Increased Devotion/Part Two: Reflection on Race and Religion from the Place of Gettysburg

Rev. Leonard M. Hummel, PH.D. and Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood JD, PH.D.

After a long hiatus, We Talk. We Listen is back – but we are taking it in a direction even more vital and poignant from years past.

Since becoming the director of the Albert “Pete” Pero, Jr. and Cheryl Stewart Pero Center for Intersectionality Studies, this blog is now going to be focusing on intersectionality the ways that “categories of difference” such as race, gender, class, ability, and sexuality (etc…) interact and overlap and influence each other, for good or ill. The first of these posts, as we continue these closing days of Black History Month, focuses specifically on is by the Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel, Ph. D. and the Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood JD, Ph. D. and the historical-political and racial-political implications of arguably the most famous battleground of the US Civil War – Gettysburg. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas

Professor of Theology and Anthropology; Director, Albert “Pete” Pero, Jr. and Cheryl Stewart Pero Center for Intersectionality Studies


Following the deadliest battle (over a three-day period) of the Civil War in 1863, many prominent U.S. leaders have visited the grounds of Gettysburg to reflect on the meaning of that battle for America, both then and now.   Standing in its new cemetery four months after the slaughter had ceased, Lincoln called for a new birth of freedom to ensure meaning for those deaths.  In March of 1963, John F. Kennedy toured its park, and, later, Lyndon B. Johnson gave his own address on race and freedom where Lincoln earlier had stood.

However, as we noted in the first installment of this Blog, a President who had announced that he would deliver a Gettysburg Address in November of 2013, 150 years after Lincoln had done so, Obama did not do so–for reasons that have never been made public.

As we shared in our earlier entry, through the activities of anti-slavery civic and religious leaders, underground railroad conductors,and an African American community whose members risked enslavement/re-enslavement, “Before the war came . . . Gettysburg had primed to respond to issues of race/racism; slavery/freedom; suffering/consolation for suffering.”

In this installment of “Increased Devotion,” we reflect on race and religion from the place of Gettysburg from the time following the battle until now.  We tell this story of Gettysburg as one of endurance and hope amidst the persistence of racism. Endurance and hope amidst racism had been the experience of Frederick Douglass before the war and of his unfinished work of war against racism that continued in post-bellum years—including at his Gettysburg lecture in the Agricultural Hall there on January 25, 1869.

Gettysburg’s Agricultural Hall, circa 1950

Much could be said about Douglass’s address at Gettysburg—and much has been said by Codie Eash about this lecture in which the orator linked the revolutionary work of the 16th century Dutch Prince, William of Orange, with the revolutionary new birth of freedom called for by Lincoln six years earlier.

But much also must be noted about the racist remarks that Douglass—who had received death threats when he had spoken elsewhere—had laid before him by one local newspaper, the Gettysburg Compiler, before his January address: “The negro is not the white man’s equal, and no attempt to force him upon the white man, .. . can ever be successful.” (The Gettysburg Compiler, January 15, 1869, 2). And as Eash has painstakingly and painfully documented, the worst racist epithets of both his era and our own were directed at him by this same newspaper following his Gettysburg address.

After the Civil War, amidst the failure of the United States to ensure the Civil Rights of African Americans, Black Americans throughout the United States relied on many resources to survive and thrive—including, if not especially, leaders, teachers and organized religious life. And so did many African Americans in Gettysburg – Among such leaders was Basil Biggs (1819–1906).

Basil Biggs

Throughout the borough’s post-bellum life, there have been many such leaders and teachers who acquired wealth following the battle from his oversight of the interment of fallen Union soldiers, and then, with these earnings, real estate.

Not satisfied with his own financial security, Biggs transported black Gettysburg citizens to the polls in 1870 to ensure that the words of the 15th Amendment had not been adopted in vain but, rather, might be made flesh.

Throughout the history of Gettysburg, many teachers emerged to serve the black community. Following the war, the first was Lloyd Watts (1835-1918) who was a veteran of the 24th United States Colored Troops and following the war, a dedicated instructor of young persons. Along with Biggs, he helped found the Fraternal Order, Sons of Good Will, who provided that provided burial of U.S.C.T soldiers.

And, along Biggs, Watts was a leader in Saint Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion.

Following the battle of Gettysburg, its battleground became a place of tourism for many Americans.  In the late 1800s/early 1900s, many visitors to Hallowed Ground often found much pleasure with picnics, excursions, recreation—and, for a minority, occasional minor misbehaving.  During this same period, Blacks from nearby locales also traveled to Gettysburg.  Many who did so journeyed from Baltimore across the Mason-Dixon line.

African-American Tourists from Baltimore

William Francis Penn (kneeling in front) 1842-1 Feb 1925 one of two colored (early 1920’s) Battlefield guides shown with an expedition of tourists from Baltimore, Md. Mervin Henry Winfield Jones were the other colored Battlefield Guide. (note the badge on his left shoulder)

On occasion, some Black Baltimore church leaders chastised their flocks for making this pilgrimage—perhaps for their focus on having fun and, thereby, for not lifting up uplift.  And some Gettysburg whites were discriminating in directing their attention toward those few black tourists whose spirited recreational activities “broke boundaries” rather than also minding that a significant number of white tourists also did so.  In the end, however, most Gettysburg whites appreciated the money spent by all African-American visitors even if a few did not appreciate any of the visiting African-Americans who spent it. (Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003, 90-98)

After the war and up until now, tourists have not been the only groups to journey to Gettysburg:

Ku Klux Klan Annual Convention, Gettysburg, 1925

Threats by the Klan to appear in the borough continue now—threats that on certain occasions have resulted in their making appearances,and sometimes not.  However, in all instances, these threats have aimed to terrorize by the very process of threatening to appear.

In the first installment of this blog, one of us wrote,

“The battle of Gettysburg is arguably the turning point of the American Civil War and is unarguably the most iconic event of that war and its many meanings.  Among those many meanings is the particular significance of Gettysburg for white racism.”

