The Queer Ground – J. Pace Warfield-May

Brace yourselves for the beauty you are about to read, friends. Ever wanted to know what systematic, queer, Lutheran theology looks like? Well, here it isin the form of J. Pace Warfield-May and their powerful reflection on queer joy. Happy Pride, and read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student and Interim Blog Editor


TW: sexual violence mention

CW: violence against queer people and people of color


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“The air (caeli) and the ground (terra) are full of your glory” – the Sanctus

To look at me

through a smirr of rain

is to taste the iron

in your own blood

-Kathleen Jamie, “The Wishing Tree”

“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” begins the second creation story.[1] We are told that the first human was made out of the ground, shaped out of mud, and then God breathed into their nostrils “the breath of life,” and that first human became a living being.

Out of the ground we were formed, and for the next three million years we have tried to distance ourselves from the ground with which we share our bodies.

Okay, sure, maybe we were not literally made from the ground, surely we evolved over millennia through the process of evolution by natural selection, but our bodies, our physical selves, are made of carbon and iron and calcium and oxygen and the same elements that make up all life and make up our universe. How quickly we try to align ourselves with the heavens and focus on our intellect, come up with myths about being some pinnacle of evolution, create elaborate dualisms that align our bodies with their dirty, earthen origin yet our minds with heaven, and then, how much of a stretch is it to go from earthy body to sinful body, heavenly mind to godly soul?

I struggled for a long time with what to write about when asked to write a post for pride month this year. A global pandemic with 7.5 million people infected and half a million dead continues to burn through countries. Protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, named and unnamed black men, women, and nonbinary people as a result of police violence continue to call for justice even as news coverage begins to fade. As I am typing this, it is on the eve of the four-year anniversary of the Pulse shootings in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people primarily Latinx, primarily queer, were murdered.

I have a strong urge to write about queer joy, the beauty of queer happiness and love, the holiness of queer touch and intimacy and longing. But then I remember that LGBTQIA+ people are at greater risk for food insecurity, housing instability, underemployment and unemployment, and on average earn lower wages than cisgender, heterosexual people.

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This affects LGBTQIA+ people of color at an even higher rate. The average black transwomen, for instance, makes less than $10,000 a year. [2] I remember that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQIA+, and 30% of homeless people of all ages accessing services identify as LGBTQIA+.[3] And I remember that there is a long history of violence and harassment of the LGBTQIA+ community by law enforcement, which continues to be a pervasive issue. Nearly one quarter of trans women report receiving harassment from law enforcement, and six percent report receiving violence from police. This again disproportionately affects LGBTQIA+ people of color.

Additionally, 73% of LGBTQIA+ people living with HIV had interactions with police in the prior year, with 21% of those reporting harassment or verbal or physical violence from law enforcement.[4] I remember how prevalent racism is even within the LGBTQIA+ community that can make building support networks, finding romantic or sexual partners, having access to community resources, and access to representation even more challenging. LGBTQIA+ people of color, and in particular black and brown trans women and non-binary femmes, disproportionately are victims of violence, sexual assault, and homelessness.

I remember these things and I think that I’m not sure cis straight people deserve to see our joy.

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.[5] But all I taste is ash and the iron in my own blood. It is too easy to talk about heaven when you’re standing on poisoned ground.

So let us address the ground first.

The ground I am speaking about is a metaphor, to be clear. It is what humankind was molded out of, and it is what we shall return to when we are dust. It is the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. It is the mud that Jesus mixed with his spit to bring healing. The ground that held Jesus’ lifeless and broken body for three days. It is the ground from which dead blood cries for justice. It is the ground in which 32 million people who died from complications from HIV/AIDS are buried. It is the ground from which the rock of ages and the firmament springs forth from, spiraling into the universe. The ground that is considered unclean, dirty, riddled with creeping, crawling things. The ground that is pumped full of pollution, the ground under which every war has ever been fought.

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The ground which absorbed my tears after the death of my brother. The ground which was a source of fascination for so many children who play and get their hands dirty in it. The ground which supports life and sustains it.

The queer person is tied closely to the ground.

Remember that dualism I brought up in the beginning, about a strict heaven/earth distinction, in which philosophy and learning and intellect are tied in with heaven and godliness and things like the body and its functions and even entire categories of people like women are associated with the ground and sin? The queer body is tied to the ground, and so too queer love, desire, pain, longings, joys, and heartbreaks. Our sex is called dirty and unclean. Our love is called unnatural. Our entire lives are seen as sinful, broken, and disordered. The queer ground—containing our bodies and our lives—is so often seen at best as a perversion of God’s natural order and at worst as entirely removed from God’s grace, love, and glory.

And when we experience trauma in our lives, that trauma is so often absorbed into our bodies and hearts and minds and seen as absolutely unworthy of any redemption. And sometimes, it is seen as deserved.

As an example: I was around ten years old when I first experienced sexual violence. When I was sexually assaulted again, once in college, and then once more a few years ago, all of those experiences were written on my soul and in my body as deserved because I have been taught that my entire life as a queer person is a life of sin, so any sin done to my body or heart or mind is sin on sin. There are so many similar stories from my queer friends. About half of trans, nonbinary, and GNC people have experienced sexual violence. A quarter of gay men and 44% of lesbian women have experienced sexual violence, and numbers are even higher for bi men, women, and nonbinary people.[6] So many of us don’t report, so many of us don’t even realize the violence done to our bodies is even violence.

With therapy, a strong support network, and a doctoral level of theological training, I was able to find redemption in my body, to find new life and hope brimming just underneath the surface of the queer ground. Not everyone has that luxury.

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But let me give a small taste of what that looks like.

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Today it tastes like strawberries as I kiss my beloved’s strawberry lips. Let me tell you about the safety of an embrace, about how deeply I can feel at home in a touch. Can I tell you about the first time I felt at home—truly at home—in my fat and queer body, was at a pride parade surrounded by a myriad of other bodies of various shapes, sizes, colors, and ability levels?

Do you know the sacrament of a kiss? Have you heard the whisper of God’s love fill your heart as she whispers alongside the voice of your beloved? Have you eaten your fill of bread only to realize how deep your hunger still goes when you participate in that foretaste of the eschatological feast to come, that foretaste that is called brunch among your closest and queerest friends? When you have community in spades because you finally gave yourself permission to look for community beyond the church walls and find it in queer salons—the living rooms of friends—often gathered around houseplants and cats and dogs and

The earth springs forth from God’s left hand—the firmament, the ground of all being. It rises. And continues to rise, spreading further and further apart, in every direction, an ever-expanding universe. What is to prevent the universe from expanding into oblivion? The right hand, the delta. The right hand of God is the air–the heavens—and it holds the chaos in place, a continual rapturous swirl, from spinning too far, the broken from shattering too deeply, the death from outpacing the life. Every breath, every loss, every heartbreak, every death, every birth, every touch and taste, every whisper, every ecstasy, everything remembered and everything forgotten, has taken place in this space between the ground and the heavens, the firmament and the delta.

It is easy to find holiness in community. It is heartwarming, enriching food for the soul to experience God’s love in queer joy.

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I find redemption in my queer body, sparks of God’s joy and grace in the here and now, every time I give my permission to love myself, to claim my voice, to work for justice, and especially every time I give myself permission to feel queer joy.

It’s harder to find redemption in queer pain, sorrow, and suffering. But it’s there.

