Colonization and Assimilation – Nicole M. Garcia, M.Div., M.A. LPC

IMG_4512For the third post as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Nicole Garcia – candidate for word and sacrament ministry in the Rocky Mountain Synod – shares a painfully poignant reflection on her life as a Latina in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Her family tracing its roots to the southwest in the 16th century – she shares how the rich guidance of her family’s Roman Catholic roots gave her direction, but how this latinidad of her background can often be at odds with the ELCA. Please read and share lovely friends – stories like hers are common in our church, and we must respond.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


At the churchwide assembly in 2016, the ELCA passed a resolution, “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery”[1] which calls for the church to “explicitly and clearly repudiate” the doctrine and “to acknowledge and repent of its complicity in the evils of colonialism in the Americas.”[2] The ELCA took responsibility for the part the Lutheran church played in taking lands from Native peoples in the northeastern part of the United States; far away from my ancestors who lived in the southwest.

hernan-cortes--644x362.jpg
Detail of “The Conquest of America,” by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

The people of the southwest had been colonized centuries before the arrival of the Lutherans. My blood is the blood of Spaniards and the blood of the native women raped by the men who claimed our land for their own under the Doctrine of Discovery. Centuries later, my people were colonized once again after the relatively young government of the Untied States renamed the doctrine—Manifest Destiny—a concept that justified the invasion of Mexico by the United States in 1846. When the war was over in 1848, Mexico ceded more than half of its territory to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[3] Tracing my roots to the southwest all the way back to the late 1500s, this second land grab impacted my family directly and immediately.

So, Mexico abandoned my ancestors while the people of the United States cared only for the land we lived upon and what’s more we were told to assimilate and become “Americans.” We were part of North America already, but the people from the north coopted the name “American” and told us to speak English and adopt their values. Not paying much attention to the latest conquerors, my people created a culture separate from Mexico and the United States. We created our own food and music. We created our own spiritual beliefs and practices and so we lived in a world within a world.  

One of my earliest memories tied to my faith is that of my Grandma Celia, my father’s mother. I remember standing next to her as she prayed the Rosary. I don’t think I was yet five years of age when I stared at her lips as she prayed in Spanish to the Virgin Mary. When I left the family farm that day, grandma gave me the Rosary she had used. The beads were already well worn from use when grandma gave them to me and I still pray the Rosary on those beads from time to time. I now keep that Rosary on the altar by my bed, next to the other precious religious artifacts I treasure.

Why is the Rosary and the Virgin Mary so important to me? I must relate a story of La Virgen de Guadalupe; an intricate tale of the love and devotion of the Virgin Mary for the people colonized by the Spanish conquistadores and priests.

juan diego
Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego

In a nutshell, the Virgin Mary appeared to a native man, Juan Diego, on the hill called Tepeyac in December of 1531, ten years after the conquest of Mexico by Spain and the fall of the Aztec Empire. The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego three times. Each time, she told Juan Diego to go to the Bishop of Mexico and to tell the bishop to build a hermitage on the side of the hill so her people could come to her and be comforted by her. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego and ultimately the bishop demanded a sign to prove Juan Diego had actually seen the Virgin Mary.

olg
Contemporary photo of Juan Diego’s tilma in the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The last time Mary appeared, on December 12th, she told Juan Diego to collect the flowers that grew at the top of the hill. He gathered the flowers in his tilma, the piece of cloth he wore around his shoulders, and took the flowers back to Mary. She arranged the flowers in the tilma and told Juan Diego to take the sign to the bishop. When Juan Diego unfurled the tilma, the flowers fell at the bishop’s feet and the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe was etched into the fabric of the tilma. That piece of cloth hangs on the wall in the Cathedral of Guadalupe built at Tepayac.[4] Why is this story so important to me? I came to this earth on December 12th—the day of this final, holy apparition—making me a Guadalupana (a devotee of the La Virgin de Guadalupe) by virtue of my very birth.

lupe
This cross-stitch depiction of la Virgen de Guadalupe was made for me by my cousin, Diane. She gave me this work of art as a thank-you gift for officiating at he daughter’s memorial service. Diane knew the gift would be special because of my devotion to Guadalupe.

I was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church and was fiercely Roman Catholic in my teens and 20s. In my 20s, however, I learned how my people became Roman Catholic due to colonization and not because of faith. I realized didn’t want to be colonized anymore. I left that denomination in my mid-20s and stayed away from any church until my early 40s when I had an awakening of my faith, but I had no desire to return to the church of my youth. I discovered Lutheranism and fell in love with the theology. I discovered a rogue, excommunicated German priest who read scripture the way I read scripture and I learned I was saved by grace through faith and not through my own merit and works.

I was hooked, but the deeply held beliefs of my mother, aunts, and grandmothers are part of who I am as a Latina.

Yo soy una Guadalupana and I continue to pray the Rosary because the prayers remind me of my grandma Celia and reaffirm my devotion for La Virgen.

My faith is simple. My faith is strong, but I live in-between.

My face is brown, but I do not speak Spanish.

I love the work I do in the church, but I often feel I must prove I am “white enough” to be accepted in the ELCA—the denomination to which I’ve been called. I have occasionally felt the yoke of colonization upon my shoulders; a burden I have struggled to leave behind for more than half my life. I do feel loved and accepted in the church where I work as the Director of Congregational Care, but I often notice I have the only brown face in the sanctuary.

I do not want to believe the only place I truly fit in is with my family and God, but I know I live in-between two cultures. I have done as I have been told and assimilated, but at what cost? I fear the next generation will not remember from whence we came and the sacrifices made by our ancestors to live in our colonized land.


Nicole GarciaNicole M. Garcia (she/her/hers) is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith. Nicole has a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. Nicole is a Candidate Preparing for Word and Sacrament in the Rocky Mountain Synod and currently works as the Director of Congregational Care at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church – Boulder, Colorado. Nicole has a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.

 

[1] The resolution can be found at: http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/RepudiationDoctrineOfDiscoverySPR2016.pdf?_ga=1.157204155.1478422222.1471218167 (Accessed September 15, 2018)

[2] Vince Blackfox, “A Reflection on the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly’s Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics (March 2017, Vol. 17, Issue 2), https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/1202#_edn2 (Accessed September 15, 2018).

[3] See the National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/guadalupe-hidalgo

[4] My favorite rendition of the Nican Mopohua, the original title of the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe, translated from the original Nahuatl language, and a detailed explanation can be found in:

Vigil Elizondo, Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1997).