The meaning of the “Klan at Gettysburg” for white racism manifests itself in the informed judgment of the Louisiana State University historian Gaines Foster’s that, in the post-bellum South, the hooded Ku Klux Klan often portrayed themselves as the original Ghosts of Gettysburg—that is, they donned spooky garb to represent Confederate soldiers slain at Gettysburg who had returned from the dead to wreak revenge on emancipated blacks.  Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, The Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South: 1865 to 1913, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, 48).  

And in her essay, Haunted Histories: A Cultural Study of the Gettysburg Ghost Trade, Pamela Cooper-White has argued that, hovering above all the fanciful ghost tours that float around Gettysburg, the real ghost that haunts the borough—and the U.S.A.—is the unhealed trauma of racism then and now.

In the previous installment, we noted that, before the war, leaders like Samuel Simon Schmucker and Daniel Payne led the church and society in addressing racial justice through the lens of religion?  What has been the response to the seminary after the war?

After the war, the seminary’s response to race and religion was much like its reaction to the battle itself which swept over its grounds.  Summarizing the period from this immediate aftermath of battle until well into the start of the twenty-first century, the late Frederick Wentz, a leading historian of this seminary, commented, “The Seminary–intent for its 175 years upon training leaders for the Lutheran Church–has not cultivated the story of its involvement in the battle..[i]

Many others would concur that from the time of the battle until now, Gettysburg Seminary has engaged in a kind of collective forgetting, not remembering, of the many violent, sad, and compassionate occurrences on its grounds, so that it might instead focus on preparing its students for ministry. Until recently, that is.

It is no wonder to both of us—one, an African American, lesbian woman currently living in Gettysburg, PA and, the other, a non-black cisgender man now living in the rural Minnesota where some Confederate flags do fly

–that President Barack Obama did not attend the 2013 celebration of the Gettysburg address. One reason is obvious. It has very little to do with Obama’s speech making capacity, as George E. Condone, Jr. of the Atlantic opines. It is a simple calculation of safety. One of us had been in Gettysburg less than one month when she was warned to back my car into the park at her home so that people could not see the “Biden/Harris” sticker on her bumper. No speculation was needed. It was a clear indication that certain political views, indeed worldviews, are not wholly tolerated here. Fortunately, that has proven less a threat and more an invitation to engage. However, for a sitting president whose ontological being was questioned from his birthplace to his intellectual fitness, it is not hard to see how such a decision could be made. Weighing the circumstances as they currently exist in America, one can see how safety is an issue generally for many non-white Americans. While we acknowledge that much has changed in the centuries since the Gettysburg address, specifically regarding race relations in America, much has remained the same. According to African Americans during the Gettysburg Campaign (U.S. National Park Service), “Gettysburg’s black population made its escape. Abraham Brian, a farmer on Cemetery Ridge, left with his family. Basil Biggs, a veterinarian, made a hasty retreat, as did Owen Robinson, a retailer of oysters and ice cream. They knew … better than anyone, that Gettysburg was not safe for people of color.”

In some places in America, presently, it may be noticeably worse. As evidence to this fact, January 6, 2021, looms large in our theological imaginary.

At the Capitol Insurrection, there were folks carrying the Bible while marching in lockstep with folks carrying a hangman’s noose. Why? The ‘theological crisis’ that this fact alone conjures marries well with the thesis in Mark A. Noll’s book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. Noll illumines the paradox that both sides of the battle cited the Bible as their inspiration for the fight. The proslavery contingency and the anti-slavery advocates both relied upon biblical authority to support their stance in the war. The Bible has been used for millennia to support radically oppositional views. Abraham Lincoln commented “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time” (88–89) The interesting thing about this observation is that despite its obvious veracity, the phenomenon continues. In a class with four women currently in ministry, three of whom are pastors, the instructors learned what blacks living in Gettysburg, PA before, during, and after the Gettysburg battle confronted as part of their lived theology: hate-talk disguised as God-talk is still hate. 

The presence of both icons—the Bible and a hangman’s noose recalls the tensions that were obvious in the Civil War—a fight over who is legitimately a human, who can participate in this government, and who should be relegated to permanent involuntary servitude with all its brutality and terror.  These are questions that earlier leaders such as Samuel Simon Schmucker and Daniel Payne engaged in on the grounds of the seminary at Gettysburg and which the seminary on the Gettysburg campus is called on to engage now.

The display of the Confederate flag is another icon of the Civil War, which, quite frankly, unmistakably harkens back to the time and place fraught with treachery and perfidy so dynamic that it caused fissures in the American psyche plausibly evident in present generations.  As we noted earlier , we understand the trauma of Gettysburg to be the ghost that not only haunts this borough but also the ghost that takes on flesh which  visits both the nation’s capital and the nation itself.

Americans committed to the acrimony of a bygone age, (July 1-3, 1863), sought to reenact its reign of terror on the nation in 2021. Reminiscent of the battle of Gettysburg, the rancor displayed on January 6, 2021, fills the anachronistic lacuna, which fuels disparate winds in government, politics, society, and faith. 

At the Gettysburg campus of United Lutheran Seminary (ULS), one of us co-taught a course with Rev. Dr. Martin Zimmann entitled “Let’s Talk: Racial Reckoning in Ministry Context,” where we engaged our students in an intensive week of critical thinking around race relations. Through this “course for church leaders either engaged or preparing to engage in conversations about race in America within their ministry context, we posed the following questions: How do we walk with people from white fragility to white humility? How can we help folks understand that Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project are the truth that sets us free from fear and encourages us to see the world around us with Christocentric and inclusive focus?” Faced with congregants who express the kind of hostility pictured in these images where challenges to authority, physical violence, terrorism, and mayhem are freely engaged, current ministry students face the challenge of faith versus fear. This fact was affirmed in a life-learning seminar collaboratively produced this summer by ULS faculty, life-learning director, and Peter Miele, director of the Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center. We assembled over 15 persons to the Gettysburg campus for a 2-day conference entitled Sites of Conscience in concert with the International group. The pastors who attended were all part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) or affiliated with the seminary as alumni. All expressed frustration at how to engage the struggle around divisions stemming from race and racism. As a “site of conscience” the battle ground and the museum offer much to assuage the concerns of those in clerical positions, if the location serves as a site of conscience–a place destined to bring people to truth and reconciliation as opposed to a place where people come to square off with old divisional lines where reenactments seek to lean into the divisiveness from two centuries ago.