My blood shares the iron with the ground as it pulses through my heart and throughout my circulatory system. The queer body is the queer ground, and that ground is holy. As the Sanctus says, all of the air and all of the ground is full of God’s glory. God breathed life into the queer ground and look at how it grows and lives and loves. Look at how it tells the goodness of God.

There is no separation between heaven and earth, the air and the ground. It is all saturated with divine love and grace.

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It is the queer ground I was made from. I will be buried in that same ground. And one day, from the ground, new life will be breathed into these dry bones. I am made of ground, and the ground is full of God’s glory.


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J. Pace Warfield-May (they/them/their) is a PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California and received their MA in systematic theology from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (now United Lutheran Seminary). They are studying systematic theology, with research interests in Martin Luther and the Reformation, queer theology, and deconstruction. Pace presently lives in the Baltimore-DC metropolitan area with their husband, Matt, and two dogs.


[1] Genesis 2:4b and following.

[2]http://www.thetaskforce.org/povertyreport/

[3] https://nationalhomeless.org/issues/lgbt

[4] https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/lgbt-discrim-law-enforcement/

[5] Psalm 34:8.

[6] https://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-assault-and-the-lgbt-community

We Live in a World… by Apu Seyenkulo, Linda Johnson Seyenkulo

Dr. Apu Seyenkulo lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina – living a busy and fulfilling life as a physical therapist entrepreneur and creative. But as a Black woman, these last weeks have been rough, and like so many under duress – like George Floyd – she reaches out for her mom and she answers. Yet her mother – Rev. Linda Seyenkulo – is not only an ocean away in Liberia, working as a missionary in tandem with her husband the Rev. Jensen Seyenkulo, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, she is also white. How do this mother and daughter care for one another and their mutual fear with such difference and distance between them? Read and learn and share.

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Blog Editor


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Apu Seyenkulo, daughter:

We live in a world…

We live in a world where I can’t sleep because I am traumatized by fear. Fearful that my brother, sister, boyfriend and/or friends will walk out of the house and not return.

As my brother was driving home the other night, we were on the phone catching up; talking through the Bluetooth, driving less than 6 blocks home and doing nothing wrong. Through the phone I hear my brother say “Oh my gosh”… I go silent. I hear a police car’s siren/horn “Whoop, Whoop” sounding like its inside of my brother car. The fear… the anxiety… the terror that flowed through my body is indescribable. Followed by silence. Silence you could cut with a knife. Hearing my brother’s breath accompanied with “they are gone”… I could have dropped me to my knees in relief.

The awkward silence that followed was filled with me thanking God that he wasn’t murdered for driving home while black.

We live in a world where it is exhausting to check social media or watch the news. We are afraid we will see another black person killed, yanked out the car or sprayed with tear gas. We are afraid to hear the words of our leaders, hoping they are not supporting the injustice that has been endured for…forever.

We live in a world where we are to go to work, attend Zoom meetings and discuss upcoming celebrations like we are not affected by the trauma in the world right now. We are expected to focus on our daily tasks; acting as if we are in a headspace that is the same as our white counterparts.

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We are not okay. We are tired of not being heard. We are tired of being referred to as “thugs”. We are tired of being scared to drive. We are tired of being afraid of the people that should be protecting us. We are tired of a broken system. We are tired of acting like everything is okay. We are tired…

I hate violence. I hate people getting hurt. I want people to be empowered to change this broken system.

Regardless, there is one thing that needs to be understood…

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Black Lives Matter. This IS a thing… the world we live in needs to act like it.

 


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Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, mother:

We live in a world…. My daughter and I, same world, different experiences. She wrote the previous piece.  She is biracial.  My husband, son, and other daughter are people of color. 

I am white . My reality is different than theirs. They are flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and so my reality changes.  When my daughter writes “…traumatized by fear. Fearful that my brother, sister, boyfriend and/or friends will walk out of the house and not return” I feel that fear in my gut. 

Anti-racism training taught me the power racism has over us: power over people of color; power to privilege white people;  power over all of us to destroy us. I define racism as race prejudice plus the misuse of systemic power.

Apu’s experience is racism’s power over  people of color.  She spoke her experience eloquently.  In her description racism makes people of color daily be discounted,  anxious, fearful for safety and fearful of death. It is the air she, our family, and friends breathe.

For most white people this is racism we understand: it affects people of color and many of us feel we are not a part of it.

White friends read her writing; they were moved. As a white person, I can read what she wrote, feel moved, sad, or guilty. Then I can move back to my life without changing.  I can decide what she wrote is not true because it’s not my experience.  Racism affects us white people collectively in those ways.

But Apu is my child, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone as is her brother.

Because of  them, their father, their sister, her boyfriend and colleagues/friends of color, I know my privilege and my participation in the systems they suffer from. 

Knowing this does not make me better than other white people. I do not understand all about racist privilege. What it means is I continue to learn how racism affects me and my privilege.

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As a white person racist privilege forms me. Here are ways it works for me: (Repeat the refrain after each sentence.)

It is assumed I am intelligent until I prove differently.  

Refrain: “It’s just how it is…because I am white.”

If I do something wrong, no one attributes it to me being white. Refrain:

In my denomination, I can be a pastor to any ethnic group; no one asks how long I’ve been Lutheran.  Refrain:

If I go to the doctor, my condition will be taken seriously. Refrain:

No one follows me around a store when shopping. Refrain:

The police protect me and serve me. Refrain:

If I pass a counterfeit bill, it will likely be assumed it was accidental or I will be arrested and released on my own with a court date:  Refrain:

Encounters with police are respectful. I may be charged but I can expect to come out alive.  Refrain:

 I can hear about George Floyd’s death and my first response could be “not all police officers are bad.” (they are not but the first issue is that a man is dead.)   Refrain:

I can choose to not preach on racial issues because it’s uncomfortable. Refrain:

The list of racism privileges for white people is long, much longer and deeper than what is here.

Much of what I began to learn about racist privilege is because I am white with children and a husband who are people of color. I learned because of them and that is privilege in itself.  I also know when I am alone, I am treated differently than when I am with my family. The air I breathe changes. 

And this is my shame: sometimes when I am alone as a white person (without my family) it feels like a relief!  This. Is. My. Great. Shame. 

Being white I can choose to stay in shame and guilt. Many of us would like to do that. It keeps us from losing privilege. To my white brothers and sisters, as a start,  I  encourage you to take a note from my courageous, gifted daughter: think out loud, on paper. 

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Start with: how does racism privilege you as a white person? 

Read, learn about systemic institutional racism.  Get involved with organizations working for institutional anti-racist change.  Give money to anti-racist justice organizations.  Stop changing the subject.  Listen to, believe people of color.  Check out non-white literature, media, arts.  

And VOTE in ways that will change the system.

For those of  you who read Apu’s experience and said, “I don’t know where to start.” 

Start here. 

Don’t stop.

It’s a matter of life and death. 

It is our work.


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Giving thanks to God for our lives and this world we live in… we are:

Dr. Apu Seyenkulo (far left), Doctor of Physical Therapy, serving as a Pediatric Physical Therapist located in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I am an avid physical fitness buff,  artist, author, and entrepreneur.

Rev. Linda Johnson Seyenkulo (second from right), ELCA pastor serving in Liberia, West Africa in theological education.  I am a reader, singer, writer. I have worked in anti-racism organizing/training for many years. I was Dean of Community at LSTC, 2003-2008.