Advertisements

ELCA Boundaries Workshops Are an Issue… A LatinX-Caribbean American Lutheran Priest’s experience – Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala

Boundaries – arguably one of the most important skills that many of my pastor-to-be-students have to learn. This week’s author – Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala – shares his culturally nuanced take on the matter as our second post celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. A Latinx ordained pastor in the whitest Christian denomination in the United States – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America – Pastor Ángel writes about how his denomination’s zeal for boundaries trainings are insufficiently nuanced to accommodate cultural and ethnic differences, and that this lack of nuance is yet another barrier for people of color within the denomination – both those who are simply members of its churches, as well as those who feel called to purse word and sacrament ministry. Read, comment, and share.thomas110_1027092

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.  (Colossians 4:5-6, NET)

fancy mosaic elca

On January 1st, 1988 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) came into existence creating the biggest, financially strongest, and most culturally diverse church within the bounds of the Lutheran tradition in North America. For many, it was a dream come true; after decades of conversation about a unified mega church body, the ELCA had become a covenantal enterprise full of promises for the future. The expectations were bold for a predominantly white middle class church: within the first 10 years, 10% of the denomination would be people of color and people with first languages other than English; the ELCA had a commitment to adopt an organizational philosophy providing for the representation of cultural diversity in every decision making body; and proactively work against racism.

Thirty years after envisioning these dreams, they lie shattered at the clay feet of a complex, bureaucratic, and largely culturally insensitive denominational behemoth.

One of the places within the ELCA in which this dynamic becomes more evident is in the practices surrounding professional ethics and boundaries workshops.  After the revelations about cover-up, corruption and sexual abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, many synods decided to enforce boundary trainings for everyone, with the ultimate hope of fostering a safe church culture. Seminaries have follow suit to the point that it is impossible to graduate or be ordained without going through the required educational contact hours of training.

Underlying these public intentions is also the silent recognition that most of these initiatives come out of a place of fear: a way to protect the institution against possible legal liabilities when there is sexual misconduct and the perpetrator is a member of our community. In the context of a church predominantly lead by white people, professional boundary workshops are an incarnation of this dread of financial loss. This becomes problematic due to the centering of white culture within these trainings.

27881292982_340a7c60e8_b.jpg

Since my entrance into the candidacy process for ordination into the Lutheran priesthood, I have participated in 4 boundary trainings: one as a seminarian and three since ordination. Throughout these conversations, many tips and tricks for a safer church were shared: background checks for church employees, orientations for the community, statements/policies against sexual violence, and the use of mental health professionals as communal resources.

Furthermore, it has become a topic of every seminar to discuss physical boundaries: when and how to hug, the no-no squares, eye contact, how to approach social media, personal space, and the ever present principles that parishioners are not friends and that if something feels “icky” it is “icky”.

If after reading the above paragraph you cannot see what is missing or what makes all of this culturally incompetent and incomplete, ¡felicidades! You are likely part of the majority white and Anglo-Saxon culture or have been deeply shaped by it.

As a Puerto Rican Lutheran priest in the ELCA, I experience these boundary trainings as a “how-to-behave-around-white- people-in-order-to-not-get-in-trouble” class, and I struggle with the absence of Latin American sources that can provide the nuance of latinx cultural experience.  

latin@

The first problematic assumption of the ELCA approach to professional boundaries is the belief that there is a universal set of rules that are translatable among cultures. This is not the case: white people, black people, latinxs, Native Americans, Asians, they all have different notions of what is appropriate. Naturally, each sub-category is even less helpful, because they encompass a variety of nationalities with deeper nuances and customs. Take, for example, Latin Americans: a community in which there is no solid unified idealization of the latinx identity outside of the United States. We think of ourselves as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorians, Chileans, Uruguayans, Costa Ricans, Indigenous, etc.

I, for one, was not informed that I belonged to the latinx community until I arrived at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. Yet in spite of the variety of backgrounds, the experience of being a brown, Spanish/Portuguese speaking foreigner in the United States fosters a sense of an imposed super diaspora that shares, at times, an antagonistic view to the ethical boundaries in question.

Perkins MAP Brochure.jpg

Let me get specific. My experience as a mission developer working with latinx people has given me some experience that I find valuable to share with you. Here are the problems I find every year in attempting to reconcile mandatory church boundary policies and the realities of the mission field:

1. Background checks are often a source of fear, because many undocumented latinxs see it as a way of giving personal information to law enforcement agencies that might one day come to deport them.  Why should they so willingly give information to agencies of the state that generally wish them harm? Many are also afraid because, as victims of racial profiling, their pasts can be peppered with arrests and minor criminal records (i.e. pot possession, an arrest after a speed ticket, shoplifting) which they have intentionally tried to leave behind and feel ashamed to share.

2. Orientations about safe-church that are not conducted in Spanish, or with English only resources, are unhelpful, because some latinx individuals cannot speak/read the language. When working among marginalized immigrant communities, one has to always consider that, as a result of economic inequalities, they might not be proficient in the mechanics of reading. Presenters who are unfamiliar with latinx ways of learning (specifically regarding the juxtaposition between paying attention and eye contact, time management, the use of pedagogical storytelling, etc.) are also not helpful.

3. Public statements about sexual violence are usually unavailable in Spanish, nor are they explained in simple terms. Also, its important to know that latinx culture is unapologetically patriarchal, and customs that might seem like harassment for white spectators are not necessarily interpreted the same way in a first-generation, immigrant, Spanish-speaking context. Although this paradigm is changing among second- and third-generation latinxs, it is still quite common for us to speak, even to strangers, using words that might seem to outsiders as inappropriately affectionate or sexually charged.

4. Many latinxs are uninsured, and it is still a taboo in many of our countries to seek out mental health professionals. It is also hard for us to trust strangers solely based on their expertise; relationships are key. Latinxs tend to prefer polite and friendly conversations before sharing a problem.

5. While informality is often a sign of trustworthiness in an Anglo context (i.e. “No need to call me pastor, I am Mike”), deference for older generations, manifested in the use of titles like Señor (Sir) and Señora (Ma’am), is a cherished value within the latinx community.

6. Boundaries around the comfort level of body contact are also different. It is not uncommon for latinxs to hug, kiss, touch and be in close personal proximity, including strangers. Even as a priest, people of all genders and ages come and touch me, hug me, kiss me, or physically pull me aside. When a white person is on the receiving end of these customs, it might seem like a boundary violation for them.