Our country has once again internalized its own fears such that building a wall of separation from perceived enemies is promoted as a sufficient method for national protection, in theory, against immigrants who seek our refuge; when in reality, a wall is a metaphor for the fears within that give rise to the same people who promote building the wall literally climbing the walls to mimic the very thing they name as a threat.

The fear that drives them transfers to those whom they seek to conquer. That same fear drove this country to war against itself  from 1861 to 1865 and it is postured to do so again. Paradoxically, we call that war “Civil.” How do we combat this fear? Fear is not of God. Fear is an emotion that characterizes a lack of faith. The apostle Paul put it best in his second letter to the young preacher, Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.”

Our students at United Lutheran Seminary engage with several conscience forming exercises to prepare them for this work. The students in the racial reckoning course completed a media project helping them focus critically on the subtle messages of racism, sexism. xenophobia, intolerance and the like in media. One student discovered in her work on the “racialization of media” that “while narrative frames may not directly change the views of readers, readers who consistently rely on single news sources risk falling into an echo chamber, where their prior beliefs and shared assumptions are reinforced.” (Duxbury et. al., 2018) This fact helped our students discern the many ways that marketing strategies intentionally tap into the psychology of people to drive racialized narratives. 

Gettysburg College has an exemplary teacher in Professor Scott Hancock whose valiant efforts to confront hate-talk speaks to the societal corrective that is needed. Professor Hancock’s dialogue with oppositional voices offers pastors and lay people a modicum of resistance narrative that is powerful and transformative. In one exchange Professor Hancock stood flatfooted on the Gettysburg battle grounds to speak truth to power by saying “that the organizing principle for the Confederate government, the reason there was a battle here was because of slaves.” Those in the crowd shouted back, “it was not!” Scott defiantly continued, “yes, it was!,” in response to a chorus of “no, no, no, it was about money!” Scott retorted “What money? Money generated by black men and women!” When this country can square its conscience with that truth, we can start the journey to racial reckoning.

In these reflections on race and religion from the place of Gettysburg, we have striven to speak of endurance and hope amidst the persistence of racism in the United States of America.  In doing so, we have striven to illustrate that the place of Gettysburg offers a story of endurance and hope for not just to this particular town but for all towns, cities and places in the nation itself.  As Lincoln argued in his Gettysburg Address that meaning of Gettysburg is for increased devotion to a new birth of freedom for all Americans (lest those who died for this unrealized freedom might have done so for no real purpose at all), we here address all who listen that all of us are called to devote ourselves to the unfinished work for a free, just and democratic America.

We close by noting one source of our own “audacious hope” in the determined will of President Barack Obama to find, after all, more than one way to address Gettysburg in November of 2013.

One way was to produce his own recitation of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

And his other way was to compose a handwritten letter of his reflections on that address.  President Obama addressed racism and slavery:

He [Lincoln] knew that even a self-evident truth [“all men are created equal”] was not self executing; that blood drawn by the lash [A reference to Lincoln’s reference to slavery in his Second Inaugural Address in 1865] was an affront to our ideals.

And then President Obama called on all of us to devote ourselves to the unfinished work for a free, just and democratic America because…

“…it is through the accumulated toil and sacrifice of ordinary men and women — those like the soldiers who consecrated that battlefield — that this country is built, and freedom preserved.”


[1] Codie Eash, “Douglass at Gettysburg, 1869” (Unpublished Manuscript, 2021).  Codie Eash is the Director of Education and Museum Operations, Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center 61 Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg, PA., 1732

[i] Frederick K. Wentz, “Foreward” in Michael A. Dreese, The Hospital on Seminary Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg(Jefferson, NC, London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2002), 1.


Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology at United Lutheran Seminary (Gettysburg/Philadelphia) and currently serves as Hospice Chaplain/New Ulm Medical Center, New Ulm, MN and as Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, New Jersey.  In 2017-2018, he was the Visiting Professor of Religion at Augustana University and the Visiting Scholar at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  At Gettysburg Seminary, he was Co-Project Leader of the Templeton Foundation funded AAAS grant, “Science for Seminaries.”  His co-authored book, Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer was published by Wipf & Stock in 2017.  He is a co-editor of Gettysburg:the Quest for Meaning, (Seminary Ridge Press, 2015) and was the Faculty Liaison to the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum.  A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he has lectured in South Africa and widely elsewhere on race and religion in the American Civil War.  Hummel is a graduate of Haverford College (A.B.), Yale Divinity School (M. Div., S.T.M.), and Boston University (Ph. D. in Religious and Theological Studies).

Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood, a native of North Carolina, earned a B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she majored in Speech Communications and Afro-American Studies followed by a Juris Doctor degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1985. Answering the call to ministry, she earned a Master of Divinity degree at Howard University School of Divinity in 2010, followed by a PhD degree from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2017. Her PhD concentration in Theology, Ethics, and Human Sciences informs her multivalent methodological approach to racial justice. She was the Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate Director of the Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Dr. Smallwood now serves as the James Franklin Kelly and Hope Eyster Kelly Associate Professor of Public Theology at United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, PA. Dr. Smallwood is licensed and ordained to public ministry in the Baptist tradition and most recently served as social justice minister for New Covenant Christian Church in Nashville, TN under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings. 

Blessed Are You Among Women – Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb

What does Mary and mother mean to you when when society doesn’t even see you as a woman – though you are? Sanctuary‘s founding pastor, Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb, shares her thoughts about Mary, love, sexual assault and consent, and how Mary’s love for Jesus fills her with wonder and awe – submitted as we near the night of our saviours birth. Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Editor


TW – extensive discussion of rape in Biblical context, transphobia


I have no womb. 

I am barren. 

Let’s establish that from the beginning. 

