Family Separation, Then and Now – Vance Blackfox

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LSTC graduate Vance Blackfox, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, writes this week’s post. Vance does not hold back in speaking his narrative and that of First Nation peoples who were subjected to brutalities that have been brushed under the rug and virtually unknown by citizens of United States of America. He is writing with a particular audience in mind, the ELCA, the denomination that he loves, and adores, yet one with whom he has a lover’s quarrel, and he speaks directly to the ELCA with righteous indignation. This is understandable, given the history of America’s interaction with the original people who inhabited the Americas and later with those who came as immigrants.

Vance, many of his Nation, as well as other First Nation peoples, have been re-traumatized the last several weeks because of what is happening to children and their parents who are crossing the border to enter this country.  It seems ironic that the descendants of those who First Nations people welcomed in 1492 are the ones who are turning away people who want to find refuge here as their ancestors who came voluntarily from Europe. It is very difficult for those whose ancestors were ill-treated by later generations of Europeans to witness what’s happening south of our border now – and I salute Vance for being brave enough to share his words.

As you read Vance’s thoughts, consider asking yourself, “What is it that I can discover about myself and my people?” Try to understand that the ELCA’s official Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery,  neither takes away or deals with the trans-generational havoc that continues to negatively impacts most First Nation peoples on reservations across the United States and Canada. The descendants of those who walked the Trail of Tears, especially those in the Midwest where many Lutherans live, have never been properly compensated for the misguided systematic discrimination of our government.

So, I ask you to listen carefully and be aware of the way your mind and body react while reading.

I ask you to receive what Blackfox has written as an act of love towards those who share his love for the ELCA, as well as the entire church of the Triune God.

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


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Lake Vermilion Indian School – Tower, Minnesota 

When thinking about all of the tactics that the federal government has used to eliminate the identities, if not the actual lives and existence, of Native peoples, one stands out as particularly cruel and inhumane.  It is best known as the Indian Boarding School Era, yet there are so many people in the United States of America who are totally unaware that such schools existed, even though the “era” lasted for nearly 100 years.

When lecturing to groups of non-Natives about the basics of Indian histories, religious traditions, and cultures – an Indian 101, elementary social studies level – I will ask those gathered to raise their hands if they have ever heard of Indian boarding schools.  Without fail, maybe ten percent will raise their hands.  And still, those who raise their hands may have actually heard of Indian boarding schools yet know little if anything at all about the schools.

I would like to be able to say to you, “Oh it’s not your fault that you don’t know about these boarding schools.  It’s just another example of our educational system failing to teach anything about the Indigenous people in the Americas.  I sure wish that would change and that schools and teachers would do better.”  I would like to be able to say that, but there are deep seated reasons why we don’t learn about anything – usually – in any of our education institutions besides Sacajawea, the Trail of Tears, and the “hostile Indians” along the black and green screened Oregon Trail.

They never wanted you to know.  They don’t want you to know.

So, what should you know about Indian boarding schools and the Indian Boarding School Era?  I would argue that you should know everything you could possibly know.  I will share some information here, and I think it will become clear to you why it’s important for you to be in the know.  Or at least I pray so.

The board school era did indeed last for over 100 years, 1860s – 1960s+.  The first question becomes, how can such a policy of the federal government exist for so long in the United States and so few United States citizens know so little – if anything – about?  This could be a rhetorical question, but it’s not.

The boarding school era is, as I mentioned, another tactic of the United States federal government to eliminate, figuratively and literally, Native people from ourselves and our lands.  The desire and need for European invaders to so do was greatly encouraged by the “Doctrine of Discovery.”  It gave invaders the permission and “right” to eliminate us, in the name of God, for the sake of God’s church and manifest destiny.  While the Doctrine of Discovery was first a papal bull, it became a part the DNA of each invader and settler, Catholic and protestant Christians alike.  In recent years, some protestant denominations have repudiated the doctrine, but have done so little toward repudiation in comparison to what has been done to Indigenous people for the last 500 years.

The boarding school tactic was indeed created by the federal government, but Christians and their churches supported the tactic whole heartedly. In fact, it was in 1868 when “Grant’s Peace Policy” was put in place that mandated the replacement of corrupt Indian Agents (white men who managed Indian people, reservations, and their affairs) with Christian missionaries.

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Yes, Catholic and mainline denominations alike became complicit in the work to eliminate us.  Yes, for 100 years your denomination likely managed multiple boarding schools, and if your denomination didn’t manage boarding schools, your denomination knew about the boarding schools and the “mission” therein.

There were more than 350 government-funded church-run Indian boarding schools in the United States, including Alaska.  Indian children, of all ages, were forcibly taken from their parents or abducted and sent hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from their families, villages, and tribes.  This was so the children could not run away and make their way back home or so that the parents or families couldn’t attempt to come and take the child back.

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Upon arrival, the child was lined up with other children to be washed, their hair was cut, they were given uniforms, and were instructed not to speak their own language or they would be punished.  What other language were they to communicate with if they didn’t speak English?  So, punished they were, often, and usually severely.

Such practices were only the beginning of a list of practices to accomplish the task of “Kill the Indian and save the man.”  This saying, reportedly coined by Captain Richard Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, became the motto for the boarding school era.  Another quote that has lived on beyond the school, heard first by children at Carlisle, is “Let all that is Indian within you die.”

The schools were set up to teach basic elementary subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic, but were far more focused on teaching the children a trade that was more “fitting” for them – as if the children were incapable of learning anything but to become farmers or housekeepers.  Some of the schools did do better than others at caring for the children and creating masters in a trade.

Most schools however, were not infamous for their “killing the Indian” and “saving the man.”  Instead, they were infamous for simply killing the Indian children.

Yes, killing.

It seems so odd to attempt to write about it all, so suffice it to say that the children, both girls and boys by both men and women, were molested, raped, chained, ridiculed, and severely punished, so badly so that children did died.  Each school had a cemetery with marked graves.