15November36b
A Latinx ELCA congregation in Racine, Wisconsin – Emmaus Lutheran Church -with their then-pastor, Rev. Jhon Freddy Correa.

The ELCA cannot become competent in fostering and welcoming latinxs until it becomes aware of cultural differences and how they play out in local churches. Bishops and the churchwide organization should avoid the sin of laziness; they must learn to approach education outside the bounds of white American perspectives. The percentage of people of color within us is small, but we are here and willing to help. We can do so not as a prop but as integral partners in the conversation.

Everyone deserves respect for their cultural norms. Doing ministry in the ever-growing, multicultural communities of the United States requires that everyone learn about their neighbors’ cultures in order to better assess safe-church needs.  Change cannot happen until people of a variety of cultures are present and substantially represented (that is to say with power to caucus and veto) in every decision making body of the ELCA.

When considering boundary trainings, it would do us good to consider the ways in which boundaries differ amongst the various cultural groups located in our communities.  Approaching boundaries, and having experts from those communities as partners in these conversations, is vital. Perhaps it is time for all of us to dig deeply into cultural competency educational programs as conversation starters towards a more egalitarian beloved community.

Then we can truly begin to speak about a church that one day might be safe for all.

 

 

 

 


17884061_10154507112768225_8871700682864564831_nThe Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala (Padre Ángel) is a young adult, first generation Puerto Rican immigrant and a priest in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Padre Ángel is the mission developer for Santuario Luterano, the progressive latinx church of Waltham, Massachusetts. He also works as coordinator for latinx ministries in the New England Synod. Padre Ángel is the first openly gay latinx ordained after 2009. He has worked as secretary to the ELCA Latino Association and board member of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Padre Ángel lives with his husband Zachary and their spoiled dog-son Pepe Thor.

Strange Pilgrims – Francisco Herrera

 

IMG_4512For the next several weeks we will be commemorating Hispanic heritage month – a federally recognized period like Black History Month – where we’ll be lifting up the voices of the ELCA who make up a part of great the Latin American diaspora here in the United States. Blog manager Francisco Herrera has penned the first installment – a reflection on what it means to be a Latino immigrant in a sea of other Latino immigrants as well as a teaser introduction to one of Latin America’s (and the world’s) greatest novelists – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


hands.jpg

The first person to really teach me what it meant to be a Latino wasn’t my father. He was abusive to my family and tried to kidnap me when I was six, completing his too-long transformation into an angry ghost at the age of 44, turning any chance I had of connecting hometown’s Mexican American community into a game of Russian roulette.

It wasn’t even the many Mexicans with whom I toiled in countless restaurants as a young adult – though they certainly did their best to connect. That someone who shared their blood and was named after one of the great heroes of their revolutionary war – Francisco Villa, or as he is more commonly known “Pancho” Villa – but knew next to nothing of Mexico or its culture struck them as heresy. But apart from sharing family stories and relishing in what seemed to be a Rolodex of viciously picturesque profanity, and with our attempted camaraderie made difficult by language and class barriers, I didn’t learn so much.

No.

Somewhat poetically, my first true maestra latina[1] was a summer fling named Nuria; a light-skinned latina — güera[2] like me — from Colombia. In the weeks we spent together as I huffed and puffed at an international music festival in the United States, she often addressed my need to get back to my roots, to know more of the culture where I was from. And I was eager to agree and learn – if anything because it meant we spent more quality time together.

“To understand where you come from,” she cooed one lazy July afternoon, “read this.” She then handed me a copy of what is arguably the novel of 20th century Latin America: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014). I had picked it up twice before, both times stuffing it into a desk drawer after reading  50 pages, but this time was different. When I returned to my hometown at the end of our romance, my personal copy resurrected itself from its musty, wooden sepulcher and evangelized me – within two years acquiring six more apostles/Marquez tomes – pressed together in their own special corner on my hand-me-down bookshelf.

But it wasn’t until I moved to Europe after college – among one of many expatriate students floating in the cacophonous neutrality of Geneva, Switzerland – that the dark potion bubbling from Marquez’ magical-realism cooking in my skull started to seep elsewhere. It all started when I began reading an anthology of Marquez’s short stories, a work about the curious lives of Latin American immigrants making due far from home – Strange Pilgrims.

pilgrims
To preview, click here.

The first of these tales, “Bon Voyage, Mr. President,” resonated with me far too deeply – not just because its setting was Geneva, Switzerland, where I had moved to continue my viola and orchestra conducting studies, but also because like the title character, my time in Geneva saw me marching in a rotating line-up of other Latin American expats – all of us seeking to find or recreate whatever shadows of our previous lives we could in a country known for militant anonymity. And of course we did all this while hustling to fit in, to find love and dancing in ways that paid our bills and kept us in the good graces of the immigration authorities – which one Swiss representative translated to me as “the alien police.”

So we were all aliens – yet the names of our planets weren’t Venus or Alpha Centauri or Rigel-4 – rather Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, la Republica Dominicana, and even los Estados Unidos.

To the Latinos at the conservatory where I studied, much like the army of restaurant workers I had known in the years before my move, I was at first something of an oddity – a gringo with such a Hispanic name who spoke German but not Spanish? Yet still they welcomed me because, like them, I was alone and displaced – all of us living lives not unlike a character in one of Marquez’s stories.

Like the Venezuelan virtuoso violinist – Gabriel – whose father sent him to Geneva not only to study, but also to avoid the risk of being kidnapped as the youngest son of a wealthy family. Or his girlfriend Amanda, a Chilena[3], whose grandparents fled Santiago de Chile when Agosto Pinochet came into power. Or good old Mario, the Colombiano indio[4] and brilliant jazzman of humble means, who paid for his annual student expenses by selling shaves and crumbles – at ridiculously low prices – of a 1 kilo block of something conceived and birthed in the finest back rooms in Medellín.

As I passed that first year of my studies, a line from Marquez’s story kept coming back to me – where a president over-thrown by a military coup describes Latin Americans as a people “conceived by the scum of the earth without a moment of love: the children of abductions, rapes, violations, infamous dealings, deceptions, the union of enemies with enemies.”[5]

And here all of us were – on a continent and among the people who had both educated and raped our ancestors, appreciated and exploited our resources, and all of this while being able to convince us of our inferiority despite the fact that their society was so damn boring, so predictable and bloodless by comparison with our homelands. But though we put up with it, and though in many respects hoped to be sanctioned by it, the alien police ever reminded us that acceptance by this ‘foreign’ culture was only ever going to be provisional – and so we had to stick together if we wanted anything like constancy or community.