In part because of this I have what I think is an understandably difficult relationship with Mary. I have often found depictions of her saccharine and unrelatable. I’ve written poetry about it. I have talked to friends about it. I find the Christmas season’s focus on birth and pregnancy narratives, at times, emotionally unbearable. I’m the woman who simply cannot attend every advent service because I find the salt in the wound particularly astringent this time of year. 

Mary is a trying subject for me.

I say that because I want it to be clear that I am not writing this out of some personal need to elevate her. And while I find this season difficult neither do I wish to demean her because of my own struggles. Rather I am writing this out of concern for a woman that I feel has been wronged. I am writing this as a woman who also knows what it feels like to be stripped of her agency, whose grace has been seen as insufficient, who has been made into something other than what I am by a church that does not know what to do with me.

And most assuredly… I am writing this as a woman who has also survived rape.

The idea that Jesus came about as the result of the rape of Mary is not new. In fact I’m certain those arguments began before he was born. Even in modern theological circles the idea itself is not rare, it’s just not often discussed or at the very least not often discussed to my personal satisfaction. Because while most theologians get caught up in how this complicates their Christology, no one seems to notice the woman at the center of this. She is relegated to a footnote in the discussion, just another rape victim. Just another woman stripped of her humanity.

And despite my best efforts to avoid her, that is not what I have come to see. 

To me, even in my seasonal bitterness, I cannot help but be shaken by the revolutionary holy strength of Mary. Even in my barrenness, I cannot help but be in awe of the joyous rebellion of daring to believe in the divinity of a child conceived in violence. And if I can see it so clearly then why are those discussions missing? 

Even Luke’s shoehorned consent cannot cover up the risks forced upon Mary, so why are we not talking about it? Why do we ignore what must have been a maelstrom of emotional turmoil? Why are we not talking about what all of this must have been like for a first century woman?

When we ignore Mary, when we remove her agency in the middle of her own story, when we ignore the pain and fear and frustration and shame that must have been heaped upon her, we miss the actual miracle at the heart of Christmas: a young woman dejected and victimized, with every reason to hate the cause and constant reminder of her struggle that was growing inside her, instead called him divine. 

Called him blessed. 

Called him the future savior of the world. 

She dared to dream that this curse was her blessing and in so doing blessed the whole of creation.

If we believe in a God of love, then how is this not a more fitting narrative? Does it not make more sense? Is it not so much more in line with the character of the God revealed in Christ? 

We can talk about power dynamics, we can talk about Mary’s supposed age, we can talk about tainted consent, about patriarchal structures of oppression, there are so many angles to consider. But the question I come back to, is which reveals more about the character of God and what fits the story of Jesus elsewhere? Is it condescending to be with us through a virgin birth in an immaculate conception or is it a young woman deciding to love a child forced upon her so deeply and with such holy fury that he grew into a man possessed of that love?  

And furthermore what would have become of Jesus born of Mary’s Uterus if she had not dreamed of loving him? If she had not transmuted the rage and hatred deep within her body into love, into the water of life he floated in?

I do not believe we would be having this discussion. 

But she did.

And so I, a lifelong Protestant who has always had a problem with Mary, have found myself with very high mariology indeed. 

Precisely because I believe in her rape.  

It’s through that understanding I find myself calling her Mary the Mother of God because she birthed love long before she birthed the Christ. I see her easily as Mary Most Holy for she took the sins of this world upon her body and used it to feed her child. I gladly adore Mary Queen of Heaven still bearing the scars of the conception of God in her vagina, smiling upon a son who would perform the miracles she taught him? When I lose the one dimensional “vessel” that patriarchs have always sought to condense us down to and I look upon Mary truly full of Grace; How can I look away?

So yes, I have a complicated relationship with Mary. I still can’t stomach the Mary we sing about, the one we put on christmas cards and rosaries. But the one who limped home carrying the pain of a world that had no place for her? The one who cried herself to sleep and begged God that her period would come? The one who birthed God in her heart? That woman will always have a place in my own heart.

She knows what heartache feels like, and she knows how to make it into something that can heal the world. 


Rev. Alaina K. Cobb is is a mother, minister, theologian, activist, poet, trans woman, anarchist, mystic, anti-fascist and Interfaith Pastor and Director of Sanctuary – a collaborative effort between queer and trans activists, ministers, and organizers to provide a space of healing, education, and resistance. Raised in fundamentalist Pentecostalism, as a young girl she began a lifelong obsession with theology in her quest to understand who she was and how her transness and bisexuality fit into her faith – and since transitioning, realizing the startling lack of pastoral care and affirming faith resources for her community, she pursued ordination as a way to serve those who could never feel safe within the bounds of the traditional church. Co-Chair of the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance and Founder of the Transgender Crisis Ministry Network.

Have You Seen Mary? – Madena Sophia

As Advent ends and Christmas begins, We Talk, We Listen is going to be presenting a series of reflections on Mary – the mother of Jesus. Mary receives short schrift in most Protestant communities, and yet our faith would be impossible without her. Madena Sophia, a student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, starts the series – reminding the reader that in her day, Mary was likely seen as scandalous or questionable and how depicting her as a paragon of virtue disrepsects the fullness of her power. Read, comment, and share

Francisco Herrera, PhD student, Interim Blog Editor


I remember the first time a preacher included teaching about context in the sermon, I was in my 30s. I remember that for the first time, the people and the stories became vividly real and not just caricatures. It also helped me to see the Mary’s and Martha’s and Hagar’s in my life and context.

When we read Biblical text, do we do so as though we are entering into a fictional existence in a far-off place with fictional characters playing a role for our entertainment or do we allow the text to shift our eyes to our own surroundings and to the people and situations around us? Do we make super heroes of these characters because we “know how the story ended?”

Growing up and into adulthood, the only teaching and preaching I had heard about Job was about patience and faith and the victory of a life redeemed.

Until I began to study Job for myself, I didn’t know that Job didn’t just skip and whistle his way through his trauma. No, Job didn’t do the spiritual bypassing that negated his trauma, his loss, his depression, his despair, his suicidal ideation. No, Job shook his fist at God in agony. Job asked questions.

Job cursed the day he was born.

