Looking in the Mirror: A #Metoo Reflection -Elyssa Salinas Lazarski – PhD student, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Dr TOur next installment for Women’s History Month comes from PhD candidate, and former student of mine and an M.Div. alumnus of LSTC, Elyssa Salinas. Like last week, it is a reflection that starts with #MeToo, but quickly turns into an, inimitable, defiantly beautiful poem to the power beauty of the female body – as only this magnificent, aspiring academic and theologian can write. 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.”


Me too. Two simple words that offer validation, assistance, and the momentary glimpse of community with another person. Me too. These two little words have rocked our world, and from the power of these two little words there rose a community of shared pain.  

Those words felt innocent before I saw them rising up from my social media feeds. I thought of someone saying they were going to get another cup of coffee or walking to the train, and my response “me too” would erupt from my lips. In those instances, there was no agenda, no greater thought, just the acknowledgement of similar tastes or travel plans. Then the night I saw the first #MeToo on my Facebook feed, I was confused and curious. Who is saying this? Why are they writing this? And why is there nothing else on my feed as I scroll down? I finally got some direction, and realized that I needed to respond with #MeToo.

When I wrote mine, I remember wanting to cry. I wanted to weep because of the memories that flooded back of each and every time that my body felt like it was not my own. Times when it felt like it was the object of a man’s gaze, the control of my abuser’s whims, or the piece of my fondler’s dreams.

As painful as it was to recall these memories, it was important for me to write out #MeToo into the chorus. I kept thinking how for a moment I not only felt heard, but not alone. I didn’t need to tell a story or share everything, it was a moment that felt as though a community gently sat down next to me, and held my hand. It was a moment of deep liberation, but also of traumatic triggering.


For the next few months, I kept hearing my abuser’s voice in my head, and it was drowning out every moment of self-confidence that I had regained. I kept hearing his voice, and forgetting that I had come so far from that awful time when I could barely look myself in the mirror. So, one day, I looked in the mirror to try and remember the woman who I cultivated and loved. The woman who got me to this place, and I tried to remember that she was standing in front of me, looking back at me.

In that moment, I realized that this #MeToo movement was more than words, it was a resounding echo of painful moments and that I was going to need to remember that my body was for me.

I went back into my old poems, and I found this one. I read it and cried because the woman who wrote it felt much stronger than me. I knew that something needed to change, and I needed a reminder of how far I’ve come and how strong I am, no matter what I see in the mirror. I decided to shave my head, for the second time. This time was about reclaiming my body, my beauty, and myself. When I let my hair fall to the kitchen floor later that night, I knew that this would not be the cure for my pain, but instead a ritual in my resistance to the voices in my head. The truth is those voices still sometimes whisper in my ear, and on some level, they probably always will.


But I remember that I also have a voice, a voice that resounds in a chorus of #MeToo, a voice that can speak my truth in poems like this one.


First: A Conversation I Never Expected to Have

I was made with more than flesh in mind;

A mind! Imagine that.

A mind that reasons & wonders why

All you see are body parts;

Mountains & valleys that you can walk over & conquer.

Not afraid of rough terrain or how it will fight back,

Just looking for a place to stick your flag.

A claim for all to see that you saw, you came & you conquered.

I was made with more than flesh in mind.

Given the gift of womanhood,

Of soft curves, short stature & the hope that one day

I will meet her.

The woman I’m supposed to become –

The woman everyone seems so excited to meet.

I was given the gift of womanhood.

A package filled with more than

Sugar in the raw &

Spices to fill the rack.

My womanhood lay underneath

Tissue paper and ribbon.

Gently laid and ready to be assembled.

My limbs were put together by women;

Women older & wiser than me who

Fastened me, piece by piece.

Putting my arm in a socket,

Showing me how to embrace

A sister

A mother &

Telling me one day I won’t need any instruction

To embrace a lover,

I’ll get enough practice when I find him.

Placing my hips low to the ground,

With a laying on of hands

Showing me how to sway when a beat calls to me.

They place my feet firmly on the ground & tell me

Each step I take will lead me

Through pain unbearable &

Toward pleasure unimaginable.

I was given this gift of womanhood,

Not you.

As much as you might think my hips sway only in your direction,

My body submits simply to your touch,

& my lips never speak anything but your name.

You are mistaken.

My body is not a present for you to unwrap &

Discard when you’re done playing.

My body is a gift from God with

My name on the tag.

A God that gave me the ability to create or wait,

Or just to say no if I choose.

My hips are not just childbearing –

They are weight-bearing, rhythm making, melody moving &

Cocked from side to side, depending on my mood.

These breasts are not meant for you to unclasp & set free,

To fondle as you dream.

They were meant for me

To push down, push up, fill out my dress if I see fit

& if I want you step

From that plate to touch a new base

I will tell you.

And what I hold between my legs

Was never meant to be called

Chastity, virginity, purity or honor.

It was never meant to be

Property, a bicycle, or a revolving door.

What I hold between my legs is not called


It has a name

all its own,

but one I choose

& do not have to share with you.

What I hold between my legs is

Beauty beyond measure

Ecstasy without ceasing

A point of pleasure & pain

Of life & death

& it is by invitation only that you get to come.

I have the God-given gift of being a woman &

What rests between my legs is divine pleasure,

What resides between my thighs

Is something more than a switch


Madonna & Whore

Virgin & Slut

Prude & Pleasing

What I hold between my legs is more

Than a fleshy existence

More than a quick night or fleeting fancy.