And in that, maybe the functionary of the Swiss Consulate of Chicago was right when she talked about me – and so many other latinx friends in – under the authority of “alien police.” Their governments didn’t see as as immigrants, or even human. We were aliens, and as such – places like Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil – were other planets whose people merited only subjugation, humiliation, and domination.

It was all the more wonderful, though, that my fellow peregrino latinos’[6] acceptance of me was so complete – even though I felt out-of-place so often.

And what’s more they were even the first to see and trust that God and me had a special relationship, that I had a call, and often blessed me as such – regularly asking for my help when something was off between them and God and the realm of the spirits.

69042505-hand-drawn-doodle-sketch-with-random-curls-swirls-and-line-design-pattern-cute-abstract-fun-art-eleg

Like when a former roommate of mine, a Boliviana[7], asked me to come to her place and help her cast out an evil spirit. Then later that afternoon, as we stood there in her apartments’ narrow hallway with tightening throats, something overcame me. Following the Holy Spirit’s direct cue for the first time in my life, I pulled out my Bible, began reading Psalm 23, had my friend hold a porcelain bowl filled with water, and the two of us spent twenty minutes reciting words of blessing and warning to the spirit that had been troubling her dreams and keeping her from eating – flicking water everywhere we could.

Or when, about a year later, one of the other Latino expats asked me if I could say prayers over his girlfriend – a sweetly harmless piano student from Colombia – as she had been slow and withdrawn after a long hospital stay. Again, like in that cramped hallway, the Spirit told me to tell the furrowed papi to get all of their friends together for dinner that night, whereupon I showed up with fresh fixings for chicken soup. And after we’d eaten the brew – all of us contributing something to its preparation – we laid on our hands and prayed Psalm 42 over her (“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?”) reminding her of how much we loved her and how we were there for her.

But despite their assurances that I truly was one of them, I could never get away from the fact – as I heard from story after story after story – that I was still a citizen of el imperio, the Empire, the United States – that had spent billions corrupting their governments and disrupting their lives. And if I truly loved these souls, mi gente, who loved me as their own, then I could never let myself forget the pain the land of my birth had caused them, and in every and any way possible I had to fight for their safety and peace. Only then would I truly be their family.

Antiimperialismo_caracas
A mural from Caracas, Venezuela – the blue lettering says “out with imperialism,’ while the red says “only the people can save the people.” Note, too, the rat falling off of Uncle Sam’s back with the word “traitor” written across it.

Only then could I look back in the face of my country’s evil and declare to its smirking face “Let MY people go!”

In these next few weeks, “We Talk. We listen.” will be featuring a series of blog posts in commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Beginning on September 15 – the date of the Declaration of Independence (1821) of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras – and ending on October 15 – usually around Indigenous People’s Day or Dia de la Raza those of us here in the United States, of the Latin American diaspora that dwell among the ELCA, will claim these 30 days to talk about ourselves, to sing our songs and to share the beauty of our tears. For though many, quoting Marquez, may see those of us of Hispanic/Latino descent as being “born of the scum of the earth without a moment of love,” most of the world seems to have forgotten how much God loves working with the scum, with fools and widows and orphans – with wanderers and itinerant preachers that are too concerned about the coming of God’s dominion to trouble themselves over washed hands and fresh linen.

And we hope you enjoy our stories. They are the things that remind us of who we are, keep us tied to each other and to God, and are the womb and cradle of what makes us distinct in this life.

GUERRA 4 ANIVERSARIO
A canopy made of all the flags of the countries of Latin America – used during a protest against the occupation of Iraq.

selfie greyBefore coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor, both at LSTC and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and travels the country as one of the central leaders of #decolonizeLutheranism.

[1] Spanish for a ‘latina teacher.’

[2] güero/güera – a Mexican slang for someone with light skin.

[3] A woman from Chile.

[4] An Colombian male of indigenous descent.

[5] Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Strange Pilgrims, NY, NY: Penguin Books, 1992. 24.

[6] Peregrino – Spanish for ‘pilgrim.’

[7] A woman from Bolivia.

Living in Fear of the News – Joel Cruz, Ph.D.

Dr TMuch has been said in recent days about depictions of vulnerable communities in the media – depictions rooted in popular cinema, television, even political figures. In light of the recent controversy of the murder of Mollie Tibbetts – and her death at the hands of a Latino man  – blog regular Joel Cruz, Ph.D. has some stern words for our readers. It is hard for people who are white, heterosexual, male, Christian citizens of the United States to understand the kind of fear that grips tragedies like this one, and harmful public debates that usually follows. He gives us a taste of that in this post, terse and angry, and we have much to learn from it. Read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


Privilege is being able to click on an article or watch a news broadcast about a horrible crime and not tensing up, hoping that the suspect doesn’t reflect your ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, or other minority status and when they do, praying that they will not be seen as the representative of those who look or worship or have a similar last name to you and the people you love.

truth

This is a feeling that African-Americans, Latinx, and more recently, Muslims and those from the Middle East have felt for years. Whether depicted as sexually voracious black men lusting after virtuous white women in the racist propaganda film Birth of a Nation in 1915, as gun wielding LA gang members in the urban wasteland of television, limp-wristed gay men corrupting young morals in the age of AIDS, or Arabic-speaking would-be terrorists in post 9/11 melodramas, popular entertainment has long reflected the tendency in US culture to depict members of a minority as the representative faces of the larger group. Far from being harmless entertainment, it can stoke the flames of prejudice, circling back to fear, discrimination, and acts of violence in the real world.

It certainly doesn’t help when our president – befitting a tweet-loving, reality-tv show star – added his own personal commentary into the tragic murder of Mollie Tibbett, the 20-year old college student killed while jogging. Trump used the crime to point out that the suspect was an undocumented immigrant (though there were immediate questions about his status) and thereby sought to advance his own anti-immigrant platform by tarnishing all immigrants with the same brush.

150709094619-donald-trump-quote-mexico-large-169.png

Rather than a one-off comment it is the most recent culmination of Trump’s attacks on the immigrant community that began with the launch of his candidacy in 2015 when he referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. Fanning the fears that an undocumented immigrant might kill your loved ones became a cornerstone of Trump’s platform and was instrumental in his election to the White House. All of this is even though the Pew Research Center has documented that first-generation immigrants commit crimes at much lower rates than native-born citizens.