Some didn’t care enough.

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Click here for more information about The National Native America Boarding School Healing Coalition

One hundred years of family separation.  One hundred years of trauma, to be passed from generation to generation.  By 1930, approximately 70% of our people had been to boarding school.  Some do say that their experiences at their particular school was better than staying at home.  At some boarding schools, they did learn a trade, and they did get three meals per day, and new uniforms or clothes, which they would not have gotten back on the reservation.  Family separation for us was much of the time going from one prison to another.

Have you read enough?

This information about the Indian Boarding School Era that I offer here is just the surface.  The stealing away of our culture, spirits, religious life, and the indoctrination into a strange, cruel, new world on our own lands is very real despite what you didn’t learn in Sunday school or 5th grade social studies.  You must now take the time to research more, learn more, be less complicit if that’s possible.  And remember that history does indeed repeat itself, especially if the masses don’t know or care to know what happened in own their history to begin with.

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Family separation is nothing new.  It is continuing to happen to brown people, Indian people along the Rio Bravo and elsewhere along that imaginary line.  It continues to happen, and they still don’t want you to know. 

And yet, there is so much more that you need to know.  But don’t take my word for it, I mean am only an Indian with a boarding school heritage and a public school education after all.


9A71B037-Vance Blackfox is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and is a long-time advocate for Native youth and their educational success. He is also a trained theologian, having completed a master’s degree and begun Ph.D. level coursework at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, having focused his studies on Native Theology, the works of Vine Deloria, Jr. and Lutheran History in Native communities. He has worked intimately with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serving as development editor and publisher of resources, as well as event producer. He is also the creator of the Vine Deloria, Jr. Symposium at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He has also completed extensive graduate studies in Leadership and Ethics; and earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Ethnic/Cultural Studies from Texas Lutheran University.

He has most recently served as the Executive Director of the Haskell Foundation at Haskell Indian Nations University, working to promote the gifts of the University and to gather financial support from alumni, tribal nations and corporate investors. Previous his time at Haskell, he served as the Executive Director of the Oaks Indian Mission, a residential-care facility for Native children located in heart of the Cherokee Nation, which is also the oldest, continuously operating education and social service organization with, for and by Indian people in the United States.

Vance presently serves as an officer on the board of directors of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition; as active participant and American Indian & Alaska Native representative at the ELCA’s Theological Round Table; and as a member of the ELCA’s American Indian & Alaska Native Ministry Team.

 

 

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An Unmined Gem in James Cone’s Theology – Brach Jennings, PhD student LSTC

black and white dr thomasA recently-admitted PhD student here at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Brach Jennings, has written a rather marvelous post for this week – and one you might not expect from such a dedicated Lutheran as they. Particularly moving, is the fact that they chat a bit not only about how Dr. James Cone was quite familiar with Doktor Luther’s theology, but also make a strong case that if any Lutheran pastor, lay person, or theologian is searching for a contemporary example of what it means to be a theologian of the cross, James Cone is the best example: rooted in human suffering, tied to community and time and place, and with a prophetic voice that leans powerfully on the power of the cross of Jesus. Please read, comment, and share!

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


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As the founder of Black liberation theology, James Cone radicalized the best of 20th century European systematic theology by doing constructive theological work centered on Jesus Christ’s radical solidarity with and liberation of suffering black bodies.  As a committed theologian of the cross, Cone turned European systematic theology on its head to address radical activism for and on behalf of suffering black bodies, while still drawing from the best aspects of Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, and Jürgen Moltmann.  Cone’s radicalization of the theological tradition he inherited through the cross of Jesus Christ is the core of his constructive theology.  What is often missed in Cone, though, is his connection to the sixteenth-century radical theologian of the cross, Martin Luther.  To my knowledge, Cone’s connection to Luther has never been addressed explicitly.  We will briefly explore that connection here.

Discovering God in God’s Opposite in Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross

I described James Cone as a theologian of the cross above.  The phrase “theologian of the cross” is actually synonymous with Martin Luther’s name and central to his understanding of the Gospel.  Luther rarely uses the phrase “theology of the cross” or “theologian of the cross” explicitly in his writings, but it is nevertheless the key to the Reformer’s theological work as a whole. [1] Hans-Martin Barth notes “Luther’s whole theology is, we might say, colored by and soaked in the blood of the Crucified and the suffering of the world.” [2] Therefore, being a theologian of the cross as defined by Luther means being a particular kind of theologian who is willing to face suffering head on from the standpoint of Golgotha’s incarnate, crucifie—-d, and risen Lord.  According to Luther’s hermeneutic, one speaks rightly of the Triune God by centering in the crucified and godforsaken Christ of Golgotha.  As the Reformer wrote, crux probat omnia. [3]

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Luther’s staurocentric hermeneutic means theology should be concrete and rooted in the world.  When we speak of Luther as a theologian of the cross, we are speaking of someone who re-inaugurated a theological hermeneutic (originating with the Apostle Paul) within which the church that bears Luther’s name still stands (or, at least, should stand) today. Luther used this hermeneutic for doing theology as a whole, rather than primarily using the cross as an abstract idea.

Being a theologian of the cross, therefore, involves doing theology in the world.  Luther eschews philosophical, abstract speculations about God, and confesses God to be decisively found where God is most hidden, on Golgotha in the crucified Christ.

The theology of the cross stands in stark contrast to what Luther termed the theology of glory, which seeks God in every place but suffering, shame, death, abandonment, and godlessness.  In the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Luther contrasts the mystery and majesty of the invisible God of the theology of glory with the suffering and shame of the cross.

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According to Luther, it is a mistake for a theologian to attempt to comprehend God’s hiddenness through perceptible events, or to probe into God’s majesty, power, and sovereignty.  Such abstract, philosophical probing is the error of the theology of glory and is extremely common throughout Christian history and in our present time.  However, Luther writes, “that person deserves to be called a theologian…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God as seen through suffering and the cross.” [4]  In other words, God’s visibility is comprehended best in the most unexpected way – the suffering and dead Christ on Golgotha.  This belief flies in the face of worldly wisdom, because worldly wisdom cannot comprehend the suffering and hanging God as seen in Jesus Christ on the cross.