It is a place where life begins

Where existence is known

And where more women have been hurt

Then you can imagine.

I never thought I would have to explain

That my body belongs to me.

That it is my own,

That it does not belong to you.

I never thought that my decisions would give you ownership

Of a body that you do not take care of.

A nice dinner might fill my belly,

But do not think of it as admission

To play games and ride around as you please.

Take a whirl all the way to the top &

If you like it,

Make it spin again.

Pay a little extra and maybe it will go backwards?

I was made with more than flesh in mind.

I have the God-given gift that you try to turn

Into something I should hide

Or something I should give away.

But I have decided to keep this present,

This ever present gift that is God given,

The gift of being a woman.

Of soft curves, short stature &

That ever present hope that one day

I will be her,

The woman that everyone seems so excited to meet.

(written 12/9/13)

elyssa fierceElyssa Salinas Lazarski believes that her theology must touch her body; therefore, her scholarship encompasses her experience as a Mexican American and as a woman. Utilizing her own body as a crux, her research embraces sex and body-positive theology in order to combat a culture of disgrace. Currently beginning her second year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Elyssa continues to write for www.boldcafe.org and on her own blog Coffee Talk With E, and performs poetry throughout the city of Chicago.


How Do We Keep Our Daughters, Our People, Safe? – Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan

thomas110_1027092Though many see the church as a place of healing and sanctuary, the truth is far more complex. Truth be told, often times, the church is the worst place for women to go to seek support when they have been sexually assaulted – and many, many women are working hard to change this. The Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan will be reflecting on this very reality as we begin the second week of Women’s History Month, and we know you’ll find her reflection insightful. 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.”


We were in a circle when we told our stories. It was an impromptu gathering of women, most of us clergy. Earlier we had all participated either as performers or audience during an evening of spoken word and music. And we were filled both from the poetry and from dinner. Into the wee hours, we told our stories. Woman after woman. Violation after violation. Stories of assault by next door neighbors and cousins, in our own homes and on public transportation. Experiences of broken bodies and broken trust. And as the stories poured out, I felt despair.

The sense of despair startled me. I was a new pastor then, energized by a greater sense of hope and possibility than I had ever known before. Anything and everything seemed possible. An established Baptist church had taken the leap and done something different: they elected a single woman to head their 120-year-old church. They were receptive to my leadership.

The world was changing. But not fast enough.

Not fast enough to heal the brokenness in the eyes of my sisters.

Not fast enough to restore the sense of safety a girl in my own church had lost when she was molested in our basement.

What shook me that evening was the sense that We cannot keep our daughters safe.

I recognized just how ineffective the church is, how disconnected from the substantial need of the women who make up the bulk of our congregations and who live with the aftermath of violation.


Tarana Burke began the #MeToo movement to turn the realization of the ubiquity of sexual violence against Black girls and women from a source of despair to an opportunity for camaraderie and change. Rather than taking the fact that so many women can say “me too” as a sign of the intractability of the problem of harassment and assault, Burke understood a decade ago what women around the nation are coming to clarity about now, that there is healing and power in bringing the truth to light in community—healing and power not only for the women who speak together but also transformative power to change the environment in which we all live.

Although the work is just beginning, there are signs that the culture is shifting to take seriously the harm that has been done. Boardrooms and studio sets will be different because of the courage women have had in telling the stories of harassment and assault.

The question is what will happen in and to the church when the reckoning comes.

Frankly, the church is overdue for its #MeToo moment. Congregations and denominations, seminaries and parachurch organizations all are implicated in the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment. Too often the church is the prime location for attitudes that protect perpetrators to the continual harm of their victims.

After the conviction of serial predator Dr. Larry Nasser, Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse him, talked in Christianity Today about the toll that standing with victims took on her relationship with her own church by noting that “church is one of the worst places to go for help.”[1] The reasons for the lack of responsiveness are many, but at the heart of the problem is a theological one, that is, the failure to regard the well-being and dignity of women and girls as central to the message of abundant life that Jesus Christ proclaimed and promised.

photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

As a participant in the progressive side of the Black Church, I am specifically concerned that we attend to this and get it right as a feature of our understanding of justice work. Too often we have been guilty of limiting the church’s justice labor simply in terms of its advocacy for racial justice narrowly defined. This tension became obvious after the Golden Globe awards when entertainment leaders invited women who work for activist organizations to join them on the red carpet to highlight the relationship between sexual violence and economic status.

Accepting an award for lifetime achievement, Oprah Winfrey, herself a sexual assault survivor, gave an epic address that made the connection between sexual violence, economic vulnerability, and racism explicit especially by invoking the memory of Recy Taylor, who was gang raped in 1944 by six white men while walking home from church.

Especially on social media, several Black preachers decried this association as somehow diminishing the horror of what Mrs. Taylor suffered at the hands of the white men who raped her.

Recy Taylor, after touring the White House in 2011.

While all of us acknowledge that sexual harassment and sexual assault are not identical experiences—indeed that all kinds of abuse exist on a continuum—the refusal to recognize that sexual harassment is a form of abuse inhibits our capacity to proclaim a consistent justice message.

Rather than dismissing the capacity of rich white women to be abused, what we ought to proclaim is the insight of intersectionality, that is, that race and class intensify and exacerbate vulnerability to harm and violence. If privileged white women are silenced, then marginalized and poor women of color are only more so.