A shout-out to our family: Bishop Jensen Seyenkulo (middle), Kenata Seyenkulo (far right), and Yongor Linnea Seyenkulo (second from left), who make our lives rich and meaningful—and educational.

Love Wins in Taiwan, the Heart of East Asia – Yu-Jen Dai

This, our first post for Pride Month, is a dazzling mix of LGBTQ and gender issues, Asian Christian identity, global Lutheranism, as well as education about one of the world’s most distinct cultures and nations: Taiwan. To say much more would be to give away too much, so we will just end with a sincere ‘thank-you’ to our author, Evangeline (Yu-Jen) Dai for her time – and all the rest of you? Read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Blog Editor


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I do not like politics, but I have to say this:

My home country, Taiwan, is an independent country that has been oppressed by the Chinese government on many international occasions.

Taiwan has its own government, president, currency, and constitution; people in Taiwan can vote; the passport of Taiwan is green, not red (scarlet) as China… Taiwan is an independent country, not a province of China.

Why does this matter for the PRIDE Month?

Because Taiwan is the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage (see: Wikipedia, PBS, or Google it for more).

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I would say the climax of its legalizing process came along the way of my first year of seminary.

Not only for same-sex marriage, but Taiwan has also been working on gender equity as well. In my first semester of seminary, I took a Christian Ethics course, and my group presentation topic was “cisgender privilege” and how to interrupt the systemic injustice of that privilege. Through my research, I found out that during the 5 years since I left Taiwan, radical movements for gender equity in Taiwan were vigorous – most importantly because of the government’s support.

All-gender restrooms were set in many public places. The Gender Equity Education Act has been revised many times when a new need emerged. I have to say, to faster confront systematic injustice, my government’s ruling would be sufficient. Taiwan is a democratic country, but individualism is not a thing, most people will follow the rules even unwillingly. Wearing uniforms in school is a tradition in Taiwan, binary one as girls are forced to wear skirts; now some schools break that tradition and allow boys to wear skirts, and they really did, in order to show inclusion for gender diversity.

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New Taipei Municipal Panchiao Senior High School, Taiwan

On 24 May 2017, the Constitutional Court of Taiwan ruled that the then-current marriage law was unconstitutional and that the constitutional right to equality and freedom of marriage guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry as well (Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748). Political opposition to this legislation tried to fight and request a popular vote, then in November 2018, the Taiwanese electorate passed referendums to prevent the recognition of same-sex marriages in the Civil Code and to restrict teaching sex education with LGBT issues. I remember I was so sad and hid myself in the room crying. My classmates understood I was having a hard time and they were very supportive for me.

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The sad part of it was that many groups oppose same-sex marriage using the Bible and Christian faith to support their ideas. They made most people believe Christian = anti-gay. But this creates hatred and is not helpful in bring people to Christ… Thankfully, there are still some affirming Christians who work very hard to show the real inclusive love of God to people.

After the vote, the Government responded by confirming that the Court’s ruling would be implemented and that the referendums could not support laws contrary to the Constitution. On May 17, 2019, the Legislative Yuan approved the same-sex marriage bill; on the same day, after heavy rains, a rainbow showed up in the sky, people posted the rainbow photos and said even God approves the bill. The bill took effect on 24 May 2019.

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Presidential Office Building of Taiwan with the rainbow on May 17, 2019. From Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen‘s Facebook page

However, this did not bring the fight to an end.

The legislation for same-sex marriage only applies to the couples that all both from the countries permit same-sex marriage. Many same-sex couples have a partner in China, Japan, Southeast Asia, etc. these couples are still not able to get married. So the next level of activism is to advocate change for full inclusion, so the partners of Taiwanese citizens from other parts of Asia can get married and apply for naturalization in Taiwan.

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Now, allow me to share something interesting from my cultural background. There are different Chinese characters and phrases for the English word “marry” shows the gender roles in ancient Chinese tradition:

1. For females’ action to marry a man is 嫁 (Jià), which is combined by two words: 女 (, means female, girl, or woman) at the left and 家 (Jiā, means home, family) at the right — for a woman to get married is making the woman have a new home. Another explanation is “a woman can only form her own home after she gets married.”

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2. For males’ action to marry a woman is 娶 (), which is combined by two words: 取 (, means to obtain, to acquire, to receive, etc.) at the top and 女 (, means female, girl, or woman) at the bottom — for a man to get married is taking a woman.

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3. A common phrase for all genders is 結婚, which means to establish/conclude a wedding/marriage. However, the first word 結 (Jié) is the verb, that means to establish/conclude, the second word 婚 (Hūn) is a noun, which means marriage. Most same-sex couples will use this phrase as the verb for their marriage.

The Chinese characters for marriage “婚” “姻” content the element 女 (, means female, girl, or woman). What could that mean? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to emphasize women in the “traditional marriage” (a term frequently used by Chinese users)? Actually, similar to ancient Israel, in ancient China, women have no right of themselves, but as goods that men would take the women home.

As a result, I found it problematic for same-sex gay couples to use these words for marriage. I asked some gay friends in Taiwan that how do they feel about it, they kind of just accept it; unless they want to use restrained classical Chinese to say “get married”: 成親 (Chéng Qīn) which literally means “become relatives/in-laws” but have been used as “get married.” But this phrase only exists in historical dramas and novels, we don’t use it in contemporary speech.

From this example, we can see how heterosexism has dominated the world and how women have been suppressed in this culture for so long, and we know better that there are more cultures and traditions which think similarly.

We are lucky to live in a world that is more open and just for gender equity and sexual justice, yet we have a lot of work to do. In some corners of the world, our siblings are still being discriminated against.

We shout, we pray, and we hope. One day, there will be no more tears…

For Taiwan, the first female president was elected and served since 2016; she was just re-elected for the term of 2020 to 2024.

Let us pray:

Eternal God, we thank you for the multi-colored rainbow that reminds us of your covenant with all. Help us learn to see the beauty and dignity in the colors of all people, as we see the beauty in the colors of the rainbows. Let all the world celebrate every person you created in your image; with faith, not with fear; with hope, not with despair; with love, not with hate. Heal all who are wounded, grant us the courage to continue proclaiming the gospel with diversity and inclusion.

We pray in the name of Christ, Amen.


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Evangeline (Yu-Jen) Dai is a MDiv student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of CLU, a candidate for Word and Sacrament ministry with TX-LA Gulf Coast synod. She was born and grew up in Taiwan, converted to Christianity in 2013, moved to the US (Houston) in 2014, joined Faith Lutheran Church, Bellaire, TX in 2015, and moved to Berkeley for seminary in Fall 2018. Evangeline likes arts, graphic design, and crafting. She has a YouTube channel as a side ministry for music videos featuring ELW hymns sung in Mandarin; she also translates contemporary hymns from English to Chinese or vice versa. Embracing diversity and advocating for minority are her passion; except gospels, her favorite Bible verse is Galatians 3:28.

I Woke Up Tuesday Morning – Trevon Tellor

Trevon Tellor had just completed his sophomore year at Augsburg University when George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. As protests erupted in the city, he quickly got involved in protests – eventually working as a protest medic. Here is his testimony from those intense, passionate days from last week – his testimony as an activist, student of history, a black man, and a Lutheran. Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, Ph. D. student


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I woke up Tuesday morning and was immediately met with the snuff film that was passed around social media and major media outlets.

