship over the centuries that makes this place holy. It’s the people. It’s the worship of God that turns this space into holy ground.”

Pilgrims for centuries had come searching for God in these places. And God had met them here. God had been meeting people here for thousands of years, and that made these places sacred ground.
And as I saw people crowded around the altar at the Garden of Gethsemane or taking the Eucharist in a church in Emmaus, I realized that it wasn’t about whether or not, it was this garden or the next garden over that Jesus physically prayed in or if it was that tomb or another tomb where they laid Jesus, it didn’t matter.

Because ultimately, Jesus wasn’t there anymore; he wasn’t in any of them. He is alive, meeting people on the long road home and in cold crowded churches, making them holy.

And so I went and walked in places where Jesus walked and maybe in some places where he didn’t. I walked around Israeli malls and refugee camps, past border fences and into the Dead Sea, along the Via Delarosa and the Sea of Galilee.

And I wondered what it meant to realize the reality of the resurrection and the gospel of Christ in a place that still knows so much hate and brokenness.

And as I walked around that prayer labyrinth, I realized that above all else,  no matter where following these footsteps led, I wanted to always walk in the places where Jesus walked, whether it be at a Palestinian refugee camp or back here among the halls of the CST[2].

And through all that, somehow I became a pilgrim.

- Jennifer Wyant


[1] World Methodist Evangelism Institute (http://www.wmei.ws/wordpress/)

[2] Candler School of Theology Building

Jennifer is a 2nd year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador.


Sep 30 2011

The Seminarians’ Prayer

God,

We think about you all the time.

We think about people who think about you and think about what they wrote about you. And then we write about them.

And yet sometimes, God, we cannot find you even in our thoughts. Our minds do feel like a labyrinth in which we have gotten lost and Scripture feels too much like the bricks blocking the exit than the string that guides us out.

And so we grow tired of thinking.

We talk about you all the time.  We throw your name around like we own it. We hide our confusion about you into declarative statements, saying that we know you are like this and we know you wouldn’t do that.

But we don’t know.

We don’t know you, at least not as much as we would we like.

Forgive us our hubris and our eagerness to talk about you which so often exceeds our desire to listen to you. It’s just so much easier to talk about you than to say it to your face.

But, God, we remember that you called us here, though there are days when this ivory tower looks nothing like your Kingdom and we certainly don’t look like we belong within it.

Remind us, God, that appearances can be deceiving,  that grades do not measure our worth.

God, we want to fight for justice, to stand for mercy, to love our enemies. But also, we want to take a nap, spend an evening alone with our families, and go to bed not worried about books still unread on our night table.

You said once that to follow you, there were crosses we had to carry. We know this small academic cross is tiny compared to the one you carried once, but some days we can hardly even drag it behind us, let alone pick it up.

But thankfully, You also said once that those who are weary should come to you. So here we are.

Because to whom else could we go?

Because at the end of the day, there is no one else that we would rather think about.

- Jennifer Wyant

Jennifer is a 2nd year MDiv student from Atlanta, GA and a Student Ambassador.


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


Nov 1 2010

Cloud of Witnesses

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 11:1

I have been told that Halloween is every Candler student’s favorite pagan holiday. Now, there are a few comments that could be made about this. (For instance, only at Candler do people tend to distinguish between pagan and religious holidays). But that conversation will have to be another blog post, because in all honesty, I’ve never cared much for Halloween. I mean, I appreciate it, but mostly, it is has served only to signify that Christmas is less than two months away. (Though I did just learn that if you go to Chipotle dressed like a burrito, they give you a free burrito.)

But Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, which means many churches will simultaneously be celebrating All Saints Day. This holiday, which is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic tradition, serves as a day to remember those saints who have gone before us in this Christian journey, to remember those Christians who have served as an example and a guide to us in our own struggles. In the Catholic tradition, this function mainly to celebrate the literal saints, but in Protestant circles, it has been broadened to include all believers.

Pitts Theology LibraryNow, this is a holiday I can get on board with, even if doesn’t get me a free burrito. The esteemed Dr. Ellison teaches in his pastoral care classes that every person has a community of saints who helped get them where they are today. People who prayed and worked and dreamed so that we can be where we are right now.

They are our very own cloud of witnesses, and we should remember them.

It’s easy to overlook them, I think, especially in a society where independence is so valued and the mindset is that if you want something you have to get it yourself.  Christianity tells us otherwise. We are not supposed to do it on our own, and in fact, we can’t. Some of our community we know. It’s our parents and our grandparents, our mentors and our pastors, but some of them we don’t. For instance, the mere fact that I’m at a seminary right now means that women who I won’t ever know worked to earn me that right.

I often study in the Pitts Theological Library, which at one time served as the entire theology school. The main area is where the old chapel used to be, and when I study in there, I can’t help but be drawn into the community there that’s greater than myself and the class of 2013. It is a holy place. People have been praying, worshipping and studying here for a long time. The questions that I am wrestling through have been wrestled through many times there. But they persevered.  And their perseverance gives me hope, and thus I can run the race set out before me.

How did you remember your saints, both known and unknown, this year?

-Jennifer Wyant

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