I fear that we have been slow to bring this to light because we know that some of our favorites will be exposed when the reckoning comes. Our churches too long have been harems for charismatic leaders. There are too many stories of revivalists being provided company for their week away from home, too many allowances for the bad behavior of great preachers. But just as the worlds of art and film have had to face that the actions of the creative perpetrators of harassment and assault are inexcusable, it’s now our turn.

We know that actors and writers and scholars and other creative women have left their fields after they have been harassed and assaulted by powerful persons in those fields.

We now need to wonder how many gifts in the church have been stifled because women have been treated as objects. How many great preachers have we lost because women whose gifts should have been nurtured were sacrificed to the great orators we had?

It’s our turn.

The conversation with my sisters years ago shaped my pastorate. It posed the question I feel compelled to answer in my preaching and pastoral care work: How do we keep our people safe? In the years since, I have heard many more stories, not just from women and girls but also from men and boys, about the injuries their bodies and minds sustained from perpetrators but also about the injuries their spirits sustained because the church would not hear them. The good news is that we can change.


Believing that the life and ministry of Jesus sealed by his resurrection portend God’s new creation, we in the church can and must prioritize the healing of those who have been harmed by sexual violence and the transformation of the world such that that violence ceases.

The beginning of the work occurs when we make room for the stories of those who say “me too,” bearing witness to the love of the God who loves us and wills for us to be healed and whole.

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html

image1Reverend Dr. Leslie D. Callahan is the fifth pastor and the first woman to serve the 128-year-old St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Before being elected to the pastorate, she served on the faculties of the University of Pennsylvania and New York Theological Seminary teaching American religious history.

Intersectional Theology: A Prophetic Call for Change – Profs. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw

thomas110_1027092To help us launch our posts for Wonen’s History Month, Professors Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw this week are generously sharing an article they wrote for The Huffington Post – and it is one worth seriously contemplating. Despite efforts in the United States to the contrary, there is considerable momentum among many circles of the church – among pastors, activists, preachers, academics, and lay leaders – to theologize in ways that are intersectional or that speak to people with overlapping identities that trigger systemic discrimination (bisexual, African American, women – for example – or for those who are disabled and elderly). It is a dynamic concept that challenges long-held assumptions about theology and praxis, and we are happy to share those thoughts with you here. 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.”


You’ve probably seen the photos: In one, a half dozen powerful white men flank the president while he signs the global gag order that prevents international organizations from receiving US aid funds if they so much as mention the word “abortion;” in the other, the president and vice president are surrounded by powerful white men from the congressional Freedom Caucus to talk about removing requirements for insurance coverage for maternity care. Nary a woman is in sight for either photo… or for the discussions about women’s health at the center of these photo ops.

On the other hand, every day the news, Facebook, and Twitter bombard us with stories about the next law, policy, or executive order issued by the Trump administration that targets women, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and the poor.

Taken together, those photos and these policies highlight an intentional and concerted effort to enhance the fortunes of the already privileged and further marginalize those outside this “mythical norm”—white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, native-born, young to middle aged, and Christian.

And the further from the norm, the greater the marginalization. This marginalization, however, is not simply additive, but rather social categories of gender, race, class, and other forms of difference interact with and shape one another within interconnected systems of oppression.

These systems of oppression—sexism, racism, colonialism, classism, ableism, nativism, and ageism—work within social institutions such as education, work, religion, and the family (what Black feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins calls “the matrix of domination”) to structure our experiences and relationships in such a way that we participate in reproducing dominance and subordination without even realizing it.

These systems teach us how to see the world, how to evaluate each other, and how to treat one another based on our differences. In a larger sense, these systems shape society in ways that reinforce the dominance of men over women, whites over people of color, heterosexuals over LGBTQ people, and so on. Even more complicating are the intersections of difference that create, for example, different experiences of sexism for white women than for women of color or different experiences of racism for Black women than for Black men. Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw calls this phenomenon “intersectionality.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Crenshaw explains intersectionality through this story from the courts. In DeGraffenreid v General Motors, a group of Black women sued the company alleging discrimination against Black women in the company’s seniority system. The court found against the women. Because General Motors could show that it had hired women (white women), the plaintiffs could not show that the company had discriminated on the basis of gender. The court recommended the women join another case alleging racial discrimination, but the plaintiffs refused because this recommendation overlooked that their claim alleged both race and sex discrimination. The court, nonetheless, refused to acknowledge Black women as a special class.

Intersectionality recognizes how power works across multiple forms of difference and acknowledges that oppressive powers cannot be isolated or examined separately from one other.

Rather, intersectionality pays attention to the ways social differences give shape to one another and demands that remedies to discrimination and oppression also attend to these intersections.

Religion as a social institution is not exempt from the effects of intersectionality. As a part of the matrix of domination, religion plays a role in maintaining hierarchies of power. Christianity specifically has been a key player in reproducing systems of oppression throughout history through its support for the domination of women, imperialism, capitalism, slavery, segregation, and anti-LGBTQ legislation. In recent years, Christians have misused scripture and theology to maintain social inequality, and, most recently, many Christians have supported the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-people of color, anti-LGBTQ, anti-poor rantings and policies of the Trump administration.

image courtesy of Tagg Media

Even among progressive Christians, often the tendency has been to develop theologies of liberation focused on one’s own oppression without accounting for one’s privilege and attending to the intersections of difference at work, even in liberatory theologies.

The time has come for progressive Christianity to center intersectionality in its biblical interpretations, theologies, and church practices. We cannot develop feminist theologies without attending to race, sexual identity, social class, ability, gender identity, and age. We cannot develop queer theologies that do not account for race and class, for age and ability. We cannot develop racial/ethnic theologies that do not attend to gender and sexual identity.