The theologian of the cross sees God revealed in God’s opposite, and in the last place human reason would look for God.  There is no majesty, might, or sovereignty here.  There is no invincible Superman who swoops in to save the day.  At Golgotha, there is only the crucified, hanging, naked, and dead God.  Paradoxically, for the eyes of faith, this place of death and abandonment is the decisive root for faith in God, vindication of oppressed and exploited bodies, and neighbor love in the world.

Bringing Luther and Cone Together

James Cone incorporated Luther’s staurocentric hermeneutic into his constructive theology.  I had the honor of hearing this firsthand when I spoke by phone with Dr. Cone in October 2016 (whose work had changed my life as a young theology student).

“I read a lot of Luther in graduate school because of my teacher Philip Watson!  Luther was so radical they tried to kill him!,” Cone said enthusiastically.  Toward the end of our conversation, he said “you can’t do good theology without fighting for it!” I realized Prof. Cone never abandoned his formation in Luther’s radical theology of the cross.

This can be seen most recently in his 2011 book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

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to peruse, click here

Cone’s theology of the cross is explicit in this work, and he makes clear that his personal experience in the A.M.E. church is his foundation for trusting in the God of the cross despite the prevailing racism and white supremacy of the United States.

Cone draws from a variety of prominent black activists to show the connection between faith in Christ’s cross and work for social change.  He refuses to let white Americans forget about the horror of lynching or cover it up, noting, “Just as the Germans should never forget the Holocaust, Americans should never forget slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree.  As a nation, we are in danger of forgetting our history.” [5] Cone’s symbolic connection between Christ’s cross and the lynching of innocent black bodies is a brilliant move, and he links his work briefly to the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther by saying, “Great preachers preach the cross as the heart of the Christian message.  The Apostle Paul preached the cross and transformed a Jewish sect into a faith for the world.  Martin Luther preached the cross and started the Protestant Reformation.” [6] The Cross and the Lynching Tree is a powerful testimony to the power of the Crucified God for the liberation of the oppressed. [7]

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Christ’s Cross as the Church’s Seedbed for Radical Action in the World

Cone shows Christian faith in the Crucified God is the courage to be for oppressed bodies, and an encounter with God that is a decisive “no!” to enslavement and oppression.  The theology of the cross can speak to oppressed black bodies because Jesus Christ is the Oppressed One who fights for the full humanity of oppressed black bodies.  Jesus Christ shows a preferential option for the oppressed, [8] in order that oppressed and exploited bodies may find new life and wholeness through claiming their full humanity.

The theology of the cross, in James Cone and Martin Luther, challenges the church to take seriously the radicality of God’s liberating enfleshment in the world.  As Cone observes, “Participation in divine liberation places the church squarely in the world.  Its existence is inseparable from worldly involvement.” [9]

May the church be empowered to follow the radicality of the Crucified God, seen in both James Cone and Martin Luther.


18757_648863675135_3426124_nBrach Jennings (they, them, theirs) is a Queer Ph. D. student in Systematic Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. They hold a Master of Theology with distinction from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and a Master of Divinity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. They specialize in contemporary appropriations of Martin Luther’s theology, and teach frequently in church and academic settings.

NOTES

[1] Danish theologian Regin Prenter believed that the first explicit use of the term “theology of the cross” in Luther’s writings occurs in his Lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews from 1517-1518.  See Regin Prenter, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 1-2.

[2] Hans-Martin Barth, The Theology of Martin Luther: A Critical Assessment (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 79.

[3] “The cross puts everything to the test.” WA 179, 31, as cited in Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: the Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, 1st ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 7.

[4] Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518, in Luther’s Works 31: Career of the Reformer I (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1957), 40.  Hereafter cited as LW.  Slightly edited for gender inclusivity.

[5] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (New York: Orbis Books, 2011), 165.

[6] Ibid., 157.

[7] Cone explicitly uses the phrase “Crucified God” (in connection with Moltmann, but the phrase originated with Luther) in his autobiography/faith testimony.  See James H. Cone, My Soul Looks Back (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1986), 105.

[8] I am intentionally reframing Gustavo Gutiérrez’ famous phrase “preferential option for the poor,” in order to speak theologically to the reality of rampant racism in the United States today.

[9] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 140.

Sermon: “This is America, But Don’t Lose Hope.” – Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, Trinity UCC, preached on Sunday, July 1, 2018.

Dr TWhile Trump supporters chant “Make America Great Again,” there are millions of us that know just how terrifying – and misleading – that slogan is. This past Sunday, my pastor, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III preached a powerful word to my congregation about of strength, fortitude, and hope. Drawing upon Matthew 25:42-45, Pastor Moss proclaimed that we and other marginalized peoples are called not only to survive and thrive in life but indeed, we must always have Hope because God has the last word, not principalities and powers. Dr. Moss, like Dr. Martin Luther King, reminded us that we must live by a “moral compass,” and as such we must remember that when the vulnerable are harmed and mistreated, God is harmed and mistreated. The vulnerable are the face of God. Hope propels us to live faithfully. When “God’s Work” is done with “Our Hands,” we are more likely to be a truly righteous nation. These words stirred me so much I knew we had to share them with you on this day – the day of our nation’s “birth.” And I hope you find them as stirring and thought-provoking as I did. We need words like these for such a time as this.

N.B.  This sermon is based on Matthew 25: 42-45.  Readers are encouraged to review this scripture.

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


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This morning I would like for us to focus on the idea, “This is America, but Don’t Lose Hope.”