The first thing I had to see that morning was a man with skin like mine on the ground with his breath, God’s light, slowly snuffed out of him. My heart sank and tears welled in my eyes. I’ve begun to grow numb to the killings of Black people in this country; there’s too many to keep track of now. But this was different, 8 minutes of a man begging for his life. I wanted to scream at the video, “Do something, don’t just stand there and video tape it! You can stop him!” I sobbed, I raged, my mind drifted to daydreams of broken windows, burning buildings. I called out of work and grieved. Later on that day through my screen I had to witness people I see in class, people I care about, get brutalized by rubber bullets and tear gas as they protested against police brutality and murder. The many sins of the Minneapolis Police Department were crying to the heavens with vengeance.
Throughout the course of the week I went out every day but one to go to the frontlines. I encountered rubber bullets, tear gas, and flashbangs thrown at myself and other protestors without warning, often resulting in the injury of many other protestors. I heard of some pretty horrific injuries, but I never saw them the first couple days I went out. I felt empowered as I saw people in my city coming together.

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Quickly supply drop offs were set up for protestors outside of the 3rd precinct on the first day at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation a few blocks from the 3rd precinct and other various locations around south Minneapolis. When I walked by the front of the church it was incredible. In the grass out front were stacks of cases of water, there had to be at least 30 cases, and bins filled with granola bars, and other snack foods. This continued to grow day by day as grocery stores shut down out of fear of being looted. With no hesitation people opened up their pantries, drove to the suburbs for food and drove as fast as they could to Holy Trinity and the other neighborhood drop off points set up regular people who happened to live near each other.

It was a modern feeding of the 5000, maybe not a divine miracle, but an incredible task that people across the metro accomplished in little time, with little hierarchical organization.

Like the people Christ ministered to that day we were hungry after witnessing the gospel, we did not tell the people to go out of town to buy food (Luke 9:12-17). No, we fed each other with what we had, and lo and behold we had enough.

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Holy Trinity food collection on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

We did not panic, we did not despair, we trusted in the body of Christ, our community, to provide for us. Our communities were being abandoned by the people who swore an oath to “protect and serve” in favor of concentrating their forces to brutally repress protestors. But we did fine without them, the vision of abolition, a police free world, was being built before my very eyes.

On Saturday my partner and I went down to the 5th precinct with medical supplies in case people were hurt by the police. The protest during the day was beautiful, we took kneeling moment of silences, with our raised fists in the air for George. I couldn’t help but see that there was indeed a liturgy of the street. A constant cycle of sermons, protest chants that replace the usual hymns of our churches, the silence as prayer. I felt at home, my own church may be closed due to the pandemic, but I found another one in the street. Around 6:30 pm we went to the medical station outside of the then-looted K-Mart to help set it up, we pulled fence lengths and signs together to create a clinic with people we had never met. Supplies were brought in and some were even expropriated from the K-Mart employee break room by a masked scavenger.

We readied ourselves for the worst, knowing that police had been getting increasingly aggressive.

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I paced back and forth, rifling through our supplies that were dropped off to our bay, unwrapping what I could to save time when it hit the fan. I smoked a nervous cigarette with another volunteer medic who was a lifeguard, we were afraid of being arrested, we couldn’t afford the fine. Yet, we both felt it was our duty to stay, it was too late to back out. 15 minutes after curfew when protestors were sitting on the ground up the block at the 5th precinct, we saw the flashes and tear gas appear in the horizon. They ran to us, people were limping, bleeding, a girl’s hands were burnt black because she threw a tear gas canister back at the police to save her friends.

It was horrific.

My station only had time to treat one mans ankle, who was busted up by a hard-plastic baton round. All of a sudden the other medics were screaming for us all to put our hands up. In front of us across the street were black armored police, pointing riot guns at us.

They fired, rubber rounds hit medics and patients, my partner got hit with a ricochet in her jaw.

Everyone who could still move ran.

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Protest medics on Saturday pouring milk into the eyes of a protestor to counter-act the pain of tear-gas.

I was horrified, the police had just shot at medics, clearly marked with red crosses on our clothing and our station, the sign of not only first aid but also of my faith that had moved me to come protest and help. While I’m sure many saw the cross on their clothing as nothing but a signifier of being a medic, I also saw it as a testament to what I was there to do: heal the injured, stand for the oppressed. I may not be ordained yet, or even in seminary, but being with our beloved community and serving them was our ministry, Christians and non Christians alike. As I ran from the police I was terrified, literally running for my life, there were reports of armed white supremacists chasing people as they fled, and police were circling in vans and cars, sometimes arresting people, sometimes just shooting at them with rubber bullets.

I couldn’t stop asking myself, and those with me “Why did they do this?” Were we not protected under a symbol for first aid, and a symbol for triumph over evil? In war this would have been a war crime, but somehow in the streets of our “Christian nation” this was allowed.

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rubber bullet, left, and the wound it left on a journalist, right

Now many will decry these protests and use the burning of the 3rd precinct as justification for the horrific actions taken by the police at the 5th precinct and the nearby medical station. But remember this: no amount of property destruction amounts to the violence that was dealt to human bodies, the body of Christ, God’s creation by MPD. When the 3rd precinct was burning, I admit I smiled, no officers were hurt as they had evacuated and a community temporarily took back their community from an occupying force. I do not consider this a tragedy, but rather an echo of prophecy.
The prophets verbally lashed and threatened their government for its injustices, telling tales of destruction that would come as long as the status quo stays unchanged (Isaiah 10:1-4). With a clear message like this from Isaiah, how can we as Christians be surprised when the oppressed lash out against their oppressor? Our authorities have turned away from God, not in the sense that they are not Christian, but in the sense that their priorities and positions stand in direct opposition to the call of Christians everywhere.

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Sophie and Hans Scholl’s Gestapo mugshots.

Christ prioritized human lives over commodities when he flipped the tables in the temple and drove the moneychangers out with a whip. Christ was not just angry that they were using the temple to collect money, he was angry that the temple was being used to oppress the poor. How can we as Christians condemn angry protesters today for turning to destruction, when the Lutheran Scholl twins themselves destroyed property with graffiti as they resisted the Nazi Regime? We as church can stand against violence but we must remember that the violence we stand against has always first and foremost been concerned with God’s creation, life, and breath. Not police stations, not super Targets, not K-Marts. Do not let the shocking videos and pictures of burning buildings change what this is about: a cry for human lives, a cry for freedom and liberation.

As church it is our duty to stand with the oppressed, provide both materially and spiritually for them as we have been called to do since the time of the Hebrew Bible even in times of riots.


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Born in raised in Bloomington, Minnesota, in the fall I will be a junior at Augsburg University in Minneapolis studying Sociology and Religion. I hope to go to seminary after undergraduate school. I returned the faith and the ELCA after my religion 100 course (something few have ever said).

An Outsider? An Insider? – Di Kang

LSTC Ph.D. student Di Kang has a particularly insightful post for Asian/Pacific Islander Month here at We Talk. We Listen. Carefully unpacking the many aspects of her personal identity – she then reflects not only how these different identities interact in her day-to-day life, but also why they make Lutheran theology so meaningful for her. Read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, PhD student


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I live a hybrid existence.

I am Chinese but I am also a Christian.

I am a Christian but I am a Lutheran.

I am a student but I am an international student.