When we create a singular identity as normative for any liberatory theology, we marginalize the intersections of diverse people within a group, who experience oppressions in varying ways because of the intersections.

We propose an Intersectional Theology, a theology that begins in the intersections and moves toward liberation and justice for all people inclusive of all their differences. We propose an intersectional hermeneutic that begins with examinations of the biblical text’s imperial history and highlights the intersectional lives of biblical characters—Jesus, a Jewish man of the working class living under a colonial power; Paul, a character full of challenges and contradictions as a Jewish man and Christian convert with Roman citizenship; the Samaritan woman, the hemorrhaging woman, the Canaanite women, the Ethiopian eunuch, Peter and Cornelius.

We propose an Intersectional Theology that leaves no one out, that leaves no one’s experience unconsidered in exploring and expanding our ideas of God, sin, redemption, and the church, and that leaves no one’s oppression unchallenged and no system of oppression intact.



In our present political climate, we desperately need an Intersectional Theology to offer a prophetic call to the church to engage theologically and socially in resistance to the institutions and ideologies that perpetuate oppression. In centering intersectionality, we answer the call of the “least of these,” and we position the church, not as a complicit institution, but as a leader in a vision toward God’s kin-dom that welcomes, affirms, encourages, and supports all of God’s children in all of their God-given complexity.

577fd5dd1a00001a006f93f4.jpgGrace Ji-Sun Kim received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. Kim is the author or editor of 13 books: Mother Daughter Speak; Planetary Solidarity; Intercultural Ministry; Making Peace with the Earth; Embracing the Other; Here I Am; Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice; Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style”; Contemplations from the Heart; Reimagining with Christian Doctrines; Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Power; The Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other; and The Grace of Sophia. She is a Series Editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for Palgrave Macmillan Series, “Asian Christianity in the Diaspora”. Kim is on the American Academy of Religion’s Board of Directors as an At-Large Director and co-chair of AAR’s “Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching and Activism Group.” Kim has written for Sojourners, Feminist Studies in Religion (co-editor), TIME, and The Nation. Kim is an ordained PC (USA) minister and more of her writing can be found on her blog gracejisunkim.wordpress.com.

57768e861900001800218f96.jpgSusan M. Shaw is a professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. She holds an MA and PhD in Religious Education from Southern Seminary and an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Women Studies and English from Oregon State University. She is an ordained Baptist minister who makes her congregational home in the United Church of Christ. Prior to joining the OSU faculty in 1996 she taught religion at two private liberal arts colleges. She is author of Reflective Faith: A Theological Toolbox for Women and God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home, and Society, and co-author of two introductory textbooks, Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings and Women Worldwide: Transnational Feminist Perspectives on Women, and Girls Rock! 50 Years of Women Making Music. She is currently executive editor of a forthcoming 4-volume encyclopedia of women’s lives worldwide and co-editor of a forthcoming volume on intersectionality in Baptist life.



The Wrong Line – Dwayne Craig, Ph.D. student – Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

lt-ny-eve-march-2016“Solidarity” is a word thrown around a lot in Christian cirlces these days, so much so that often times its true meaning, feeling, get lost. Dwayne Craig – student at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary – reminds our readers this week that in its most potent form, ‘solidarity’ means putting your body on the line, not just your convictions or privilege, not just your online presence or public opinions. God had to take on a body to lift everything to new life, and if such is the case, it’s likely a good idea for us to imitate. 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.”


In the mid-1940s, a young mother was standing in line to make an appointment to see a doctor about her ailing young son.  She, like many others, waited patiently in the crowded hallway, ever eager to speak with someone who could help her, as her five year old son, weary from the prolonged standing, complained more and more about his stomach.

An elderly nurse, who sought to assure all who stood in the lines that the doctors were seeing patients as quickly as possible, noticed the young mother with child, went over and whispered in her ear that she was in the wrong line.

She signaled to the young mother that she was standing in the colored line, which was long, and she ought to be over in the line for whites only. 

The young mother listened intently to the elderly nurse and then appropriately and politely responded by saying, “I am standing in the right line.” 

The nurse was astonished by such a response and the calm, yet fierce demeanor of this young, ivory-skinned mother, who stood firmly with those relegated to the margins of society.

The Miami Dolphins players before a game, in support of Colin Kaepernick.

In the great drama of life, we are ever challenged to bear witness as to whom we are willing to stand “with” and “for” in this vast holding environment.  In this great celestial sphere, our holding environment, we are terrestrial creatures interrelated and interconnected, like a constellation suspended in a winter sky.  In this vast galaxy, among billions of others, we are so housed together on a rocky, ordinary planet.  We, as fragile, bipedal inhabitants, are chemically and molecularly connected, as the astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us.  In this vast domain of a multiplicity of diverse objects and fellow inhabitants, both human and non-human, we are intimately attached one to the other, as we seek to navigate our way through a world of difference.

Howard Thurman writes, “For every man (sic) [human being] there is a necessity to establish as securely as possible the lines along which he [she] proposes to live his [her] life.”  The young mother had resolved within herself long before the nurse in the hospital approached her on that day that “to be is to be with and for the other.”

There are some things in life that leave an indelible mark upon our conscience.  We are constantly bombarded by news from one end of the globe to the other; the kind of news that numbs our troubled bodies and stuns our fragile souls in world that is becoming increasingly divided.