It is easy for us to look at this allegory without allowing ourselves to really sit in the grief and what it might have been like to live that existence. You see, we know how that story ends, so we rest in the comfortable victory without allowing ourselves to find the sacred and holy that was found in the “dark night of the soul.”

What does this have to do with Mary, you might ask? We do the same thing with other ministry leaders of history. We make heroes out of them. We create a perfected ideal of who they were. We recreate them to look like, sound like, act like, and think like us. We are so far removed from their reality that we don’t see them for who they really were and because we don’t see them for who they really were, we can’t see them walking amongst us today.

Have you seen Mary?

I asked people through a Facebook post to tell me what came to mind when they thought of Mary. I asked that people not spend too much time, I wasn’t looking for an essay. I just wanted the first words or images that came to mind when people thought of Mary, mother of Jesus…according the Christian tradition, the mother of the savior of the world – and here’s what they said:

“You have filled the hungry with all good things and left the wealthy no part”
Mary did you really know?
Trusting and believing
Young and scared
Peaceful, in spite of her “unacceptable” condition
Wisdom; chosen to uniquely suffer; change agent
My mother and abuela, raising and protecting a family from poverty,
A child
Young, courageous, connected (relationship with Elizabeth)
Her Magnificat
The Holy Spirit and the 4 th member of the trinity*
Willing participant in an unknown plan
Confused about her biological makeup…
A big heart
Holy vessel
Vulnerability x2

Please take a moment to reflect on these words.

Take a deep inhale…and exhale…now, sit in the stillness for a bit as you think of Mary and these words. What comes to mind for you now? What images do you see? Who do you see? Jot down what you hear, see, and feel.

Mary was a poor, Jewish teenager from Galilee. Mary had agency and a choice as to whether or not she wished to participate. If you have ever been seduced by the spirit, it is difficult to think that her body was simply used as a receptacle as opposed to a willing participant. Mary was a radical, teenage, badass Black woman. She could have said, “no” to an ask that was beyond conceivable to most…still is. I wonder if she had a flood of realization once she had said, “yes.”

What did it really mean for the everyday living of her life? Everyday, the sideways looks she must have gotten. The mumbles she must have heard. The people that walked away and betrayed her, the ones that didn’t believe her. The ones that didn’t value her because they didn’t value the body the message was coming in.

Behold Mary’s words in the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

When I read this and think of Mary, not the Westernized version of Mary, but the real and raw Blackity Blackness of Mary, I think of a 15 year old Sudanese girl I heard speak at an event at George Floyd Square this Summer. She spoke with a similar fire of wisdom far beyond her years. The confidence she had as she paced and spoke words that make her a target for attack.

She said, “yes.”

Have you seen Mary?

Maybe you have seen a Black pregnant teenager in your church or community. Maybe you might even know of a Black pregnant teenager who can’t identify who impregnated her. What words do you use to describe her? What words or images do you think of when you see her? Have you observed the reality of her life? What does that look like?

Did you think Mary would have a life like that?

Have you seen Mary?

Have you seen the mothers of the unarmed Black people who keep getting murdered in the streets and in their homes and out for jogs and in other ways enjoying God’s creation? Have you seen their grief on the news? Have you seen them cry out to God? How about the mothers of the prophets who are slain? The activists, the organizers? The Freddy Hamptons and the Dr. Kings and all of those whose names are not as well known. When you see these mothers, what words and images come to mind? Do you use the same words to define these Black mothers? These Marys? Have you observed their lives in grief and has that observation led you to think of Mary’s grief at the state sanctioned murder of her son, Jesus.

As Christians, we talk all the time about whether or not we are seeing Jesus in others. Might I call us to also begin to see the Marys who live amongst us.

Have you seen Mary?


Madena is a budding Womanist Theologian who has completed 3 years of theological work at Luther Seminary. This Fall, Madena was Endorsed by the SE Iowa Synod of the ELCA, however she has decided to leave the ELCA Candidacy process to pursue ministry outside of the institutional church. Madena has a passion for all things Spirit related and is a dedicated prayer warrior, intercessor, and healer. Madena has facilitated racial healing workshops for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Bodies of Culture), facilitating work to unlearn the myths of white body supremacy, and is currently developing an online ministry entitled “Living Inverted: Following Jesus’ Lead.”

The Cross at El Rio Grande: A Reflection on shame and grace – Vicar Sergio Edison Rodriguez

Rivers are gates, crossings, borders. In this next reflection for Latinx History Month, vicar and Latinx theologian, Sergio Edison Rodriguez, shares how his faith, sexuality, and vocation came to light along the banks of two rivers in Texas. Please read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor

El Rio Bravo – the Rio Grande

El Rio Grande

El Rio Bravo

Un Rio en mi mente, espantosa, poderosa °

The Rio Grande, the murky, treacherous bridge between two countries, haunts me nightly with its ageless specter; ageless as the flow of life that is God. This specter carries a force that continues to shape me and ensnare my imagination even as I now serve a congregation as a pastoral intern in Houston, TX. I grew up near this river but if you were to ask me where I am from, I hardly know what to say. Born in Hidalgo, TX, I consider my identity to be formed by this river as a bridge between this land I know and a land that my heart aches over. This river captures my sense of belonging and my way of seeing this world in what folks have called a thin-places where heaven and the world meet. Then the world smells and feels a bit like heaven. I would rather think that the specter of this river follows me in a different fashion. We call it Nepantla[1] where the otherworldly and this-worldly places meet but resolve differently (rather do not resolve). They stand in-tension that leads to confusion, disorientation, loss of direction, familia and self. Simul Justus et peccator[2] but keep the peccator at full force.

the Brazos River

I fled to Waco to start my undergrad degree with the hopes that I would flee the grasp of this river upon my imagination. The Brazos river would be for me the waters of salvation, a new birth into a new world of boundless possibilities; I am my own person with my own thin-places. So, I sought to conform to my fellows, adopt a nickname that English speakers could easily pronounce, join a fraternity, recover a form of Roman Catholicism unlike what I had grow up with. I fled this river traga-familias[3] because I desperately yearned to swim upon my own waters of sexual freedom. As a gay Latino, I craved this gift of new life where I could authentically live into my identity as a believer without the stigma and homophobic aspects of my faith-culture. Yes, I fled El Rio, my familia and form of iglesia because I had the privilege of being able to cast aside this tension and plunge head-first into the aguas of the Brazos River. Of course, El Rio Grande does not easily let one escape its totalizing grasp. But I grew painfully aware that no matter how far I could swim away from el Rio, other folks clearly saw me for who I am; a Mexican-American. I became Brown by the banks of the Brazos River. I became aware of the drops of water that slowly trickled down my back, whose flow goes on like endless song.