His name is Donald Glover: actor, comedian, hip hop, and visual artist. Some people know him by the name of “Childish Gambino.” His off-beat sense of humor.  His alternative, sometimes nerdy, chic lyrics, and sense of humor have endeared him to a diverse fan base. His latest song, with a music video is titled, “This is America” has been debated by academics, artists, and cultural critics since the release. What Glover does brilliantly is something called juxtaposition to highlight the contradiction, insanity, irony, and consumer foolishness in America.  This video, for those who have not witnessed it, begins innocently with African chants and music; then moves to African American dancing highlighted by a group of children and young people dancing joyously before the camera.

And just as soon as one is settled, bobbing one’s head to the music, enjoying the dancing, then suddenly as you are witnessing the kinetic proficiency of the dancers, all of a sudden there is a moment of gun violence that takes place on screen.

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This is America – Childish Gambino

What is disturbing and brilliant is the person injured by the gun is treated as dispensable, but the gun itself is treated as a sacred object, not unlike our communion table or the communion cup in the Roman Catholic Church.  The video then goes back to the joyous dancing – but we are unable to completely focus on the dancing because in the background Klansmen, re-enactments of the Jim Crow era, police brutality are happening all while, in the foreground, people and children are joyously dancing.

In the background all hell is breaking loose, but in the foreground people are smiling as if nothing is going on.

And Glover keeps repeating the phrase,

Once you witness the video, it is likely that you you will watch it over and over and over to see the subliminal messages about racism, gun violence, sexism, and America’s love with guns over children.

We have witnessed Glover’s video come to life just as we have seen the contradictions of America come to life before us, especially these last two weeks in our country. We have seen a humanitarian crisis manufactured by political malfeasance: children cut off, jailed, and detained simply because their parents were attempting to or actually fleeing from a civil war, looking for a better life.

And sadly, our government has no system in place to reunite these children with their families. Worse? It is not possible for a six-month-old baby to tell you who her mother is.

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This is America: children sleeping on floors in privatized detention centers contracted by the US government.  

This is America: that detention centers have a special policy to never drop below 75% occupancy, because if they do, the American government must then pay a higher premium for each empty bed.

The reason this has happened is because privatized prisons work out a policy with the Republican Administration to ensure that they would receive money in their pockets because they do not care about the children they house.

This is America!

However, we cannot end there because this week the Supreme Court of the United States of America uphrld a ban on primarily Muslim and Arabic speaking countries in a 5 to 4 decision – making it legal to ban a person based upon their religion. This is a 5 to 4 decision. Somebody should understand what I’m saying….the reason that it is a 5 to 4 decision is because the previous administration under Barack Obama was not able to select and confirm a Supreme Court Justice because the opportunity to do so was stolen from him by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would not allow any kind of vote on a Supreme Court justice, eventually allowing our current Republican Administration to elect a new judge who is incredibly conservative.

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The chief players in the Merrick Garland saga – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and President Barack Obama.

This is the first time in history that the chance for a President of the United States was robbed of his constitutionally given duty to nominate a candidate for a vacancy on the Supreme Court nominee.

This is America.

Even In my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, children that tried to start a lawn care business had someone call the police on them when they are trying to cut their own Grandma’s lawn.

This is America — a contradiction of pain and possibility. In the words of W. E. B. Dubois who said we should not say, “Land of the free and home of the brave.”  We should say, “The land of the thief and the home of the slave!”

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W. E. B. Dubois.

America is comfortable with contradiction. It claims to be a place of Liberty, while closing its doors to certain immigrants. There is no outrage among many in this country who are comfortable with these immoral acts toward God’s people. America is proficient in separating families. Please know that this is not the first time that families have been separated as per government policy. This is not the first time that children have been ripped from their mother’s arms because of the United States’ own elected government. This is not the first time that fathers have been placed on one side of the country and mothers on the other side of the country. America was built on this. Don’t you know that how African America came here in the first place! Somebody was ripped from their own mother’s arms. This is America. But even after the transatlantic slave trade was closed down in 1807, it is in America in 1808 that they started what was known as the domestic slave trade. That means that they would move people from New York and Maine and Providence Rhode Island down to places like Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.

Fifty percent of black people who lived in this country after 1808 had their families ripped apart never to be reunited again. Children would never see their mothers again. Children would never see their fathers again.This is America. But, do not think it is only with black people.  You need to know something about the Native population for those who are in these yet to be United States of America

Have you ever heard of the Trail of Tears?

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In 1830, when down in Mississippi, they took a group of people is known as the Choctaw and the Chickasaw and moved them from Mississippi all the way from Oklahoma; stripping babies from their mothers. In Alabama the Creek were moved to Oklahoma in 1832 and when they found gold in Georgia, and this eastern Gold Rush caused the American government to remove those people known as the Cherokee.

But do not forget this, the coalition between people of African descent and those w

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ho were Native American, because every black person who made their way to a Cherokee Nation and set their foot on that soil, were considered free. So they moved people of African descent and those who were Native American to places that they now call Reservations. How are you going to move the native populations into a smaller square foot when they were the ones here before you arrived in the first place?

This is America!

But, it’s not just those who were Native American, not just those of African descent, but in 1944 Japanese-Americans, too, were interned in concentration camps – and this even though not a single German American was placed into a concentration camp because we were at war with Germany. Our government simply picked on those who are people of color and placed them in internment camps.

This is America.

This history of America even inspired Langston Hughes, the great poet laureate of the Blues to say,

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Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Let America be America again. . .

America never was America to me.

And he goes on…

There’s never been equality for me;

nor freedom in this “homeland, the free.”

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.

I am the red man driven from the land.

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek —

And finding only the same old stupid plan

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak…

O, let America be America again–

The land that never has been yet–

And yet must be — the land where every man is free.

This is what Langston Hughes says, and what I say next I speak with the veil of prophetic utterance burning in my heart, that the Holy Spirit is still stalking this land, known yet to be, the United States of America.