Tens of thousands of migrants from various countries on the African continent flock to Libya in the hope of pursuing a better life in some european country but only to find themselves standing in a slave auction line and being sold for four hundred, seven hundred, or twelve-hundred dollars by “unscrupulous people smugglers.”

November of last year, thousands upon thousands of far-right groups and white supremacists in Warsaw, Poland, marched in line on that country’s independence day burning flares and holding signs that read “White Europe” and “Clean Blood.”

Since last August, approximately 650,000 Rohingya Muslims, and the numbers continue to climb, have been forced to flee for their life from Myanmar and stand in long lines for entrance into Bangladesh.  Under the duress of ethnic violence, in the majority Buddhist country, Rohingya Muslims, by the thousands, exit Myanmar each week, where men have been tortured, women raped, and children burned.

In October of this year, the U.S. mourned the shocking deaths of 58 people killed and over 500 injured by a single gunman in Las Vegas and, recently, a lone 19 year-old gunman, with a .223-caliber AR 15 rifle took the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

And here, in Chicago, a couple of months ago fifteen men were recently exonerated of drug conviction charges because of the lack of integrity and truthfulness in the reports of police officers.  The officers framed the men by planting drugs on them and falsifying their reports, resulting in some men serving more than ten years in prison.


These few stories remind us of the tragic nature of our turn away from each other but, also, in four of the above listed stories we find how certain bodies are devalued, distantiated, abused, and incarcerated.  Such bodies are made to feel unwanted and disposable; they are defined as guilty, problematic, and transgressive because such bodies are conceived as black bodies and black bodies are not to be free bodies, as noted by Kelly Brown Douglas.  Since the early 1970s, the number of persons incarcerated in the U.S. has jumped from 350,000 to well over 2 million, with “ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses” have been black and brown brothers and some sisters.  Michelle Alexander issues a call and summons us to stand in line with those who find themselves under assault by a criminal justice system that follows the script of slavery and Jim Crow: social control of black bodies.

Like the mother who stood in the colored line, God stands in the line with those who are relegated to the margins of society and are devalued, abused, burned, lynched, and incarcerated.  God identifies with disposable black bodies, becomes a disposable body, and in the here and now works on behalf of those bodies in desperate need of liberation.  God is the Mother of those who have been signified as outsider, but “we” know such human beings as persons created in the image of God who, likewise, are members of the human family, as Frederick Douglass indicated. Therefore, we must stand as he did to “love the religion of our blessed Savior” and hate “the slaveholding … soul-destroying religion….”

The challenge in the twenty-first century will be to break the chains of protracted balkanization that persists on a global scale.  This is a monumental task; however, if there are persons who will resolve within the fibers of their being to stand in the lines of uncomfortability and risk, then the dawn of a new day can race across the horizon of Zion.  We must stand up and against white supremacy.

We must stand up and against white racism.  We must stand up and against a stand-your-ground culture.  We must stand up and with the God of love and justice.  For in so doing, we will, by God’s Spirit, see the birthing of an ethos of genuine care, compassion, and concern for the other and stand in line as long as it takes, so that the aches within our bellies will be tended to by physicians who have a desire to bring comfort and well-beingness to all bodies in the biosphere.


IMG_1855Dwayne Craig holds graduate degrees from The Divinity School at Duke University, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University and, at present, is a third year PhD student at Garrett.  He is a native Floridian and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.  Dwayne firmly believes that theological reflections are to be linked to the concrete realities of everyday life and circumstances, and that the church is to choreograph a love supreme (John Coltrane) as she subversively engages in acts of crossing the borders of social and ecclesial balkanization.

Not an ‘Isolated’ Incident – Emmanuel Noisette, MA student – Chicago Theological Seminary

Dr TFor our next reflection as part of Black History Month, Emmanuel Noisette – MA student at Chicago Theological Seminary – shares his personal story of how he come to understand the Movement for Black Lives, and how the murder of Michael Brown forever changed what he thought about himself and the realities of race in our country. I wonder if you might consider this piece a theological narrative about the life experience of a child of God, our neigbor, who we are called to love, and for whom we help seek justice. 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.”


I want to make it very clear, that I am writing this article from the perspective of 33 year old, African American, cis male. Over the course of the past 2-3 years, I have to say that the racial tensions that have been continuously exposed in our society have only introduced a new level of anxiety I could never imagine.

I can remember this feeling begin to manifest when the story of Trayvon Martin starting making the national news. While I thought the story was indeed tragic, and the circumstances to be extremely suspect, I still isolated that situation in my mind. I didn’t think to myself “Well that could happen to me.”

Then the story of Mike Brown made headlines.

The story of this young man who allegedly fought with an officer causing him to lose his life. Again, the details seemed rather suspect, so despite feeling as though an injustice had occurred, I stored it away in my mind as another isolated incident. I even further tried to convince myself into thinking, “well that can’t happen to me…those were young boys probably acting immature or something.”.

Not too long after, the story of Eric Gardner started to trend with the hashtag #ICantBreathe. This story is where I started to pause for a moment and ask more questions. Why did 4 police officers have to be that aggressive with him? Why were they so forceful that they completely disregarded his plea to simply breathe? While I tried to compartmentalize this situation like the others, it became a bit more difficult to do.