In these ways, I am both an insider and outsider. Some scholars would refer to my being both an insider and an outsider as a hybrid identity. I am neither fully one identity or the other identity—-I am both at the same time, which allows me to create a new hybrid self that I can fully live into and come to know myself in a new way.

Being a Christian in mainland China, I am an outsider. Growing up and receiving education in mainland China, I was immersed in the traditional Chinese cultural context, contemporary Communist ideology, and lastly, the Confucian worldview. Confucius concedes the existence of supernatural beings, and emphasizes the importance of sacrifice. However, the Confucius’ practical rationality and this-worldly morality led to distance between human beings and the “so-called” supernatural god, which is manifested in his sayings in Analects.

For example, “Confucius never talked about odd, puissance, turmoil and deity”, “while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them may be called wisdom”. At the same time, Confucius also places emphasis on this life, instead of deities, or life beyond death. He says: “We cannot even serve people enough, how can we serve gods?” He also adds: “While you do not know about life, how can you know about death?”

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An excerpt from Confucius’ Analects

The dominance of Confucius’ teachings influenced the Chinese people’s general attitude toward religions – in general, they believe in the existence of supernatural beings such a deity/deities, but reject the deity/deities’ absolute dominance of every aspect of human life. On the other hand, they put faith in the deity/deities’ ability to solve specific issues that are out of the control of human hands. Such attitudes are reflected in the prosperity of Buddhism and Taoism in China. Taoism, being the folk religion, exemplifies the practical nature of the Chinese people to worship deities, for each deity in Taoism governs a specific aspect of human life and can offer blessings or solve the issue on that aspect.

The adoption of Confucianism and Taoism eventually marks Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, considered an indigenized religion or truly “Chinese religion”, although Buddhism itself first originated in India. Compared to Buddhism however, which entered China hundreds of years earlier, Christianity is always seen as a foreign religion. This situation is due to its relatively short history in China, its lack of indigenization and its rejection of Chinese traditions. Christianity was also used as a tool of western colonization and oppression before the new China was founded in 1949, so much so that one of the first acts of the People’s Republic of China was to initiate the total expulsion of all missions and missionaries.

Entering in the new era, the ideology of the Chinese Communist party, built on Marxist theory, emphasizes atheism and the suspicion of religious belief. Religions, being an “opium” to the people, are thought to be nothing more than a tool of pacification that brings temporary comfort to those who need it. Such views coincide with Confucianism’s practical rationality and pushes it to a new level.

As a result, the ideology of the Communist party is yet even more antagonistic towards Christianity. Hence, being a Christian thus not only means being a minority, but also engaging in something “foreign” and the abandonment of the root and heritage of China. Among the majority of Chinese in mainland China, and even in my family, being a Christian marks me as an outsider.

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Augustana Chapel – LSTC.

Being a Chinese student in the United States and at my current seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, again, marks me as an outsider, as I am labelled an “international student”. Being an outsider is not limited to my skin color, the red cover of my passport and the documents I hold to study in the US, nor the different cultural aspects, mentality, and habits that I grew up with and carry with me. The cultural clashes and difficulties I as an international student face when traveling and entering this country is just a small part of being a stranger.

Being an outsider means that I am constructed as “other” in contrast to being accepted as part of “us”. This sense of being an outsider shows itself when I am asked questions such as “which country are you from?” and “when you will return to your home country and what will you do?” Or “as an international student, tell us how you feel about …” These questions constantly remind me that I come from somewhere else, and that I am not fully part of the “us” in the US. At school, me being the “other” is highlighted by participating in activities primarily for “international” students, rather than for the student body. More than any other obvious label, I am always marked as an international student at LSTC, instead of as a PhD student, or even as a student in the LSTC community. Being an outsider also means the value judgment and bias I have received based on the differences, and my obligation to correct the misperceptions people have of me in the US.

Being a Lutheran, I am also an outsider to the majority of Chinese Christians. Many times, when meeting a Chinese Christian (regardless of being in the US or in China), I always receive such a question: “How did you become a Lutheran?” The easy way to answer this question is that I became a Lutheran while I was an exchange student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong, but the implication of this question is still there. When they ask this question, it is as if they are asking: “How are you so different from either the non-denominational, three-self background of mainland Chinese churches, or the heavy influence of Calvinism and Pietism in mainland house churches and in Chinese churches in the US?”

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I am an outsider because I am a Lutheran.

I am Lutheran because I believe that I cannot do anything to earn God’s love, or to add to God’s glory. I am an outsider because I do not believe that prayers can manipulate God’s will. Not to mention the fact that I am even an outsider among other Chinese Lutherans, who lean on the conservative side. However, when attending a Lutheran church in the US, and thinking that I am no longer an outsider there, I am still an outsider because I am not white, and I come from a country on the other side of the world.

Wherever I am, whether in mainland China or in the US, whether at church among Chinese Christians or among white Lutherans, I find myself both an insider and outsider. As I learn to live with this hybridity of identities, which seem to contradict each other, I am in the process of “knowing thy self” in the variety of dimensions that define who I am. It is not an “either/or” question; I do not have to turn my back on one dimension in order to fully embrace the other dimension. It is rather about living with this hybridity at the same time. This hybridity was something that Luther knew about—when thinking about who he was in relation to God, Luther famously asserts, “I am a sinner in and by myself apart from Christ. Apart from myself and in Christ I am not a sinner.”

As someone who knew he was both a sinner and a saint at the same time, Luther helps me know myself as both a Christian and as Chinese.


karenDi Kang, who also goes by Karen, is a PhD student studying the Hebrew Bible at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her dissertation examines the theme of the “vengeance of God” in Psalm 94. This topic is inspired by the concept “redressing injustice” (申冤) for the disadvantaged in the Chinese society.

Transient Workers Matter, Too – Rev. Martin Yee

We don’t hear often of Chinese Lutherans, but this is exactly how you could describe Rev. Martin Yee – a Chinese Lutheran pastor, born in Malaysia, who after several years in the parish works at the main offices of the Lutheran Church in Singapore. He is our first author for Asian/Pacific Islander History Month – the first such time We Talk. We Listen. commemorates the month. He writes about not only the plight of migrant workers in Singapore during the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also what Luther’s theology has to say to the situation. Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Editor


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The Wuhan coronavirus pandemic exploded around the world in March 2020, changing many facets of human lives and activities forever. In Singapore, this is certainly true. The economy which largely depended on open global trade was badly hit, sending the country reeling into recession and drawing on its past reserves for survival. The pandemic also exposed something else that Singapore is vulnerable to – the lightning-like spread of infection among its migrant foreign workers, sending the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection soaring into the tens of thousands which now stands at 23,000 plus and counting.

Singapore which has a population of 5.7 million (2019) has a migrant worker population of about 300,000. These are migrant workers from various impoverished communities in the surrounding countries of Bangladesh, India and China who are employed in low-wage jobs like construction, road works, shipyard work and cleaning. These jobs are regarded as dirty and rough, shunned by the local population. Between 12 and 20 workers typically live in one room, according to the Transient Workers Count Too, a non-profit organization that supports migrant workers in Singapore.

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Migrant worker dormatories in Singapore

They share common facilities, like bathrooms and kitchens.