So, I felt compelled to find some solace outside of the Brazos (with all its cultural trappings and shouts of “Sic’ Em Bears!”) and el Rio Grande. I became a religion major, being drawn to the breath and depth of images from the entirety of Western Christendom. I discovered Bartolomé de las Casas and his work as the Bishop of Chiapas. I read Silence and wrestled with mystery of Christ’s presence. I uncovered Gutierrez and saw the pages of my life near El Rio Grande come alive with God’s life and grace. I faced the specter of the river, its wounds upon my memory, as I read page after page of The Death of Josseline. The injustice, the anguish, the thirst and the horror of the Sonoran Desert signaled for me the quality of the thin-place along El Rio Grande. Instead of nails, there are craigs. Nopales[4] for thorns. The endless sands, the old, rugged wood of the cross.

I wanted to escape the shame of this cross I carried upon my back. I wanted to toss off the mortal coil that drug me unto the death-dealing embankment of El Rio Grande. I wanted not to be associated with the painful memories of poverty and privilege, of living on both sides of la Frontera[5] but seen as coming from neither, of the violence of the Cartels, of being seen as a maricon[6] but never gay. For me, the shame became to much to bear and the overwhelming waters of this river too strong to carry on forward with life. And so, I planned to put an end to my life and to reach some resolution to this shame I felt, the specter would again claim another to its depths of misery. Of course as you read this, it is abundantly apparent that something within me resolved this tension. I am alive and in a much better place. For that, I thank another fellow friend who accompanied me through this challenging time of my life and who likewise walked within this challenging Nepantla.

By the time I voluntarily entered the hospital, I already identified as a Lutheran and read extensively Luther’s Theology of the Cross by Von Loewenich, C.F. W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, the Apologia and Augsburg Confession and the Heidelberg Disputation. But as much as these theological tomes provided for me a framework that spoke to my understanding of the Christian faith, they failed to speak to this specter of El Rio Grande and its accompanying shame until this moment in my life. As I laid in my hospital bed during the first night of my stay, after countless sleepless nights battling intrusive thoughts of shame and death, I finally closed my eyes and fell into a deep sleep. But as I approached the mid-way point between alertness and rest, a finally entered into a nepantla that swept me into a different experience all together.

On my hospital bed, the words of the Psalmist entered into my mind; “for you are with me…my cup overflows (Ps 22).” Each of the words uncovered for me, as if in a sudden flash of insight, what this specter of the Rio Grande actually meant for me. I saw the cruciform shape of that Rio; bending, twisting, murky and filled with the wounds of a people. At that moment, I felt the weight of the craigs, the nopales, the sands and the currents of the Rio as death and life to me. I didn’t just know the theology of the cross, but my very body carried this truth beyond all systemic certitude. This specter of the Rio Grande became to as a baptism of my own Christian baptism in Reynosa, MX. What had been pursuing me all those years now finally had its way. I was drowned in the cross of mi gente with all its messiness on my hospital bed. Yet the Spirit of God raised me to life with Jesucristo. I began to understand my woundedness and trauma as parts of a larger story of people groups held down by the weight of a colonizing, slave-holding form of Christianity. I was raised so that I may no longer run away from el Rio but embrace it, swim around in it and call it my spiritual home. This river became for me a point of life and solidarity with others whose lives have been baptized by this river. The goodness and mercy that pursues me trickles down my back whenever I seem to want to lean deeply into my peccator, into my desire to flee this river of life and death. 

El Rio Grande

El Rio Bravo

Un Rio en mi mente, espantosa, poderosa en forma de cruz.°°


Sergio Edson Rodriguez is the Pastoral Intern at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, TX and the Campus Minister for Rice Lutherans, a Lutheran Campus Ministry at Rice University. He is currently finishing his final semester at Wartburg Theological Seminary. He’s the proud dad of two cats and several plants.

° The Rio Grande River / The Bravo River / A river in my mind, hideous, powerful

°° The Rio Grande River / The Bravo River / A river in my mind, hideous, powerful in the form of a cross

[1] Nepantla – comes from the nahuatl word (the language of the Aztec/Mexica people) for “in the middle,” but Latinx/Chicano writers relate this to the idea of “being in between” – neither being from Anglo-American culture, nor from Mexican/Indigenous culture.

[2] “Both saint and sinner” – an important concept for Luther and Lutherans.

[3] Traga-familias is a Spanish term – literally “carrying/packed-up families” – to describe the way that individuals and families pack up whatever they can carry and make the long trek, over land and through water, to from one country to another.

[4] The Spanish word for “cactus paddles,” or the tear-dropped shaped, flat out-growths from certain cacti.

[5] Spanish for “The Borderlands” – the in-between place along the border between the United States and Mexico.

[6] Pejorative Spanish-Mexican slang for “fag,” “sissy,” or “coward.”

The Withered Fig Tree, the Fruit of Righteousness – Rev. Dr. Javier Alanis

Rev. Dr. Javier Alanis has a special message for the first post of Latinx History Month – one grounded in his own family. Preached in chapel Mexican Independence Day (September 16, 1810), Prof. Alanis’ sermon delves into the richness of Latinx identity and what his family’s story has to say to the the story of Jesus and the fig tree. So enjoy his word, share with friends, and ¡benvenidos!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Editor

¡Viva Mexico! 

¡Viva Mexico! 