At this point, I almost started to feel bombarded with more cases of unharmed minorities being brutalized or killed by the police. I recall watching the news about Terrance Crutcher. It was at this point that the severity of these situations had hit me like a ton of bricks. Mr. Crutcher was pulled over by police officers who all pulled out their guns aiming at him. He had his hands up during the event to show he was unarmed. Police shot and killed Mr. Crutcher. Prior to shooting him, one of the police helicopter pilots was caught on the radio to say “He [Crutcher] looks like a bad dude.”

That’s when it hit me. From 3,000 feet high into the air, with nothing else to actually see except for the color of this man’s skin, Mr. Crutcher was perceived to be a “bad dude”.

As I said earlier, I’m a 33 year old African American male. More specifically, I’m 6’2, 250+ pounds. I probably look like a “bad dude” to other officers as well. That terrifies me. It scares the daylights out of me that I just so happen to fit some biased perception that officers may have that evoke fear within them. A fear that is so dangerous that it kills. A fear so diabolical that it also serves as a way to bypass actual justice for the slain, unarmed victims.

As probably any African American can recount, simply seeing a police officer in our rear view mirror would almost cause an anxiety attack. It doesn’t even matter if I know that I’m doing the speed limit, with my seat belt on, and classical music was playing in my car. If I even get pulled over by police office, I don’t even have the luxury to fear for my life. Instead, I’m fearing for the lives of my wife and children. I fear that if this officer is having a bad day, or if they’re on edge, then there’s a chance I won’t make it out alive. Given the example of Philando Castile, I don’t have as much confidence of living even if I were to fully comply! My fear is that my family won’t even get justice for my death. The police officer will get off, “fearing for their lives” and the case will be closed.


My family will be left with pain and sorrow and injustice. Worst off, there would be nothing I could do about it because I’d be dead.

I suppose, the biggest issue I’ve had with this racial phenomena in our society is the reaction to all of this from White America. For almost every situation I’ve mentioned earlier, there was a large enough group of white Americans that were defending the unarmed killings, or ignoring them completely. This “white resistance” to racial equality was further compounded with the notion that minorities were keeping the nation divided by evoking racial issues. This sentiment was echoed even in the sports realm when Colin Kaepernick began to take a knee against police brutality.

Ultimately, if I have to be as open as can be, this has placed a major burden on my faith journey.

When I started my graduate seminary courses, I was gun-ho on Christian apologetics. I was excited to defend the faith at all costs from a philosophical perspective. I looked up to a number of popular [white] theology/philosophy professors who would defend Christianity against the toughest of opponents. Then reality struck when every single time a racial incident would occur, those professors would go MIA. I’m not discouraged per se, but more so disappointed. It’s disheartening when the object of your faith appears to not be interested in fighting in your corner. Nevertheless, I still continue to listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance and revelation.

Thus, I think as with any social issues of race, gender, or sexuality there is a pretty simple formula we can follow if we’re truly interested in bridging that social divide.

If you ever find yourself frustrated in a conversation or a topic, ask yourself if you’ve honestly followed these steps.

1)👂-Listen: Often times, we don’t take the time to even listen to what the other person or social group is saying because we’re just waiting to respond.

2) 🧠-Understand: If you don’t listen to what the person is saying, then you’ll never really understand what their issue or perspective may be.

3) ❤️-Empathize: If you don’t understand where they’re coming from, then you won’t be able to empathize with their position. Empathy is one of the most effective ways for us to break free of our own social privileges or ignorance.

4) 🗣️- Speak: Notice this step is close to the end. You don’t have to always agree with people. However, often times speaking before the previous steps may likely undermine the other person’s position, lead to misunderstandings, or keep you in a state of ignorance.

5) 🤝 – Relationship: Building a relationship with someone is probably one of the best ways to edify yourself and truly learn more about a perspective outside of your own. Having relationships are what humans probably do best. Not only that, but it sustains everything else previously mentioned for a longer period of time. No, sorry. That random (insert social group) friend at work doesn’t count.


I truly believe that if these simple 5 steps are followed, a lot of progress can be made in our society. The key is to really focus on each step individually. Furthermore, you must only progress to the next step until you’ve mastered the current one. When in doubt use this formula and pass it down to others.

I’m more than positive the internal positivity it creates will be contagious to all.

71fc5587ebb55dc8aa142c66d05794a9.0Emmanuel Noisette (he/him/his) is a multi-year student at Chicago Theological Seminary in the Master of Arts program. Emmanuel’s primary focus is in ethics, philosophy, and theology. He’s a proud father of three beautiful daughters and is a loving husband. He currently works at the University of Chicago in the IT department. When he’s not at his full time job, he’s also a film critic. He’s got a significant following of over 40K fans on his Facebook Fan Page, and regularly produces video content on his YouTube Channel, E-man’s Movie Reviews.


Conversion, Ash Wednesday and #BlackHistoryMonth – Karl Anliker, Candidate for Ordination (ELCA)

lt-ny-eve-march-2016As we approach Lent, M.Div. student at LSTC – Karl Anliker – has a powerful reflection/confession to share with our readers. Grounded in a personal story of his theological development, Anliker shares a vulnerable and passionate self-critique, as well as the steps by which he came to his conclusions. And as the church gets ready for a 6 week season of repentance, Anliker’s thoughts will make good company. 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.”

I was recently working on a project for a class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). The project involved depicting a group of highly intersectional people as saints using traditional Eurocentric Mosaic depictions of saints. Samples below.


I entitled the project For All the Saints in the hopes that my faith tradition would be able to see these beautiful people as saints, beloved by God. Furthermore, I hoped I could awaken the hearts and minds of folks who share my European Lutheran heritage to a new imagining of saints.