The dorms are thus structurally not able to provide for the social distancing that is necessary to avoid the virus from spreading quickly. Over the last several weeks, Singapore authorities have worked to move the workers out of their dorms and into vacant public housing blocks, military camps, exhibition centres, and other floating accommodations. But the country has suffered; as many economic, construction and public health activities ground to a halt due to shortage of these workers, many who have tested positive for the coronavirus are quarantined.

The migrant workers themselves suffered tremendously, mentality and emotionally plagued with worries about their income and health. Most of them have incurred debts to come over for their agents to secure the visas and jobs, which they need to repay, and they have a family waiting for them back home to send money for daily sustenance.

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In the black tshirt with the Luther Rose, Bishop Terry Kee of the Lutheran Church in Singapore – preparing care packages for migrant workers in the city.

Reflecting on this, I have two thoughts. One is on vocation and the other on how God views migrant workers and cares for them too.

Firstly, it dawned on many of us living in Singapore how important migrant workers really are. We have taken for granted these workers who performed menial and non-glamorous tasks. Singapore is a meritocracy and has promoted excellence and skills upgrading for its citizens leaving the menial jobs to foreign workers. But without them our parks and streets will be choking with rubbish as the locals have yet to develop sanitary rubbish disposal and recycling habits.

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Without them our houses, buildings, bridges and roads cannot be built. All of a sudden, the unglamorous cleaner’s job became “essential service” that was allowed to continue while other more elite jobs ground to a halt and became “non-essentials”. A great reversal indeed.

The Lutheran concept of vocation thus is of value here as it articulated that all human vocations have equal value as the “masks of God” in serving the neighbour. Luther had said that the humble shoe cobbler in their vocation is to serve the neighbours in as good a manner as the priests and other elites.

Secondly, I have learned previously from an Oxford University Professor of Hebrew, Hugh G.M. Williamson, in a lecture series given at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, that God specifically highlighted the migrant workers for protection in the OT. He commanded the Israelites to provide for them so that they may not go hungry. If God cares so much for the migrant workers, we should too. It is heartening to note that the Singapore government is now making good efforts to take care of migrant workers’ welfare and health. Churches, temples and mosques are also chipping in to do their part. This is another unique aspect of the harmonious relationship in multi-religious Singapore. Christians comprise only 20% of the population here.

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“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ Leviticus 27:19

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” – Martin Luther

Indeed, transient migrant workers matter too.


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Born in and doing his undergraduate work in Malaysia, Rev. Martin Yee worked for 12 years as a transient worker in Singapore before receiving his Bachelor of Theology degree from Singapore Bible College in 1997. After working as a parish pastor for seven years, he then moved into his current role – as part of the administrative team of the head office his denomination – the The Lutheran Church in Singapore. He is happily married, with two college-aged children.

Living Stones – Rev. Justin Thornburgh

So how to respond as a Christian leader when dire human need and foolishness and arrogance mix into a toxic brew of death? Pastor Justin Thornburgh of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church in Indianapolis has an answer: become a living stone. Please read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, PhD student


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Indianapolis, Indiana

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

I’ve been sitting with these words all week as I’ve been preparing my sermon for Sunday. Something about them has been rattling in my bones. I couldn’t name what it was though until I started looking through my Facebook feed on Wednesday afternoon and I began to see the news of the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. I began reading the familiar story of a black man living only to end up dead; chased down and lynched.

And then, just several hours later in my city of Indianapolis, Dreasjon Reed was murdered by police after being shot with a taser and running away. And to spit on his corpse one of the officers said, “Looks like you won’t have an open casket, homie.”

And I began to seethe.

I began to seethe and I woke up in some kind of mood.

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Protest for Ahmaud Arbery.

States are opening up which will lead to more people dying (IN’s projection is up over 500% due to reopening). White people armed with assault rifles have taken to protesting because of their lack of ability to get a haircut or have a beer at the bar. They threaten and intimidate legislators who are actually trying to save lives, all the while the authors of the falsely called pro-life movement cheerlead a death march. A death march that leads to cashiers and security guards be sneezed upon and even killed.

All the while, as the white militant terrorists are storming state capitals, young unarmed black men continue to be lynched by the state, and children are still in damned cages.

Natalie Hijazi

These death dealers are littering the ground with gravestones; monuments to their worship of Mammon and Moloch. In their wake lives are destroyed. Children are left without parents; parents without children; lovers without their beloved. They leave their stones strewn across the road to silence and to scare; to intimidate and annihilate. Gravestones cover the ground.

Ahh, but here’s the thing, here’s the thing, when the powerful, tell Jesus to shut the rabble up; to pay attention to the signs along the road; to see the gravestones of those whose lives did not matter and to remember his place, Jesus turns it around and tells them that even if the people are silenced the very stones will cry out (Luke 19:29-40). The symbols of death will cry out and say their names.

And so, I was thinking about this week’s text from 1 Peter when all of this washed over me. What does it mean to be a living stone in the time of pandemic?

What does it look like when white supremacy is running rampant and unchecked privilege is killing people?

What does being a living stone look like when black and brown bodies are daily left on the side of the road, dead?

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I’d like to think that it means that, resting on the cornerstone of Christ, we are being called to say their names. We are being called to join with the voices of the dead and dying and raise up a voice that proclaims life. I’d like to think that being a living stone built into the spiritual house means check our privilege if you are like me a cis-white man. I’d like to think that it means that we do everything in our power, having been ourselves called precious in God’s sight, to fight for the dignity of all of those lives left out and left behind.

The week’s reading concludes with these words, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1Peter 2:10) We have received mercy. We, living stone who have could have been cast aside have been shown mercy and been given a place in the work of God Realm.

Oh, and when we get that we are living stones, my how the world begins to change.

The church I serve is on the eastside of Indianapolis. For those who don’t know Naptown, the eastside is the side that people don’t want to go. I’m sure you can guess why. Our congregation rests in the highest poverty zip code in the county. Even before the pandemic, our unemployment was above the average, abandoned homes dot each block, overdoses and gunshots are regular occurrences. It can be rough, but it is also the most beautiful part of town because as this neighborhood has been ignored many have refused to be still.

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There are many living stones in this neighborhood.

One is the director of our food pantry, who has used their imagination and ingenuity to not only deliver meals to people every day during the pandemic (over 2,500 to date) but has created an efficient, safe, and dignity providing pantry. And when why they do it, why do they every day drive around the city to pick up meals to deliver they say because someone did it for them. Someone lift them up when they were on the side of the road. They were hungry and someone showed her mercy. And now, this living stone daily shows mercy to those in our community.

Because in a time like this, a time full of fear, full of misinformation, and ignorant rage we the only things that can make a change.

The pretentiously pious politicians have had their turn and and have showered shame upon the hurting and the vulnerable. The prosperity proclaiming preachers have had their turn and they shred the Gospel with every turn of phrase. Now is the time for the living stones to cry out, to organize, to rebuild, to create, and to fight to bring about God’s Realm.

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There will be sacrifice. It won’t be easy. Some of us will need to have our edges chiseled so that those parts of us loosen — our power, our privilege, our over-inflated egos—so that we align with the plumb line of God’s justice. But when we do, when the living stones cry you and are fully part of the temple of Christ, in the words of Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come.”


justinJustin Thornburgh is a 2012 graduate of LSTC and is serving as pastor of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN – where is an active faith leader with Faith in Indiana, part of the national community organizing network Faith in Action. He is a husband and father of three. If you would like to support the ministry of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church and the myriad ways we support our neighborhood in mind, body, and spirit – click here.