The tragedy surrounding Mollie Tibbitts has revealed a number of issues surrounding how violent crime is reported and where the emphasis is placed. The case reveals that not all dead women in the United States are treated equally. Eleven months ago, Nabra Hassanen, wearing a headscarf and walking to her Virginia mosque, was accosted and killed by an undocumented immigrant. The story did not make national news and the White House never commented upon it. There is a hierarchy within our society that considers some women who fit the narrative of the pure, white victim as more entitled to national attention than those who do not.

More recently, a white Colorado man was charged with the murders of his pregnant wife and two young daughters. While the news has garnered national attention, it was never addressed by the administration nor has it resulted in the brushing of all white men as potential killers. White men can shake their heads in sadness at the news and then leave their homes and walk about their neighborhoods, never concerned that perhaps their neighbors will cross the street to avoid them, or that a police officer will pull them over because they resembled a suspect, or that they’ll be followed by store security “just in case.”

toxic-masculinity-words.png

The confession of Tibbetts’ murderer highlights a more real, more uncomfortable issue facing us. He stated that on seeing Tibbitts jogging in the park he got out of his car and began to jog alongside her, trying to get her attention. After she spurned his efforts, the man became enraged and killed her. Toxic masculinity that sees women as objects to possess, to which they have a right is a far greater danger that cuts across race, color, nationality, religion or legal status. Because such men see themselves as entitled to the attention, sex, or lives of women by the simple virtue of being men, any challenge to that assumed power must be punished. The Gamergate controversy within the online video gaming community highlighted the ends to which offended males will go to harass, shame, or tarnish the women who dare share their love of the hobby and demand a place at the table. Star Wars actors Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran have both had to close their social media accounts after being harassed by misogynist and racist individuals.  In the wake of the #MeToo campaign an online survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment reported that 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment at one time or another.

The case of Mollie Tibbets is not one of undocumented immigration but of toxic masculinity.

97bcd5ba118ad0f2-2048x1024.jpg

And because it is easier for the president, himself the subject of several sexual harassment claims, to call for building a border wall than to call for national soul searching, it is an issue that will most likely be ignored by those in power. In the meantime, immigrants will find themselves tensing up at every crime story, silently praying with the rest of us people of color, “Lord, let the guy be white!” anytime a shooter, bomber, molester, or assailant harms another life and wondering whether a radicalized and empowered ICE will come knocking on their doors or take them as they drop off their children at school.

And in the midst of this, millions of the wrong victimized – both in the United States and the world over – cry out “How long, oh Lord?”


Ponce 2016.jpgJoel Cruz is an adjunct professor of theology and history at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  He earned a PhD and ThM from LSTC in World Christianity and Mission as well as a Masters in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Cruz is a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago and is the author of several articles and books, including The Histories of the Latin American Church: a Handbook (Fortress Press, 2014). He is currently working on his next book, a theology of the 17th-century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. 

Interrogating Hope: Some Initial Thoughts on the Passing of Two Great Black Women – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas

703 Woman Singing Earth rgb (936x912)

In December 2017, I received an invitation from The Federation of Swedish Christian Humanists to give two lectures about Hope in August, 2018.  When I read the letter of invitation, I thought to myself,  “Why on earth would Swedish Christians who consider themselves humanist “call” upon me to talk about hope?”  I sent an affirmative response believing that God must be involved in this “call.” I remembered I Peter 3:15b, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I gave those lectures the first week of August and have recently returned home from Sweden. The lectures titled: The Dis/comforting God: Theological Reflections on Hope During Morose Times and Mourning and Morning: Theological Sources for Renewal and Hope were well received. However, what is most significant and what I want to write about in this post is what happened to me as I interrogated Hope. It was a daunting task to spend weeks thinking and writing about a central part of my life and faith: Hope.

When I think of the events that made the news of this past week — 550 children still separated from their families, exposure of a church-wide cover-up of “predator priests” by a grand jury in Pennsylvania, the death of two (see here and here) African American women who were a foundational part of the fabric of this country, and one African American woman called a “dog” by the commander-in-chief of this country — I have little energy to muster any hope.

Was I a fraud to have offered the lectures on hope when I often feel hopeless? I do not believe that I can experience Hope continually and hence, in part because I know that the essence of Hope is birthed right when it almost dies and/or stops flourishing within us.

So when I interrogated Hope, asking, “Who are you and where do you come from?”

Hope responded, “I come in a distant tide. I am in the wake when you experience the most profound and ardent sorrow. I come after disappointment, your biggest trial, your most painful ordeal. I show up not only after personal sorrow but after a catastrophic calamity in society and in the world.”

She continued, “I am the one who considers possibilities when you feel powerless. I dream the impossible dream on your behalf when you feel dreadful because of inner (personal) and outward (societal) pain. I show up when you believe you cannot go on. I am the sunshine on the dreariest of day.”

Hope 1886 by George Frederic Watts 1817-1904

In 1886, George Frederick Watts painted a portrait titled Hope, depicting a woman who looks forlorn holding a lyre with one string, and sitting on top of the world. In 1990, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr, wrote a sermon called “The Audacity to Hope” based on the story of Hannah in Samuel. Wright points out that Hope is sitting on top of the world, and she is surrounded by evil and suffering. Her head is wrapped in a blood-stained cloth, and that does not include cuts on her face and limbs.

Watts’ painting suggests that regardless of the evil surrounding this young woman she has the grit to defiantingly strum the one string on her lyre. Nelson Mandela had a replica of this painting in his cell, and Barack Obama had a copy in the oval office. Words from Vitor Westhelle’s book Transfiguring Luther: The Planetary Promise of Luther’s Theology come to mind as well: “trouble, trial, and suffering produces hope”(154).

Having had a conversation with Hope and considered Watts portrait of Hope, I made a recipe for HOPE. Here are the ingredients:

1 cup of joy

1 cup of happiness

2 pounds of despair

2 pounds of pain

thyme (the amount depends on your taste)

Mix well and put in God’s incubator /God’s oven.

The recipe is completed when you decide it is. Some will ask, “Isn’t Hope done, yet?”  Your response to the question is one that only you can make. A good example of Hope being ready only when one is ready is the recent story about Orca whale whose calf died soon after birth off the Canadian coast. That mama mammal killer whale carried her baby for 17 days – scientists having no problem calling such distinctive behavior grief, just as we humans experience it.