And the word that we read today was crafted by a griot by the name of Matthew, who records how the Son of man gives the parameters of what it means to be a righteous Nation – clearly stating place your faith in God, not in government because if you want to be a righteous nation you must be judged by your moral compass. Jesus even speaks an eschatological moment when when God shall gather all the nations. Not some nations, but all nations, and that the group on the right group will be like sheep, while another group on the left will be like goats.

What’s more, scripture makes no mention of it being a democratic nation, or an authoritarian nation, or a theocratic nation, or an oligarchy. It says all Nations! All human organizations that distribute power and operate under a social contract are under God’s authority. There is  no mention of tradition or religion. It does not say all Jews, all Christians, or all Muslims. No. It says everybody that is made in the image of God, that all of us are subject to the same moral compass that we see every human being has worth. In other words, it does not matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter your tradition.You’re still made in the image of God and what you do to the least of these you also do unto our God.  

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We are subject to a moral compass. What you do to the least of these you also do to me. What you do to the poor, to the prisoner, the immigrant, to the widow, to the orphan, to the homeless, to the addict, to the trafficked, to the mentally ill, to the infirm, to the elderly, to the babies, to those who are homeless. What you do to the vulnerable, you do also to me. And every time you harm someone who’s poor, who’s broken, who’s marginalized, you are harming the heart of God. I’m here to let you know that we are hurting the heart of God every time we harm a child.

So our greatness as a nation shall be measured by our bridges and not by our walls. “What you do to the least of these, you do also to me.” Jesus is stating, “You shall know me by how you treat those who are the most vulnerable. I should not measure your greatness by how many millionaires you have. I shall not measure your greatness by how high the stocks go. The word is radical because it states, You shall be cast to punishment, not based on accepting Jesus as your personal Savior, but by how you live Jesus. Please do not confuse this.

This is difficult for some who come at faith more from a perspective of personal piety, that yes, Jesus is our Savior. And Jesus is our personal savior, but the word is saying, that anybody can call upon the word of Jesus but can you instead live the way that Jesus want you to live.

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Anybody can shout Hallelujah on Sunday and cuss you out on Monday. The question is, can you live based upon the way that Jesus calls us to live day in and day out? And so the question is, if you want to see Jesus it says that what you do to the least of these you do also to me. There are those who are saying that, “I want to see Jesus. I want to connect with Jesus. I want to have a holy ghost experience.” But to them the Word says, “If you want to meet Jesus, then go spend some time in the shelter. If you want to meet Jesus, then go on down to the US/Mexican border and see a crying child – because in their cries, you will see the heart of God since God cares for those who are broken.

But this is America.

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Where in  Chicago it is easier to get a gun, than it is to get a scholarship. Anybody can get a gun any day of the week. Even though communities like ours here at Trinity [UCC] pass out scholarships, people are still coming out with massive student debt every time they graduate from whatever school they attend. Some institutions will give you certain scholarships; they will  give you as certain full ride, because you can get a full ride to the University of Cook County any day of the week – prison. People in power will give you three meals a day and a place to stay, but you can not get a full ride to any other institution.

Something is wrong where we are willing incarcerate, but not educate. Something is wrong when we’re willing to invest in the military, but not in children. Something is wrong where we are willing to give tax cuts to billionaires, but not provide free or low-cost health care to those who need it. Something is wrong when we do not care for the least of these. We need to recognize that our nation will be defined by the bridges that build. We will not be defined by the walls that we erect. We need bridges built for the mentally ill. We need bridges built for those who are incarcerated. We need bridges that so we can see the beauty in the way God is working.

So I stopped by here to tell you, don’t lose hope. Because I’m here to tell you that our God is still working. And how do I know God is still working?

Something happened to me this week and I shouted all week. I even had to post it on Facebook.   I went down to Imani Village and had a meeting that Pat Eggleston arranged for me, along with our funders, Cornerstone Church. Cornerstone is out of Cleveland, Ohio and is a part of the United Church of Christ and they are  funding the Imani Village project. They wanted a tour of what they were funding. What got me so excited that I almost shouted in the meeting because as we were sitting there with the funder and the bankers, they didn’t look like us. But as we were sitting there, the teams that run the whole building and the operation came in. And when they came in, one young brother came behind another young brother, then a young sister came behind him. Then they sat down and said, “Let me tell you what I do.”  And the brother running the whole project was a black man named Franshone.

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Imani Village – Chicago

You know God is working when you got a brother named Franshone running a development project that has over 20 million dollars behind it.

And when he showed up on the property, everybody stood at attention because Franshone runs everything over there. I’m here to let you know that God is still doing great work. But I know that there is some people that don’t believe me because you have the wrong eye on the way God is working. You will say, “Reverend when I come to church I want to come to a packed church. I want to make sure there is no room on the pews.” But as your pastor, I’m here to raise a question, “Not just a packed church, but is the church making an impact.

And I’m here to let you know I’d rather have an Impact Church than a packed church because an Impact Church can change the world. And I’m here to let you know, since 1961 Trinity United Church of Christ has been making an impact and we’re still making an impact, not just here, but across the globe.

So don’t lose hope!  

This is America, but don’t lose hope because I’m here to let you know that love will have the final say. That love and justice are coming down the aisle – and they are about to get married and consummate a child by the name of liberation. Can’t you see what’s going on? I don’t say look at the White House, but look who’s protesting around the house. Don’t look at Washington; look at the border. There are people organizing. There’s a 28 year old sister, who just beat a 60 year old man to step into Congress. I’m here to let you know that God is on the move. God is still working. God is still blessing. God is still lifting.

So don’t you lose hope.

I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken. I’ve never seen them begging for bread. I’m here to let you know, my God, your Savior is still on the throne. Is there anyone in here, that knows our God is in control? Just throw up your hands and give thanks to God. God is still in control. God is still in control. God’s still got power. God is still healing. God is still blessing. God is still lifting. Is there anybody in here. Do you know our God?

This is America, but don’t lose hope.