During this #BlackHistoryMonth in the rhythm of the repentance and renewal, I discovered a story I would like to share. The story has functioned as an eye opening, soul stimulating piece of reflection as well as a corrective for the prevailing narratives of my own white, cis, hetero, able, male world.

Mosaic from St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral by Sirio Tonelli. Image of Matthew Shepard is from Huffpost

Matthew Shepard is pictured in the image above. All of the people incorporated in the For All the Saints project were killed by acts of violence, fear, and hate. His murder played a pivotal role in awakening white communities, in particular, to the evils of homophobia. I learned his story in school and the horrors he experienced.

Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009. A quick google search reveals that this act is also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.

However, that is not the full name of the legislation.

President Barack Obama greets Louvon Harris, left, Betty Byrd Boatner, right, both sisters of James Byrd, Jr., and Judy Shepard, center, mother of Matthew Shepard, following his remarks at a reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 28, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The full name of the legislation is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

James Byrd Jr.?

Who was he and why did I not know his name?

Why did the legislation not commonly include his name?

James Byrd Jr. was murdered by white supremacists in 1998. He was lynched by being drug behind a vehicle for miles. The three men, whom court proceedings revealed had deep connections to white supremacist groups, offered him a ride and he, weary from work and without his own transportation, accepted the invitation.

Erasing James Byrd Jr. and his family who advocated for the legislation only furthers the atrocities committed.

The For All the Saints project was sure to honor both men and their loss of life, seeking to honor their personhood and not engage in the details of their horrific death.

James Byrd Jr.

This is his name.

This is his face.

Byrd Photo from face to face Africa.
Mosaic from St. Eudoxia, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Now and forever a Saint.

Hate Crimes prevention must begin and end honoring him and his family. I have to sit with his picture and the words from his family.

Byrd’s sister Betty said, “He (President Obama) had told him that one day my name is going to be all over the world and if he was here today I would say James Junior, we called him son, your name is all over the world.”[1]

Knowing that the loss his family faced is unimaginable, I cannot help but remain committed to what James Byrd Jr.’s sister proclaimed. His name must be known all over the world. In my church. In my family.

LSTC is in the midst of a curriculum focused on “public church.” Although I continue to explore what this might mean for my own exploration of call, I have to tell a different story. I have to disrupt the corruption of the white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchy by finding the story that is not told, or is not received.

My role in public church is amplification and correction with a constant awareness that my own voice will dominate and must be minimized.

Public Church is being, standing, listening.


My call must include exploring how our images and depictions of the saints and icons in worship is not inclusive. I must engage with the story of James Byrd Jr. alongside the parable of the Good Samaritan to make it clear where I have failed to recognize my neighbor.

I must be careful to not overemphasize or erase the tragedy of theft and destruction women into the story of the African diaspora. I must honor beauty, rich cultural heritage and black excellence. Holding tragedy and beauty together.

I must be ready to hear that I have messed up.

Knowing that the narrative illuminated by Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas in Stand Your Ground is my own. When I’m corrected or challenged I stand my ground. I refuse to acknowledge my own participation in systems of death dealing evil. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas speaks of how the Trump presidency is standing its ground and attempting to erase the reality of the Obama presidency. I know that in my heart I also stand my ground erasing people of color from places and spaces.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me writes to his son and describes my story this way:

“But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed in prisons and ghettos.”[2]

Knowing my complicity in creating the deathbed for us all, I find myself approaching Ash Wednesday. Acknowledging mortality and the reality of death. I find myself in need of repentance, conversion and the kind of transformation only God can bring to my heart and community to bring about a world where he is known all over the world. James Byrd Jr., in life and death, a saint.

[1] http://www.ktre.com/story/15519578/james-byrd-jrs-family-speaks-out-as-his-killer-is-executed

[2] Coates, Ta-Nehisi Between the World and Me, 151.

head-shot1Karl Anliker (he/him/his) is a second-year student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the Master of Divinity program. Karl most recently served with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at All Peoples Church that Karl first proclaimed #BlackLivesMatter and his determination to resist white supremacy, more fully understand his privilege, and move white communities to real solidarity began. Karl lives with his wife Charlotte in Hyde Park, Chicago where they find joy in walking around the neighborhood and a sun room garden.

Eliminating Inhuman(e) Opponents – Rev. Dr. Zach Mills

Dr TTo start our journey into Black History Month, our first post is by race scholar and Forum for Theological Exploration Fellow, the Rev. Dr. Zach Mills. Both a reflection on Civil Rights hero Rev. Clay Evans and the current state of our country’s public discourse, Mills reminds us that the way to cease having inhuman(e) opponents is to stop treating opponents as if they are inhuman. Easier said than done? Maybe, but his thoughts are worth a peek – especially in times such as ours. 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.”

When our ways please the Almighty,
 YHWH brings even our enemies to the peace table.

Proverbs 16:7 (FET)

It’s strange, ironic really, that during this month devoted to celebrating justice, love, and peace many of us have been waking up thirsty to witness someone get “destroyed.”


It’s not just me, right? It’s a real thing displayed daily in Facebook feeds and social media posts: “Watch this Republican destroy this Democrat’s view on gun reform” or “Watch this activist destroy this police department’s response to racial profiling” or “Watch this White House official destroy this liberal or conservative response to Trump’s tax bill.