Ritual action may help creatures move toward healing, and hope may come faintly and then disappear. Chronos does not dictate when or how Hope shows her face. Hope is embedded in Kairos.  Hope can take a tumble when hardships come, and yes, the ritual may have to begin anew. However, it may not have to start from the beginning, but rather somewhere between the beginning and where this new trial occurred.

Death has no sting–even if dominant sadness does not overcome joy. Moroseness does not defeat Hope. Hope comes through because, as black folk wisdom puts it, “Trouble don’t last always.”

Portraits of Hope: The Queen of Soul, The Unctuous, Trailblazing Womanist,

Two powerful African American women died in the past ten days. I haven’t lost hope because of their deaths, but I certainly have been challenged.

I paint a new portrait of Hope made from the tapestry of their lives:

canon sitting

I begin with my friend and mentor, the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, whom I considered my “big” sister because she was a Ph.D. student at Union Theological Seminary in NYC where I did my M.Div.

Katie was a storyteller and prolific writer with a wit that would split your side because of laughter. Ordained in 1974, she was the first African American woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA, and I shall never forget the poster showing her and a white woman celebrating communion. This was a very powerful image for a young woman like myself who had been called to the ministry of word and sacrament but challenged by some of the black male colleagues with whom I shared classes.

She experienced the devastation of completing all of her course work in Hebrew Bible at Union and was then told she could not continue, starting course work again in Christian Ethics, studying with Beverly Harrison. Katie tells the story of Dr. Harrison telling her, “Katie, I want you to write about black women in your papers.” Katie would not do so because she felt that she was being set up to fail the course, but finally Beverly convinced her that that was really what she was called to ask her to do. We can now see that Beverly Harrison was the one who mid-wived a black feminist who used the word womanist in an essay, “The Emergence of Black Feminist Consciousness,” where Cannon writes…

womanism.jpg

Black feminist consciousness may be more accurately identified as Black womanist consciousness, to use Alice Walker’s concept and definition. (17) As an interpretive principle, the Black womanist tradition provides the incentive to chip away at oppressive structures, bit by bit. It identifies those texts which help Black womanists to celebrate and rename the innumerable incidents of unpredictability in empowering ways. The Black womanist identifies with those biblical characters who hold on to life in the face of formidable oppression. Often compelled to act or to refrain from acting in accordance with the powers and principalities of the external world, Black womanists search the scriptures to learn how to dispel the threat of death in order to seize the present life.

aretha.jpg

Aretha Franklin was, in the words of Jack Hamilton, “the Defining Voice of the 20th Century.” I first heard “Lady Soul” while growing up in Turner Station, a segregated black community in  Baltimore, Maryland. During the summer I could hear her voice floating through the screen doors of of my neighbors. She was very influential because her father was a pastor and she grew up singing in her church. Her voice expressed faith, courage, and strength through her relationship with God. Later, when she added pop music to her repertoire, her faith was connected to who she was as a black woman artist – a subject touched upon eloquently, too, in an article from Harvard University.

Like Sojourner Truth, she was aware of the overlapping oppressions she experienced because she was a black woman. Racism and sexism were real to the people she loved and she was aware that it was structural sin, so she spoke to it in her 1972 album ”Young, Gifted, and Black.”

Aretha’s distinctive voice was honed in the church and if you doubt it, listen to her sing, “O Mary Don’t You Weep; Tell Martha Not to Moan”  – a tribute to the death of her brother, Lazarus.

Faith oozed though her cells, as did justice. A proud resident of Detroit, Michigan, who “stayed and slayed,” (Beyonce wasn’t even born, but yes, she stands on Lady Soul’s shoulders!) she fought for justice in her industry. Her famous song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” was written originally by Otis Redding with the chauvinist intent of demanding respect from his spouse, but Ms. Franklin turned it into a call for respect because she and other artists were not paid royalty payments for singing the song – and ironically launched the tune into wider fame.

Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden – John Dyer

And these women – black women, women of faith, women who lived through unbelievable hardship – give me HOPE. As a black woman, there are any number of reasons not to have hope, but also as a black woman, I know that hope is something you can prepare, make in bulk, store away. Sisters Aretha and Katie understood this deeply because they lived it, showed that by building community, standing strong in the face of any and all opposition, and being true to the call that God puts in you, these are ways that you can keep hope flourishing in yourself – no matter what happens.

Does this make the pain hurt any less? No. By no means. But as my recipe showed above, a small amount of happiness and joy can transform a whole mess more of pain and despair. And so these days, as my heart grieves from all the pain in my life and in this country, you can find me in my home, kneading and mixing and working my ingredients, waiting – like Maya Angelou, like bread, like Jesus – to rise.


lt-ny-eve-march-2016Dr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, scholars and communities as a scholar for thirty-one years. She studies, researches, writes, speaks and teaches about the intersection and mutual influence of culture and religion. Her work is rooted intransitively in a Womanist perspective. An ordained Methodist pastor for 35 years with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from The American University in Washington D.C. and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Dr. Thomas’s work has taken her to South Africa, Peru, Cuba and Russia. She has been recognized as an Association of Theological Schools Faculty Fellow as well as a Pew Charitable Trust Scholar.

Unctuous, Trailblazing Woman: Rev. Katie Geneva Cannon, Ph.D. First Among Women ~ In Memoriam (1950-2018) – a poem by Dr. Cheryl Kirk Duggan

Dr TThe world of theology was rocked again last week, as the trailbrazing womanist Christian ethicist and heroine to many of us, the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, returned to her eternal home last week (to read what the New York Times had to say about her, click here). Her passing has truly devastated many of us, myself included, whom she has impacted over the course of her life. Unsure of how to respond to such a deep loss, I received a poem extolling Dr. Cannon’s from a dear colleague yesterday, Dr. Cheryl Kirk Duggan – and being a woman who broke barriers and transcended categories here entire life, it seemed a fitting tribute to say something about her in verse, than in prose. We’re sure you’ll agree. Please read, comment, and share. 

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


canon sitting

Elegiac moments, wrapping themselves around the viscera,
the DNA of the moments when first I knew of her,
and when I think that she is now with the ancestors–
So daunting, my imagination trembles at the absence
of her presence. Even though days have passed
since hearing that sister Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon
Fourth child born to Esau and E. Corine Lytle Cannon.
grew up in in the Fishertown community in
Kannapolis, North Carolina
took her rest–
This great granddaughter of former enslaved Mary,
who went and found all of the children stolen from her
lived her faith, and Katie followed.