That We Might Have Life: Black Healthcare Matters in the COVID-19 Pandemic – Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells

Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells, Program Director for LuMin/ Campus Ministry and National President of the African Descent Lutheran Association, shares a stirring post as the COVID-19 virus makes its mark on Holy Week services across the United States. With a word of judgment against the many systems in this country that oppress black people and people of color, as well as a word of charge to the rest of the church to address these problems head-on – he adjures the faithful of our country to vigilance and action as the spread of the epidemic exacerbates life and danger for the most vulnerable in among us.  Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, PhD student


Virus Outbreak Pence

Just as we entered Holy Week 2020, we heard some of the most grim news from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams who told the American people on Palm Sunday that “this (week) is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment” as COVID-19 infections continue to rise.

Many leading public health officials have described the week of April 5th 2020 ( Holy Week) as potentially the hardest and saddest week of increased deaths related to the coronavirus.  This pandemic has affected the entire world in very alarming ways.  It has also continued to spike the globally uncured diseases of racism and xenophobia.  The University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley recently retracted a statement (@tangcentercal) advising students that “xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings” is a normal or common reaction. This shows the high level of insensitivity and present day normalization of racism even from a school who’s demographics report that more than 30% of the student body is of Asian descent.

This institution’s culture and ethics in communication should be far above the curve for understanding racism of any kind as an unacceptable reaction to this pandemic.  But like many institutions, it continued to be complicit in the propagation of systematic and systemic racism. This must stop. Especially at a time when we are finding that people of color are and will be affected fatally by this pandemic at disproportional rates.

In fact, Propublica.org, reported that early data shows African Americans have contracted and died of coronavirus at an alarming rate. In the very city that hosted the African Descent Lutheran Association’s (ADLA) August 2019 Biennial Assembly (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 coronavirus cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is only 26% Black (as of 4/3/20).  This level of disproportionate rates of infection and death is a direct result of economic, political, and environmental factors that have been growing for decades.  These factors along with so many other sociological trends have put Black people at higher risk of chronic conditions that leave immune systems vulnerable and battling pre-existing illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, HIV, and asthma.

ADLA has ramped up advocacy  efforts to pressure the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to release race data related to the coronavirus. The CDC typically tracks widespread demographic data with all virulent outbreaks, but has provided little information  about race during this current pandemic.  This data is and will continue to be important to address racism and other disparities to healthcare access.

 

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“You Do It to Me” – John Petts

If (this) Holy Week 2020 will begin the deadliest season (to date) of this pandemic, then America will experience a devastating loss of Black lives.  Now more than ever we must be reminded that Black Lives Matter.

We must also acknowledge that government and religious leaders have requested and strongly encouraged the nation to “shelter in place” and remain at home.  However, that becomes a very privileged request when many people do not have the same levels of resources to do so.  For instance, imposing curfews, demanding lockdowns, or even expecting people to stay at home without canceling rent, helping to secure adequate food and all other related bills is an unjust request.   With the impending rise in unemployment, this pandemic has created a greater wealth divide in access to basic income and adequate housing for all.

The CARES Act and stimulus package(s) will assist some people in this season, but it will not greatly protect the most vulnerable who are at higher risks related to this pandemic.

Holy Week 2020 should bring us all into a greater understanding of the realities of death and access to life in our nation and world.  We as people of faith easily grasp the understanding that Jesus died for all of our sins and brings us to eternal redemption.  He did it so that we might have life and that life more abundantly (John 10:10).  We are reminded, that God so loved the world and (God) gave us Jesus so that we wouldn’t perish but have access to eternal life. In the same way we celebrate access to a better life with Jesus, we must claim access to healthcare as a human right that provides a better life for all.  This COVID-19 pandemic is uncovering major disparities in access to health care. With the rising death tolls, we need high quality public health care that is guaranteed to all and not just as a private marketplace.

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Many of the sociological trends (health, economic, etc.) affecting people of color globally and nationally can easily be seen among the participants, members, and leaders of color in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  For far too long, we have watched our friends and colleagues (especially of African Descent) die and grow gravely ill because of health conditions like those mentioned above.

The economic inequities among many of the ELCA’s congregations often reveals the most impoverished communities having to do so much more with fewer resources. Many rostered leaders of color are still struggling to pay health insurance premiums and deductibles out of meager church budgets and inconsistent paychecks.

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We as a Church can do so much more to reverse these trends and inequities.  We need to continue to increase our support and advocacy for people of color who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic and are in critical need of help.

Let’s take up this cross that we bear right now in 2020 and follow Jesus who has led us to a better life for all.


thumbnail_FA8E4011-39C2-4606-BA51-BD06D77FB2D6Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells is the Program Director for LuMin/ Campus Ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). LuMin is a network of over 240 colleges and universities. He is also the National President of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ELCA). Pastor Wells is a graduate of Morehouse College and the Interdenominational Theological Center, both in Atlanta, Ga; and has studied at Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University. As a dynamic speaker, Rev. Wells is frequently called to share prophetic messages of ecumenism and social justice which motivates him as a leader and community organizer.

Wearing Maundy Every Thursday – Rev. Hannah Bergstrom de Leon

For our first post during Woman’s History Month we are turning to Rev. Hannah Bergstrom de Leon – pastor at Minneola Lutheran Church in rural Minnesota – and a personal reflection she makes on the #ThursdaysInBlack campaign sponsored by the World Council of Churches. It may not seem like much, but wearing black every Thursday, snapping a selfie, and sharing it with the world makes a difference and in ways one doesn’t expect – this story demonstrates it. Read, commment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – Ph.D. student, Interim Editor


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Every Thursday I wear black.

Two years ago a colleague of mine, having just returned from a conference of clergy women, decided to join the #ThursdaysInBlack campaign.  On her first Thursday of wearing black, she posted a picture on Facebook and as I was doing my regular morning scroll, her picture came across and I read her words.  They unnerved me.  A desire to do something rose within me and in that moment, doing something led me to comment on her post.  In reply, she invited me to join her in wearing black every Thursday and I said yes.  So now, every Thursday as I go to my closet, I pull from it the black dress, the black shirt, the black scarf and I don it in solidarity with the victims and the survivors of gender based violence and rape throughout the world.

#ThursdaysInBlack was initiated by the World Council of Churches having been inspired by a number of global movements motivating people to bring an end to global violence and rape.

From the World Council of Church’s online resources:

The campaign is simple but profound.

  • Wear black on Thursdays.
  • Wear a pin to declare you are part of the global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence.
  • Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence.
  • Encourage others to join you.

It was simple. 

In the melee of the world’s politics, social struggles and human displacement here was a simple act in which I could participate.  #ThursdaysInBlack gave me something to DO in my weekly life that allowed me to be part of something bigger than myself and something for “the least of these. (Matthew 25:40)”  As a Lutheran Pastor I could no longer ignore Christ’s call to speak the truth about the world, the beauty and the horror.  As a Christian I could no longer ignore Christ’s command to love the neighbor but also to feed, cloth and welcome them too.

As a member of the human race on this globe, I could no longer do nothing.

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As the public consciousness was rising around gender violence particularly in regards to #MeToo and #ChurchToo and as trans women of color continued to be murdered at a higher rate than any other demographic in the United States, here was a way for me to simply draw a line, make a statement and keep the awareness, the humanity of those suffering sacred by holding it every week by choosing to wear black.