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I was talking with my father a few months ago and I was asking him about the present condition and he smiled and said “Otis we’ve been here before. I dealt wit Bull Conner, you got to deal with Jeff Sessions.” We’ve been here before. Don’t fall into this chorus of despair asking “What we’re  going to do?”

This is America but don’t lose hope.


100-Most-Powerful-029-Otis-Moss-IIIA native of Cleveland, Ohio, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is an honors graduate of Morehouse College who earned a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary. A product of being invited to give Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale in 2014, his very popular book, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair, has become a staple among many Christian preachers in recent years – demonstrating a homiletic blueprint for prophetic preaching in the 21st century. Currently, he is the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, and he is happily married to his college sweetheart, the former Monica Brown of Orlando, Florida, a Spelman College and Columbia University graduate. They are the proud parents of two creative and humorous children, Elijah Wynton and Makayla Elon.

History Is Happening – What Part Do You Want to Play? It’s Not a Rhetorical Question. – by Aana Marie Vigen, Ph.D.

black and white dr thomasSaying that our country has been going through some hard times is a bit of an understatement these days. So to give our readers a word of courage for these days we will be hearing from Prof. Aana Vigen – from a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA) in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago and Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Loyola University Chicago. In her role as a Public Voices fellow with The OpEd Project through Auburn Seminary, she has penned a simple reflection and reminder for the blog for this week, a message that she has been willing to share with us here. And what is message? History is now, people, and when the exigencies of life call out to us, how we feel about ourselves in the future – and how future generations will look upon us – will be determined by what we have done these days. Read, comment, and share.

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


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Heated debates about civility and moral witnesscontinuing trauma of separated children and parents; momentous 5-4 Supreme Court rulings on abortion, the travel ban, and unions; Justice Kennedy retiring at the worst possible moment—and that was only 3 days of the news cycle this week! It leaves out so much, such as the most recent example of white police killing an unarmed black youth—Antwon Rose—and of Scott Pruitt’s egregious lack of integrity at the EPA. As I write, news is just breaking of another mass shooting, this time at a newspaper office in Maryland. I need to take a breath.

Flashback: In 1982, I was a white, Lutheran 8th grader in a small town in South Dakota who loved horses and who didn’t yet know she was gay. I was interested in current events, but history seemed tedious.

Then came Social Studies with Mrs. Roth.

She exposed me to the unthinkable, yet actual violence committed by white, predominately Christian, people against others—indigenous Americans, descendants of Africans, Jews, and Black Americans in the 18-20th centuries. We learned about the brutalizing economics of slavery. We read Night by Elie Wiesel. We watched documentaries about death camps. And we walked through the litany of lies, broken treaties, dirty tricks and massacres enacted against native peoples. My gut wrenched when I first realized that I was living on land from which the Lakota had been forcibly removed.

I asked my 13 year-old self:

“If I had been a white Christian living in the Dakotas in the 1800s, or in 1930’s Germany—or anywhere in the United States before 1865 or during Jim Crow or in the 1960’s—what would I have done? Would I have feared and hated Indians? Would I have been an abolitionist or an apologist? Would have I resisted fascism or fallen in line?

Would I have marched or stayed home?”

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Mrs. Roth showed me that simmering hatred and full-on evil spread not so much because of the twisted vision of a few demagogic masterminds, but because of the willful complicity—and even greater complacency—of the many.

I wondered what it would have been like to have lived in a pivotal, epoch-defining moment. I wistfully longed to time travel so that I could prove my mettle and live a more interesting life. The 1980’s seemed dull and uneventful by comparison (of course, they were not). I have since learned to be careful what I wish for.

The thing about history is that we are always living it. And wow, are we making it on steroids now!

Half way into 2018, it feels as if we are on a runaway train—careening into uncharted territory that is both profoundly volatile and violent. And yet, it is rather familiar when I remember 8th grade Social Studies: rising white nationalism; brazen aggression against and callous disregard for “outsiders” (refugeesimmigrantsMuslimsgay and transgender persons); escalating economic and trade tensions; bald-faced, yet infectious lies spread by people in power; venom for facts and a free press.

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So in our history, it is time for us—across political, social and religious affiliations—to ask: What role do I want to play? My 8th grade hypothetical question is now painfully concrete: What actions and values will I model for my 11 year-old son?

I don’t want to go down in history as a bewildered person who wrung her hands, posted angry laments on Facebook, and who watched Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, and Queer Eye in order to feel an addictive mix of righteous indignation and comfort that comes with escaping into screens. That much I know.

Dahlia Lithwick recently called out the danger of going numb and falling complacent (the whole article is a must-read along with her earlier piece on coping). Democracy doesn’t work on auto-pilot. Are we content to witness its demise or are we willing to perform CPR? Saving it will take all of us—people of faith and of none, farmers, teachers, blue-collar workers, parents, students, business leaders, citizens, professionals, immigrants.

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Me and my son.

And white people—I am looking squarely at you fellow Christians—given our major part in creating this mess—we have a special obligation to contribute meaningfully, no matter our political sensibility. Prominent, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives such as David Brooks and George F. Will are choosing fidelity to democracy over loyalty to party. Simply put, regardless of our 2016 vote (or absence of it), now is the time to stand up to bullies.

For now, I have job security, good medical insurance, a family that is safe, a vibrant church and strong support networks. I am a citizen. I can vote. I can donate a few dollars to RAICESthe ACLU, the SPLCThe Union of Concerned Scientists, the NRDC.

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Most of all, this white, gay, Christian can speak out, show up and organize with and for others who live on the front lives of our collective peril. Marches are happening across the nation this Saturday.

This is my—our—moment.