It’s not just me, right? Social media has become a space of bullying and blugeoning, a cyber colosseum where desktop gladiators of different political leanings seek to eliminate their opponents weilding the most powerful weapon ever forged—words! I’m sure you’ve witnessed social media comment sections roar loudly as fanatical spectators cheered their heroes to victory and condemned villains to their doom. You might have even been one of the gladiators doing the destroying!

Tragically, ours is now a culture infected with a fanatical fascination with our opponents’ social media demise. We binge watch these virtual executions with little interest or empathy in veiwing the one being destroyed as human. On social media we see our opponents more like online avatars representing the values, worldviews, and inhumaneness we stand against. We see our opponents as liberal, or conservative, or Christian or non-Christian, or black or white, or rich or poor, Democrat or Republican—generalized abstractions, convenient stereotypes, inhuman symbols of the inhumane! But we fail spectacularly to see our opponents—those who share differnet beliefs or opinions—as flawed and fragile creations with insecurities, fears, and imperfections that resemble our own.

So during February when we remember black struggle and trumpet the beauty and possibility of black lives I can’t think of a more timely or appropriate message than this:

If we want to inspire the United States to be the best version of itself, then it’s time to start eliminating the inhuman(e) ways we’ve been engaging those with whom we disagree.

Rev. Clay Evans (1925 – )

This was one of the most important lessons I learned from Chicago civil rights hero Rev. Clay Evans during the years I spent writing his biography, The Last Blues Preacher: Rev. Clay Evans, Black Lives, and the Faith that Woke the Nation.

Miraculous things can happen, Rev. Evans would often say, when opponents summon the humility to “rise above the isms” dividing them and find common ground.

If anyone can testify about the destructive isms dividing the United States it is Rev. Clay Evans. When Rev. Evans welcomed Martin Luther King, Jr. to Chicago in 1965 he faced striking opposition. Being held at gunpoint — by a minister! — and becoming a target for ward bosses and gangster politicians was just the beginning. There was the time when many black Baptist ministers turned on Rev. Evans after he licensed and ordained Rev. Consuella York, who is believed to be the first African American woman ordained in the Baptist tradition in Chicago.[1] During his time as senior pastor of Chicago’s Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, between 1950 and 2000, Rev. Clay Evans faced some of the most uncompromising, vicious, and racist opponents around.

However, through it all, Rev. Evans has sought diplomacy and respect with even his harshest opponents. As I listened to Rev. Evans’s story there were times when tales of his stubborn devotion to listen to his opponents actually frustrated me. How could he have been (and how can he still be!) so patient with such hostile adversaries?! Yet Rev. Evans persisted in his radical listening, counseling…


“Reach up and above and across. There’s something I have to offer you. There’s something you have to offer me.”

Through the life and ministry of Rev. Clay Evans I have come to understand more clearly the power and possibility of radical listening. We can’t eliminate our opponents by engaging them in inhuman(e) ways. We don’t win allies by reciprocating toxic behavior. But we can begin to change a culture obsessed with destroying opponents through a stubborn devotion to more radical listening.

My experience interveiwing Rev. Evans for The Last Blues Preacher reminded me of my college days writing for Western Kentucky University’s school newspaper, The Herald. I wrote a weekly column called “What’s Your Story?” My job was to capture students’ unique talents, perspectives, and experiences. Each week I’d call a student from the campus phone book or I’d stop a student on campus and interview them for my column.

Usually, students were reluctant at first. “I don’t have a story,” they’d say. But after talking more they realized they did have a story to tell. As I listened, I realized how small my world was and how big it could and needed to become.


Indeed, miraculous things can happen, especially among people with whom we disagree, when we listen to understand not to convert or evangelize. In a world where many of us are arguing, or just waiting for our turn to talk, we’re losing the ability, and the desire, to simply listen. I’ve never won an opponent to my side because I humiliated or outwitted them publicly. But a few have become allies after I listened to their stories and after they then listened to mine—after we had become more human to one another again.

On Facebook, between February and April, I’ll be posting short videos featuring people from all walks of life talking about their stories of struggle, faith, pain, healing, defeat, and success. I hope these stories challenge us to admit how our worlds can and should become bigger. And I hope they inspire us to find the courage and humility to actually listen to others—yes, especially to those whose beliefs differ from the ones we hold dear.

That’s the best way to eliminate inhuman(e) opponents: treating them with dignity, even as we voice why we disagree with and resist the beliefs they hold that we find destructive.


Knowing our opponents more personally not as inhuman(e) cyber soundbites or computer-generated pixels. That’s the liberating way forward. I believe that way pleases God—radical listening through inconvenient and, at times, uncomfortable communion with diverse others!

[1] Paul Galloway, “Rev. Consuella York, 72: Jail Minister,” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1995, http://tinyurl.com/y7c6fzjq.

zachRev. Dr. Zach W. Mills studies race, religion, and rhetoric, and is the author of The Last Blues Preacher, a biography about Chicago civil rights hero Rev. Clay Evans scheduled for publication with Fortress Press May 1, 2018. An ordained Baptist minister, Mills earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Arts in Homiletics from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D in Rhetoric and Public Culture from Northwestern University. In 2017, Mills founded JabbrJaw, a consulting business that prepares clients to be effective communicators behind and beyond church pulpits. A primary issue his scholarship and ministry seeks to address is how to help people cultivate authentic and influential voices within unfamiliar – and even hostile – cultural landscapes. His work emphasizes the power of communication to help people find common ground amid social, cultural, and political differences. You can also follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To pre-order The Last Blues Preacher visit his website zmills.com.