The pain, the indefatigable loss, has yet to permeate my being
For some of us who knew her, yet know her–
the tears have been unceasing,
the grief inconsolable
the injury: the depths of the ocean, phantoms deep–
the pain searing our nerves–
After all, she’d “kicked herself back to life
when upon awaking in 2016, she had a broken ankle
in her sleep as she overcame the widow maker, the
type of heart attack, from which you do not wake up.
Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics
Degrees from the Schools of Life and the household of Grandma Rosie
Barber-Scotia College, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary/The ITC
Union Theological Seminary (NYC)
Upon whose campuses she left an indelible mark
Now gone, but never forgotten
Our weeping and wailing
Oh, but for a respite, a moment
when the aches do not fill the caverns
of our hearts, souls, minds–
for some of us, the loss is so excruciating
that the dams of the liquid behind our eyes
cannot flow; they refuse to cross
the vicissitudes of our being
perhaps paralyzed behind our eyes
somewhere lost within our brains
for the inscrutable ways in which human beings function
there’s yet mystery.

sktwqkfnaub
For we know her rigor and scrutiny
that exposed the white supremacist misogynistic patriarchy
that could not kill her soul, for “the God she served
has sufficient power
to make a way out of no way.
Theology is holy work, it’s a sacred vocation.**

And so in our ontological, existential realities
as we wrestle with the Absence of the physical presence
of the late great, the August, Awesome, Amazing
Rev. Dr. Katie
whose Beautiful Brilliance hovers
in the galaxy, Courageous, with Compassion
to the level of the exponential
Daring and Determined to move from the shackles of Kannapolis
“Be aware of the ontological arm of the empire.”

Erudite, though an introvert
Focused like Flint on troubling the waters
of her students’ beings so that they reckoned with the responsibilities
Faith-filled of her Foremothers, Great-grandmother Mary, Grandmother Rosie, Mother Corine
Giant in spirit and mind; Gentle in her movement with Global implications
Heralding the dawn of a new day, as embodied blackness can make a difference;
Intuition and Intellect par excellence, in public, in spirit
Joyfully quiet, Cordon bleu Chef and baker of Justice in spaces and places
folks were so privileged to be in her midst
Kindred spirit—Kind, creating a Kismet of womanist theological ethics
Loving her God and her people
Magnificence critiquing mellifluence, in all that she did and does
Noble in presence, Nudging herself and others toward excellence
Even when having to jump through hoops, and nasty spaces—she had the
Gumption to Challenge Dominated Forms of
Knowledge Acquisition and Religious Power”

purple-wallpaper-2
Open to new ways her Ontological self, speaking volumes
Prayerful, Passionate Pedagogical Presence
Quick wit, Quiet, so profoundly Quintessential
Regal and Restive with Righteous unction
So many fought her, which She faced with Salvific Sincerity
Troubled the waters, Triumphed over adversity

Ultimately unfazed in her spirit, her praxis radiating effortlessly
Valiant, with valor-clothed feet, having created the Center for Womanist Leadership
Wise Woman for the ages, in many ways, before her time;
Winner of numerous awards, in the Church and the Academy, for teaching, preaching
scholarship, civic engagement, for being Rev. Dr. Katie!!!
Xanadus of white supremacist patriarchal, misogynistic empires, she exposed
Youthful and whimsical in her art, her doodling,
Zealous for justice, for her students, for all who loved her
reminds us as she takes her rest:
“Thinking with our Hearts/Feeling with our Brains:
Testimonies of Faith that History Might Otherwise Forget”

And so we say, good night and good morning Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon
Welcome on behalf of the ancestors!
we will grieve you; we will miss you,
we will ache for days because of your transition
we will look for you at annual meetings,
we’ll go to text you, we will read, and read, and reread your work
And come to appreciate you even more
As you wear your robes of purple in glory
In the greatest of Presbyteries, where you continue to
“Rock steady in the faith of Almighty God”
We will never forget you.
We know well your lessons of “embodied, mediated knowledge”
Know that you helped a Lot of somebodies
And your living was not in vain.
As you rest with the ancestors,
As you have debates with the great ethical minds of the centuries,
Know that your impact spans oceans and continents:
You pedagogical genius embraced a praxis where you “mined the motherlode.”
While too many did you wrong,
You did so right by thousands
You have shaped hearts and minds
And we will call your name for centuries to come
And so good night, and good morning sweet Katie,
Thank you for living a significant, salvific, paradigmatic life.
We thank God for giving you to us for six decades
Thank you for being you
Rest of your soul
You’ve done your work.
Soar sweet giant, soar.

**Words in bold italics are the words of Dr. Cannon.

canon sitting


Cheryl-Clergy-PHOTORev. Dr. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan is a Professor of Religion at Shaw University Divinity School [SUDS], Raleigh, NC, and an Ordained Elder in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Her unique proposition is that she specializes in helping individuals and families who have experienced the trauma of grief and loss, come into their authentic selves. Dr. Kirk-Duggan has written numerous articles and over twenty books, including those related to experiencing trauma and grief: Misbegotten Anguish: A Theology and Ethics of Violence Chalice Press, 2001; Violence and Theology, and her edited The Sky is Crying: Racism, Classism, and Natural Disaster, both Abingdon; her co-written is Wake Up!: Hip Hop, Christianity and the Black Church. Her volumeBaptized Rage, Transformed Grief: I Got Through, So Can You, a volume of poetry has just been published with Wipf & Stock Press.

Pray and Work – Rev. Dr. Katrina Foster

fontTasked with the role of ministering in a church that is 96% white,  any pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who is a person of color other than white  has a special role to play. They have a two-fold job – to change the structures of the church and society that keep people of color at risk, as well as doing what they can to protect and defend people of color wherever they are at risk. The Rev. Dr. Katrina Foster – pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, NY reflects on this reality with a mix of personal anecdote, riffs on the apostle Paul, and how combating white supremacy needs to be a top priority for all white Christians. This has been a crucial part of her ministry, and her observations are as poignant as they are jarring. So please, read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


My honorary daughter called me from Chicago recently. My ringer was turned off. I was in a training for an anti-racism curriculum to be included in the Diakonia class I teach. She tried Whatsapp and texted me. When I turned my phone during our lunch break, I saw all the activity.

I called her back. Usually when we talk, it is very substantial, but also fun, funny and easy.

When she answered the phone, I knew she was scared.

fear

She told me about a disturbed man who came to the church where she works. She’s not yet ordained, but she was the closest thing to a pastor there that day.