Make a legacy.


downloadAana Marie Vigen, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Loyola University Chicago and a Public Voices Fellow https://www.theopedproject.org/

 

Build a Bigger Table – Nicole M. Garcia, M.Div., M.A. LPC

Dr Thomas Smiling bigIn our continuing posts during Pride month, one of the most distinct voices in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – Nicole M. Garcia – has agreed to share some of her personal story, along with frank discussion of personal theological back-story.  A trans-latina pursuing ordination into the ministry of word and sacrament, Ms. Garcia shares how “we are commanded to love the Lord our God and to love each other as Jesus loves us, but love is just the beginning—not the end,” and what this means for a church that often struggles to be as accepting and inclusive of difference as it says it is. Read, comment, and share!

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


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Love, acceptance, and inclusion are three concepts I have talked and preached about for many years. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus boiled down the Ten Commandments into two easy to follow instructions, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Actually, I prefer John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (NRSV). I must stress, however, my use of these few verses is not the be all and end all of Scripture. One verse or one part of a chapter of any gospel is not definitive. Anyone who quotes one verse of Scripture to justify their actions are wrong for we must read and read and re-read Scripture individually and in community.

We have to pray and meditate and ponder the immensity of God’s message to us, and then start all over again. We glean something new each time we read Scripture because God is creating and re-creating the world we live in each and every day.

Yes, we are commanded to love the Lord our God and to love each other as Jesus loves us, but love is just the beginning—not the end.

It is through the lens of love that we begin our journey as Christians.

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I have worked for more than a decade for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the life of the ELCA. In other words, God’s love knows no bounds and Jesus preached about love for all, especially those who have been pushed to the margins. The most incredible worship service I can remember was in Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis on the Wednesday evening after the Social Statement on Human Sexuality was adopted at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Tears of joy streamed down my face for two hours as we celebrated an incredible achievement—a public statement by the ELCA that all means ALL.

There has been change in the church since 2009.  Dear friends who were ordained through Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries have since had their ordinations recognized by the ELCA. I was a co-chair of the board of directors of Lutherans Concerned/North America when we re-branded and is now doing business as ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation for we believe in reconciliation. More congregations have become Reconciling in Christ because there is the recognition that the love of God is infinite. Many more LGBTQ individuals are entering seminary and many have been ordained because of the 2009 decision.

I was granted entrance to candidacy in 2013. I earned an M.Div. from Luther Seminary on May 20, 2018. Honestly, I never dared to dream of actually being ordained in the ELCA, but sometimes dreams do come true.

I am on the threshold of joining the ranks of clergy, if I can find a church who will dare to call me—a transgender Latina who speaks the truth and demands change.

I demand the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the leadership of the church and demand the barriers to ordination and consecration are torn down so more people of color are given the opportunity to earn the privilege of wearing a clerical collar.

I demand the church stand up and cry out in a loud voice against the unjust and discriminatory practices the United States government is taking against individuals who are fleeing from violence and oppression.

We in the LGBTQ community know what is like to be ostracized and marginalized. We have earned a place at the table because we are imago Dei and we must continue to do the work of justice inside and outside the church for when any marginalized community is attacked, we are all attacked. History is very clear—the rich and powerful must have a segment of the population to segregate and persecute in order to maintain their base of support. The current administration utilizes nationalistic furor and white supremacy to galvanize their core. There have been many comparisons of our current political climate to the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany.

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We must remember the six million people murdered because of their Jewish faith. We must also remember the six million people put to death because they were branded as undesirable: people with mental and physical disabilities, people in the LGBTQ community, the Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and German political opponents and resistance activists.

One of the German political opponents was the Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man with power and privilege who paid with his life because he lived out his devotion to Jesus Christ by speaking and acting on behalf of those being persecuted.

In our time, individuals are fleeing the violence in Central America and seeking shelter and safety in a nation of immigrants—the United States. They are being met by a militaristic force and herded into detention facilities.

Their children are being ripped from their arms. Their children are being put in cages because the parents are branded “illegal.” The children have done no wrong and the parents have not been convicted of any crime, but our government has built concentration camps to hold the undesirables; a comparison to 1930s Germany that sends shivers down my spine.

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Public pressure forced the signing of an executive order stating the separation of children from their parents would be halted, but only time will tell if there will actually be a significant change in how refugees and those seeing asylum are treated by our government.

It is up to us, as leaders in the church, to speak out. We have to take action. We have to call our legislators and write emails and letters to voice our disgust at the way human beings are being horribly treated. We must show up at rallies and march in the streets. We must demand our government treat our neighbors as the Lord commands us—with respect, with dignity, with love.

I am trying to complete the last requirements for candidacy and part of that process is looking at many different ministry settings in the synod. This process has caused me to wonder if I truly belong in the church I love dearly. I am a member of the ELCA because I fell head over heels in love with Lutheran theology, but I wonder if the whole church is ready to stand up and demand justice?

We, as Lutherans, believe the gift of grace is given to all those who are made in the image of God but is the church able to change fast enough to keep up with an ever-changing world?

When I march in Pride Parades and waive rainbow flags, I remember the sacrifices of so many individuals who suffered indignity and insult because they dared to proclaim one can be LGBTQ and Lutheran. I want to be a part of a church that proclaims inclusion in the sanctuary and takes concrete action. There is no exception for all are given the gift of grace and as leaders in the church must do something. We must demand unjust laws be changed and we must demand all our neighbors be treated with respect, dignity, and love.

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I am a member of the ELCA for the Holy Spirit has created a place at the table for me and all my siblings in the LGBTQ community.

It is time for us to build a bigger table.


Nicole GarciaNicole M. Garcia (she/her/hers) is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith. Nicole has a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. Nicole is a Candidate Preparing for Word and Sacrament in the Rocky Mountain Synod. Nicole has a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.

Not the Land of Canaan, Sweetheart – Crystal Ann Solie, M.Div.