Today is the celebration of Mexico’s Independence from Spain, a great way to kick off Hispanic History Month!  My compliments to the worship committee Y GRACIAS for inviting me to deliver today’s message.  Latinx History Month is a more inclusive term and one that I welcome even though it’s not a perfect descriptor for this month’s celebration.   So, indulge me if you will with a teaching moment.  

Back in 2000 I returned to Austin to begin teaching at LSPS.  I had just finished my doctoral exams and I had not yet started to write my dissertation.  I was invited to speak at a forum at my church on a Saturday morning with the Latinx parishioners at the church.   As I was speaking, I referred to the gathered community as Hispanic.  A parishioner raised her hand and respectfully said, “Pastor, I am not Hispanic, I am Guatemalan!  Ouch!   She taught me something that has stayed with me ever since. 

Never assume a person is Hispanic just because you know her as “Maria!” 

The term “Hispanic” was imposed on Spanish-speaking peoples by the U.S. government back at the 1970 census in order to count us and keep tabs on us!   So, I want to share with you two lessons that I have learned over the years: 

1. Never assume that someone is “Hispanic”; and…  

2. Always ask folks to self-identify so that you may learn how a people claim their own history and their own IDENTITY.   

As my colleague and professor, Dr. Eliseo Perez Alvarez who will soon join your faculty, taught me several years ago, the term Hispanic hides our indigenous, African and Asian heritage that also colors our skin, our stories and our diverse languages of all of the Americas. 

So perhaps the month should be renamed in the public forum to include all of the beautiful diversity of our creation stories. Our Latinx community is beautifully diverse and varied in its expression.  We need to hear ALL the VOICES that make up the rich fabric and mosaic of our community.   

Diversity among US Born Latinos

Enough said on naming and othering others! 

As I read the Genesis text for today, I could not help but find resonance with Joseph’s story and my own family’s story of exile and diaspora.  We have all heard the story of Joseph and his brothers; it’s a story of betrayal, of human trafficking and slavery.  The brothers sell Joseph out of spite and jealousy for their Father’s favoritism. Sort of the way my 5 older siblings treat me, their kid brother, or as the comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say back in the 20th Century when I was growing up:  “I get no respect!”  You may have to google Rodney Dangerfield to see how truly funny he was.  

 Joseph’s story is also one of redemption and forgiveness.  It’s a story of a dysfunctional family that leaves their sojourn in Canaan and flee to Egypt to escape the famine of the land. It’s a narrative full of drama; Joseph is enslaved and mistreated and then finds favor with the Pharaoh when he correctly interprets the Pharaoh’s dream about a future scarcity in the land. The Pharaoh delivers Joseph from slavery, names him the Prime Minister and puts him in charge of the granaries of the nation.  It’s a rags to riches kind of story. In today’s reading we find Joseph at the end of his life asking his family to bury him in the land of promise.  

And here is why the story makes me think of my family. 100 years ago, my parents’ family emigrated from Mexico to south Texas. 

Mi familia…

It was the time of the Mexican Revolution that lasted 10 years; my parents told me their story, an oral history that I wrote about in my dissertation when I was a student here. My grandparents did not want to leave their ancestral home, but they were forced to leave by the economic turmoil of the Mexican civil war.  My father would tell us that his family was hungry which forced them to take whatever they could on their person and cross the border into Texas.  He would also tell us:   El Pueblo tenía sed y hambre por justicia!  The people were thirsty and hungry for justice!  On the frame, my father is the young boy standing behind my grandfather Felipe.  

The U.S. Mexico border had crossed the family some sixty years before when Texas used to be Mexico.  Now they were aliens in their own land. My father was so attached to his tierra, his land of birth that he never became an American citizen; he remained a Mexican citizen until his death at 95 years. When he died my brothers and I hired a band of mariachis to play at his burial site, something not uncommon in Mexican burials.  The mariachis played the popular Mexican song, Mexico Lindo y Querido. 

The lyrics of the song go like this:  

Mexico Lindo y querido, Si muero lejos de ti, 

diles que estoy dormido y que me traigan aquí.  

Mexico, dear and beloved, If I die far from you,

tell them that I am asleep and bring me back here to rest in Mexico.”  

The song was a moving tribute for a man who had lived his life and raised his family in a land where his native language was subjected to a more powerful one.   

My mother on the far left…

My mother was born in south Texas in 1913 just three months after her parents came across from Mexico.  She too would tell us how her family was forced to emigrate because of the famine and the danger of violence to the family.  Se va poner feo, the people would say.  It’s going to get ugly.  So, they joined the many other Mexicans who crossed the border during that period to join family members who were already living in south Texas.  If you are looking at the frame, my mother is the 2 year- old standing on the chair.  She lived to be 102 and was the church’s and the town’s oral historian.  

I am sure that many of you have similar stories that you have collected from your families of origin; your ancestors may have come through Ellis Island or Angel Island on the West Coast, or perhaps Galveston Island or other places of entry or conquest as in the case of the borderlands, Puerto Rico and Hawaii as a Hawaiian student at the Episcopal Seminary taught me.   He carries the painful memory of that conquest and unjust takeover of the islands wherever he goes.  Many of us can relate to that kind of existential angst as we try to figure out who we are in our own country of origin, or what space we can safely inhabit without being subjected to deportation or family separation.  Joseph’s story is intriguing to me because it contains the elements of family and community trauma that finds resonance in many of our own stories.

site of detention centers in Texas – very close to where I grew up

In Texas where I live there are detention centers that keep people unjustly enslaved much like Joseph was when he was in Egypt; There is family separation at the border that keep mothers and children apart from each other.  They are placed in cages similar to what Joseph may have experienced when his alienness was a mark of shameful otherness.  It would take trust in God and a gift of holy visionary discernment to free Joseph from his cage.  It would take a condition of food insecurity to bring about the reconciliation with his family.  But Joseph can somehow see the good out of bad situation. As he indicates to his brothers in the narrative, what they meant for harm, God intended to use for the salvation of many; that is to say, God takes a bad situation and turns it around for good.  

God redeems the tragic dysfunctional family system because that is the nature of holy redemption.  God redeems what humans intend for harm; we see the fruit of it when Joseph forgives his brothers and provides for his family in Goshen where they will multiply and be fruitful in Egypt, the powerful nation of the day.  