So she met with him, listened as he described the storms in his mind and all that scared him. She listened as he said he had a gun in his car.

She got the gun away from him.

And now, she was calling because she was scared, not of the man or even the gun. She was terrified of what could happen if she, a young woman of color, called the police to ask them to come get it.

She called around and I did too, to find a white, male pastor who could call the police and facilitate the hand over of the gun. It felt like it took forever. I was ready to fly from New York to Chicago to do it myself.

Lest you think she had no reason to be afraid as a woman of color with a gun, please remember Philando Castile was in legal possession of a handgun and was shot and killed while sitting in a car with his girlfriend and her four year old daughter.

Remember, Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times when he tried to pull his wallet out to show the police his identification when they mistook him for a rape suspect.

Remember, Stephon Clark who was killed in his grandparents backyard when police thought he had a weapon. He did not.

 

crime-scene-banner

In my nearly 24 years of ordained ministry, I have had many occasions to call the police, usually my local precinct, to come get a weapon or drugs I had taken from someone or that had been given to me. Not once did it occur to me that the police might think I was doing something illegal. Not once did it occur to me that I would be accused of breaking the law.

Not once did it occur to me that I could be seen as a threat. Not once.

That is the very definition of white privilege. As a little, white, middle aged woman, I am not seen as a threat. I am not assumed to be guilty of anything. I have never been afraid of the police. I enjoy all the benefits and privileges of citizenship.

My honorary daughter could not assume she would be safe. She could not assume she would be seen as innocent. She could not assume she would not be shot. She is a well educated, thoughtful, powerful, amazing law abiding American born citizen of this country. None of this would guarantee her safety. Long ago, she was convicted in the womb and must prove her innocence always.

In Jesus and the Disinherited, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman draws out the primary contextual difference between Jesus and Paul. The difference was Paul was a Roman citizen, Jesus was not.  Paul “was of a minority but with majority privileges.”

I have often puzzled over Paul’s promotion of government as it is. His urging of people who were slaves to remain in that position and not rebel seemed out of character when set side by side with his radical theology of inclusion and recognition of women in leadership roles.

For most of my life I simply assumed Paul favored the status quo, government as it simply is, etc., because he expected Jesus to come back very soon. Why bother changing the world, systems of oppression, if Jesus was coming back any moment now?

hands-up-dont-shoot-1

I think that mindset was probably true. His life as a Roman citizen and the privileges afforded him made him more comfortable under Roman rule. His fellow non-Roman citizen Jews chafed and rebelled under this oppression and had no expectations of benefits or blessings from the government.

I have been thinking about this difference between Paul and Jesus as I have been reflecting upon what happened to my kid. We are both American citizens, we are both baptized, we are both well educated, strong, and on and on.

The color of my skin affords me the full blessings and benefits that white citizens expect. The color of her skin puts her in danger first, makes her suspect, makes it less likely she will be afforded the blessings and benefits of citizenship.

I failed Greek the first time I took the class in seminary during the summer intensive. I barely passed my second attempt. But, I did fall in love with some Greek words, one in particular: metanoia, μετάνοια.

Metanoia is often translated “repent.” There is another meaning which is to change how one looks at things, to change one’s mind. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.

When I studied sociology as an undergraduate student and took classes in subjects like Race and Ethnicity, Social Stratification and Criminology, I was able to begin questioning the lies I was raised with about white superiority and the inferiority of all others.

When in seminary and I learned about biblical criticism and sat through lectures that tore apart my simple faith and replaced it with a real relationship with Christ, I was equipped to question our role is systemic racism and misogyny and a social religion that kept god on our side over and against all that I was raised to fear.

Nottingham-Street-Pastors-scheme-avoids-closure_wrbm_large

When I began serving my first call in the Bronx, I saw the transformative power of faith in the lives of everyday, kitchen table saints.  I experienced the renewing power of worship in our lives together. I came to understand I could not go back to old ways of thinking and believing. I could no longer have a pocket sized, MAGA Jesus. I needed this poor, Palestinian, iterent Jewish Rabbi whom I came to believe is the Messiah.

I needed this non-citizen of the Roman Empire who changed the world, created hope, healed, fed, led and called us to go and  make disciples of all nations.

I needed Paul at his best when he taught us to trust in the one “who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

I needed to metanoia, to change the way I looked at the world and the way I thought.

bible-verses-on-grieving

I must try to convince you and continue to convince myself, that we are called to speak, to work, to pray, to labor and to make justice.

I must convince you and continue to be convinced myself that the world can be different than what it is right now. I must convince you and continue to believe for myself that we are better together than apart. I must continue to convince you that my kid’s body matters because Black Lives Matter.

I must keep praying and working, and hoping and believing. “Not talking about race does not make the matter of race disappear. It only sustains the culture of race that continues to take the lives of our children.” (p. 227 Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God Kelly Brown Douglas)

After the white male pastor came and got the gun to the police, and I knew my kid was safer, I went to my church to do some more work. I sat at my desk to something, but I could not sit and read, or reflect.

I went and laid in front of the altar, staring up at the Crucifixion/Lynching scene, staring at the angels on the ceiling. Screamed and sobbed in rage at Jesus. Seethe prayed at God who knew what it was to have a child murdered by the state.

I have no happy ending to this essay, no answer to these omnipresent yet invisible reaches of systemic injustice and racism, no way to let us off the hook.

Do-Justice.-Love-Mercy.-And-Walk-Humbly.

This is what I have, clarity that God is still calling us to DO  JUSTICE, LOVE KINDNESS AND WALK HUMBLY. Clarity that when we pray THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH, that is a command we are called to follow. Clarity that the most frequent command in scripture, DO NOT BE AFRAID, is still spoken by angels to us in the midst of all that is too big.

I do not have certainty of how to fix all that is wrong, I have clarity that we, Jesus people, are called in the church and without, to not give up and to hold onto hope.

Friends, no matter what, be encouraged, pray and work.


20180802_115940.jpgKatrina D. Foster earned a B.A. in Religion/Philosophy and Sociology from Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina. She earned  a Master’s of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. She earned a Doctorate of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, May, 2008, focusing on Stewardship and Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Now in her third decade of ministry in both the parish and the street, she began serving St. John’s Lutheran Church, Greenpoint, Brooklyn –  where her work was the focus of an award-winning short documentary by The Front entitled “Working Women: The Urban Pastor.”  And since May of this year, Pastor Foster will be one of the presenters in the PBS series The Great American Read – presenting 1984 by George Orwell.