But as often happens, after two years the intensity and my commitment began to waver.  Slacktivism is real folks, and I was beginning to suspect I had fallen into the trap of promoting a social cause on social media but without making any meaningful commitment, engagement or impact.  As 2019 came to an end, I began debating if I should let go of my Thursdays in black.

As I sat in this possibility, I began to notice odd little comments and moments that tied back to my wearing black every Thursday. Things like:

  • A church member giving me a black scarf because she knew I wore black on Thursdays and she wanted to support my effort in some small way
  • Our Sunday School connecting to our local womens’ shelter by making bathroom baskets full of staples so women had some essentials as they began to start over
  • A number of colleagues sharing that part of their inspiration to join #ThursdaysInBlack came from viewing my posts from the years prior
  • A family member telling me how important it was that she knew I would be praying for her, a survivor, every Thursday

cloudy night

Getting overwhelmed with the problems in this world is inevitable, yet my faith reminds me every single time I open my bible, that I am not the Savior.  The weight of this world is not mine to bear.  I can’t and I won’t, but I will see the world for what it is. I will name the places of pain and horror just as easily as those of joy and expectation.  I will do the things, small and seemingly insignificant things that the Spirit compels me to do and I will trust.  I will trust that God will make them enough because my God, our God, is a God who uses what is small, weak, lowly and foolish to change this world. (1 Corinthians 1:29).  Mother Teresa encapsulated this aspect of faith; “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” 

Let God do the rest.


bio picHannah was born and raised in Iowa; the youngest of five to a relatively mobile ELCA pastor. After graduating with a degree in English Education from Iowa State University, she moved with her best friend to the Twin Cities, making MN her home for the past 15 years.  After teaching for two years and working for a software startup for five, Hannah got her call to ministry during her now annual silent retreat on the shores of Lake Winnebago.  Hannah attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul and during her time there she realized her love of congregational ministry and gave birth to twin boys.  She was first called and has now served Minneola Lutheran Church in rural Goodhue County for four years.

 

Sitz Im Leben for #America2020 – Rev. Ronald Bonner

Rev. Ronald Bonner is a beloved regular contributor for We Talk. We Listen. And as we share our last post for Black History Month, he gives us a stirring lament on how open bigotry and white resentment have roiled our country’s politics these last few years, as well as how we must respond. Click, read, and share with your networks, friends.

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, LSTC PhD student


I am asking a simple question…

Can you explain what has happened to our situation in America?

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A country that once had moorings in truth, but now alternative facts or lies are valued as truth by persons in high places?  Is there a problem with the way our government is behaving, and if yes, how do we address it? Are we living in a situation that 60 million people wanted when they voted on November 8, 2016?  Are they happy, is the current situation what they desired?

Is this the government that defines what the American form of democracy has become?

Albert Einstein said that if we are to solve a problem, then we must ask the right question. Are we experiencing the world of Ephesians 6:12 that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Is this the Sitz im Leben, the setting, the situation that we find for ourselves?  Then perhaps we need to move the focus from a person and address the perception or spirit that permeates our government? Are we facing an ideology of instability for a change?

One clear perception that seems to dominate is that of white supremacy and not just in the understanding of an individual but in a nation that the current president represents.  Is he the messiah that will restore their sense of self-worth that some white people were fearful of losing during the eight years of the President Obama Administration?  Was the Obama Administration representing the hastening of the day when white people would no longer be a substantial majority in the United States of America?  Has this prediction led to an irrational fear of loss of control and the fear of being treated as they have treated other racial or ethnic groups in America?

beale

The Howard Beale mantra was the core of the 1976 movie Network.  In that movie, he had a catch-phrase “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” that became a rallying cry for an angst-filled population.  Did our current president use that model and tapped into fearful angst?  Was our society exploited?  Did he ride this angst, along-side increased xenophobia, latent misogyny, and oppressive heterosexism to a faux but legal political victory?  And now, do we get to witness the undoing of our democracy, the crushing of the constitution, the fracturing of our freedoms?  Will the recent Impeachment trial become a self-fulfilling prophecy of power over the will of the people? Are we on the edge of a discovery that we exist on a moral flat earth, and the freedom of truth is falling over the edge?

winter

Is this the time that Gil Scott Heron predicted when he said that It is Winter in America …”the Constitution a noble piece of paper with free society struggled, but it died in vain, and now democracy is ragtime on the corner hoping for some rain?”

Are we firmly in the grasp of a society where the wealthy minority is using its power and influence to make itself even more prosperous? By offering in exchange, a dreaded delusion of inclusion, through the promise of the new American Dream, of “make America great again?”

I am persuaded that the faux-promise of an America made great again will not invite or include the millions of blue-collar, rural, and lower Middle-Class workers, who believed in a xenophobic messiah.

Whose promise of a wall, may have energized a what some are calling a forgotten market, but will not benefit them.  Their desire to trumpet a clarion call of “build the wall” that was their hope, to shield them from the growing nightmare of racial parity at the hands of the growth of brown-skinned invaders. Those whose ancestors called this land home, generations before the first boats from Europe began sending waves of immigrants and migrant workers.

I believe that what these loyalists will soon discover is that the only wall this administration will build is the wall between the haves and the have-nots.  Those who fell for the faux-promise empowered an uncaring ideology, and will soon find that they have forfeited their futures and have indentured their progeny, for an imaginary morsel of inclusion.  #AlternativeReality, #HahaNoFunnyButTheJokeIsOnYOU, #TooLateToComplain, #Expletives, #HaveYouNodecency?

pickpocket

Is it true what President Lyndon Baines Johnson said: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Is that true for their vote or blind allegiance as well? Thus, is there the realization of an undiagnosed problem of unsolvable internalized oppression? Usually, that term is reserved for persons of color who value whiteness more than their heritage. But it is plausible that those who do not vote or work in their real and not ill-perceived best self-interest also suffer from a form of internalized oppression?

Perhaps the beauty of our current situation is that America will have clarity that the wealthy landowners of the 1600s invented white as a race to exploit the working class for their benefit.  And once enough of the rights and interests of those who voted for the current administration will have eroded, they will see that people of color and whites are in the same boat.  And the yachts of promise that all white people are equal will not allow them access to a “great” America except as the help.  And will they then realize they are in the same boat as people of color, and it is sinking and taking on Flint quality drinking water?

solidarity

And maybe then they will see with clarity their future and apologize for their apathy.  Because, in truth, we can’t let injustice win, we must resist.  “The way things are now is not the way they have to be in the future[1].” And what is now lost, good people must work together to restore.

And in case you’d like to see/hear what our Found Fathers have to say, click here…


CST PhotoRonald S. Bonner Sr. is the Associate Pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA for Community Engagement with responsibilities for evangelism, outreach, service, and advocacy. Before his current Call, Pastor Bonner served as the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Atlanta, GA, for ten years. He also served as the Manager for Multicultural Resources for Augsburg Fortress Publishers in Minneapolis, MN. Pastor Bonner was ordained in The United Church of Christ through Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL, to his first Called position as the Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity for the United Church of Christ. Pastor Bonner is also the author of No Bigotry Allowed: Losing the Spirit of Fear, and The Seat a short story looking at issues of radicalized law enforcement and the editor of 3 religious devotionals.

[1] Elizabeth Liebert, The Soul of Discernment: A Spiritual Practice for Communities and Institutions, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p3.