I hope that one day soon we can say the same for the asylum seekers at the U.S. Mexico border, our siblings in Christ who are suffering the condition of criminalized otherness for being poor, for fleeing violence in their native countries and for being fearful of their persecution from organized criminal gangs.  Many people of faith reach out to them with food, medicines, hygiene care kits, and advocacy for humane treatment as a human right.  There is a group at the border called:  Angry Tías and Abuelas, Angry Aunties and Grandmothers

…a group of justice-oriented women who meet the asylum seekers in the middle of the bridge between the two countries and take food and supplies to the many who wait for a chance to enter the promise land of the north. These women and the men who help them are the signs of hope-filled redemption; they gather with people of different faith traditions; they band together to form communities of conscience who speak truth to power by their presence at the bridge.  These are folks who are willing to use their bodies as protest signs before the bulldozers that tear up sacred ancestral land in order to construct border walls to keep the asylum seekers out.  These women and men are visionaries who see and hear the holy in the most squalid of conditions and interpret for the church and the nation what Holy redemption looks like at the border.  

The Mellenbruch family.

100 years ago, my family received this same kind of care from a German family who reached out to them with their healing arts during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, just like the one we are going through only worse.

The Mellenbruch family reached out to the Alanís and Treviño families to nurse them back to health; the Mellenbruchs were the holy visionaries compelled by the Gospel to cross borders of cultural and linguistic difference in the name of the Crucified and Risen Christ.  

They were the faithful visionaries bearing fruits of righteous action in the name of the Gospel.  They brought salvific healing to Mexican families in exile and founded the church where I was baptized and confirmed, ordained and installed as a professor at the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest.   

Joseph has Been Recognized by His Brothers – Marc Chagall

The Joseph story contains the fruitful figs of forgiveness, redemption, healing, and reconciliation that Jesus was referring to in the Gospel when he cursed the tree that would not bear fruit.  Joseph desired to be buried in a land of promise, a land of rich soil where fig trees do not dry up but bear much fruit such as the fig trees of achievement and contribution to the common good.  We the church bring our own Gospel figs of love, forgiveness, acceptance and healing arts to people of faith harmed by the rhetoric of unwelcomed alienness.  

We follow the Crucified and Risen One who forgave and redeemed our own alienness from ourselves and from each other and made us a Familia en Cristo, one family with many names who heal others and bear the Gospel figs of justice in His Name. 

So here is my final lesson:  If there is one thing that I have learned from the Joseph story and the Gospel over the many years of my ministry at the border, it is this:  The land of promise of the north is what we make of it in His name by God’s grace and the bread and tortillas that we share at the table are the work of a people of faith who till the soil of justice living so that no one goes hungry and all eat from the walls that have been turned into tables of welcome.  

May the people of God join me in saying, Amen.  

Rev. Dr. Javier Alanis

After his graduation from LSPS in May, 1992, Jay was ordained and served Trinity Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas for four years.  During that time he chaired the Multicultural Committee of the Southwest Texas Synod and also served on the board of the Multicultural Commission of the ELCA. He was then invited to pursue doctoral studies at LSTC and graduated with a Ph.D. in June, 2002.  Jay joined the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago at its extension program in Austin in January of 2000, a program in partnership with Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

Jay’s academic interests include contextual borderland theology, Latino/a spirituality and the ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr.  His doctoral dissertation focused on the history of the imago Dei (image of God) construct as a venue for welcoming the stranger in an alien land.  In 2006 and 2019, he was invited to be a part of a panel that examined the subject of border walls at an international conference held in Berlin and at the Lutheran center in Wittenberg, Germany.  He was a keynote speaker at the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly in April, 2009 and the guest preacher at the Southwestern Texas Synod Assembly in May, 2009.   He has been a presenter and preacher at various church forums and assemblies.  He has also taught from his dissertation topic at ISEDET seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina and at Holden Village in Washington State.  He has been appointed to serve on the board of Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas. For a more comprehensive view of his bio, you are invited to visit the LSPS website or his personal website.

The Queer Ground – J. Pace Warfield-May

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

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

TW: sexual violence mention

CW: violence against queer people and people of color


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

To look at me

through a smirr of rain

is to taste the iron

in your own blood

-Kathleen Jamie, “The Wishing Tree”

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

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

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

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

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

gay christian

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

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

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

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

So let us address the ground first.

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

hands in the earth

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

The queer person is tied closely to the ground.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

[1] Genesis 2:4b and following.




[5] Psalm 34:8.


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

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

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Blog Editor

black tape

Apu Seyenkulo, daughter:

We live in a world…

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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



Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, mother:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hands lords peayer tint tint

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

It is assumed I am intelligent until I prove differently.  

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

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

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

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

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

The police protect me and serve me. Refrain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

And VOTE in ways that will change the system.

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

Start here. 

Don’t stop.

It’s a matter of life and death. 

It is our work.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Blog Editor

lutheran queer

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

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

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

Why does this matter for the PRIDE Month?

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

map asia

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

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

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

senior high
New Taipei Municipal Panchiao Senior High School, Taiwan

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

gay taiwan

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

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

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

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

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

gay protest

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray:

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

We pray in the name of Christ, Amen.


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

I Woke Up Tuesday Morning – Trevon Tellor

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

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, Ph. D. student


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was horrific.

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

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

Everyone who could still move ran.

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

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

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

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

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

gestapo_mug_shots_of_sophie_18_february_1943-no_source-probably_german_federal_archive-hans - Tanja B. Spitzer
Sophie and Hans Scholl’s Gestapo mugshots.

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

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


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

An Outsider? An Insider? – Di Kang

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

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, PhD student

modern day china_LI

I live a hybrid existence.

I am Chinese but I am also a Christian.

I am a Christian but I am a Lutheran.

I am a student but I am an international student.

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

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

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

An excerpt from Confucius’ Analects

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

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

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

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

Augustana Chapel – LSTC.

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

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

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


I am an outsider because I am a Lutheran.

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

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

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

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