IMG_4512On June 28, 1969 – early in the morning – a group of bar patrons, gay and lesbian, transgender and cross-dressing and queer – fought back against police officers attempting to raid a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, The Stonewall Inn. And since then, thousands of cities across the world celebrate June 28, and the entire month of June as well, and the socio-political breakthrough of that night. To commemorate this month, colleague Crystal Ann Solie has agreed to give her own very poignant commentary on the recent Supreme Court decision Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission as well as what this means for her as a lesbian and a devoted follower of Jesus. We won’t give away much more than that, as she speaks much of herself in the piece, but especially encourage church leadership to ask themselves to reflect on how they ask for LGBTQIA+ members of their churches to fully support their ministries if the churches themselves don’t fully support them. Read, comment, and share!

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


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Joseph Dines With His Brothers – Yoram Raanan

A child betrayed by their family is sold into slavery and dragged off to another country to  experience further mistreatment and injustice. This child then comes into power when strangers trust him with a task seemingly beyond his state. This task, however, is the work the child has been ordained to perform to save their community and ultimately, the family that betrayed him.

The Joseph narrative in Genesis draws connections to my life as gay woman as few texts can.

Admittedly, the insult, insensitivity, and uncertainty I have experienced are not the same as being sold into slavery as Joseph was. However, it did cause me to feel trapped and reminded me that I was not being treated the same as the majority of families around me.

The world was a different landscape for same-sex couples in 2008 when my soon-to-be wife and I were making plans for our nuptials. A process that was supposed to be joyful, maybe fun, and certainly stressful for us was instead stained with anxiety.

Would we find a venue, a florist, or a baker that would take our business as a same-sex couple? We certainly weren’t expecting to find a church for the event given the volatile climate following the 2009 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) policy change regarding same sex clergy in committed relationships.

Further distressing was that we weren’t even getting legally married. For this reason and because I did not feel welcome having our ceremony in a church, I didn’t call it a wedding throughout our planning. We had a piece of paper from Cook County (IL) that said we were Domestic Partners. That was it. We wouldn’t have a Civil Union until 2012, wouldn’t be legally married until 2013, and wouldn’t have that marriage recognized in the state where we lived until 2015.

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Click here to see the awesome video

However, we were fortunate. We found service providers for every aspect of our special day. We had a great venue, fantastic food, and were surrounded by our friends and family who have championed our marriage from the start. Legally, no one was required to give us any of this, but they chose to of their own free will. Whether they were simply business decisions or choices made to treat us with equality, I cannot be certain.

If it sounds complicated, you’re right. It is and it shouldn’t have to be complicated to treat people with dignity.

Our family has navigated the changing social climate with patience and persistence. We have achieved a level of emotional, spiritual, and financial stability. I imagine this is how Joseph felt, having come into power and being placed on a pedestal in Egypt. However, many same-sex couples do not have plans turn out as we did.

Two recent court cases give rise to the fact that there are still business that do not want and will not accept the patronage of LGBTQIA* individuals or couples.

On June 4, 2018 the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled on the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. A same-sex couple went to the bakery looking to order a cake for their wedding and was told by the baker that he does not make cakes for same sex weddings. The baker was investigated by the Commission and found to be in violation of the state’s non-discrimination statutes, a decision which was upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals. In this case, SCOTUS ruled that the proceedings that let the Commission’s investigation and findings against the baker infringed upon the baker’s freedom of speech and religion.

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Owners of the Masterpiece Cakeshop walking with lawyer and supporters

In the decision of the court, Justice Kennedy noted, “However later cases raising these or similar concerns are resolved in the future, for these reasons the rulings of the Commission and of the state court that enforced the Commission’s order must be invalidated.” (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 584 U.S. ___ (2018)) This means that a future case could be brought against the same baker for the same reason, but maintains that the investigations for such activity must be conducted with respect and dignity afforded to all parties, including the baker. This seems fair to me.

In short, the SCOTUS ruling does not give businesses the right to discriminate against LGBTQIA folks.

Immediately following the SCOTUS ruling, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled on Brush & Nib Studio v City of Phoenix. In this case, the studio’s artists argued that the City’s non-discrimination ordinance infringed upon the artists’ first amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion to refuse to create wedding invitations for same-sex couples. The court ruled that while a custom invitation might constitute such an infringement, the act of writing the names of two women or two men on a basic invitation design did not.

This, again, is a fair ruling to me and a protection that can be applied to all people. As one business is free to refuse to create a custom wedding invitation for a same-sex couple, another business is also free to refuse to create a custom sign for an LGBTQIA conversion camps or an organization that works to hinder LGBTQIA rights.

The end result of both cases is that all people should be afforded dignity and people should not be denied basic services.

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I’ve seen the meme, “All I’m saying is that I believe Jesus would bake the damn cake.” I agree, yes, Jesus would have baked the cake and he would have invited others to join him in baking the cake…

…but he would not compel anyone to bake the cake.

Jesus, however, would compel us to build relationships that would make sure everyone had cake for any occasion they wanted or needed it. Relationships where we are called to mutually sustain each other instead of pointing out faults or claiming religious superiority or righteousness.

As an MDiv graduate who didn’t have any interviews for first call, I have moved across the country and found work in corporate America’s IT sector where new tasks and titles are awarded to me regularly. Sitting in a pew during a congregation’s capital campaign presentation presents a certain irony to me.

It’s a curious position to be in, standing in a place of economic privilege while facing ongoing marginalization.

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Much like Joseph’s brothers, the Church comes to me looking for resources. Reticent to honor my call, the Church is always willing to cash my check or use my training without placing me on the payroll.

I realize now how much courage it took Joseph to speak the words that would openly identify his relationship and solidify his commitment to the family that betrayed him. He didn’t ignore their need, but reminded them of their relationship. I’m not quite there yet, but the words are in my heart, waiting to come out and to be received and accepted and loved.

“Come closer…I am your brother” (Genesis 45.4).


29025477_10215588491602483_2981151768359054516_nCrystal Solie is a graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (MDiv 2012) currently living in Orange Park, Florida with her wife and two daughters. She currently works as an Information Technology analyst and serves as a leader for the Pride business resource group for a global banking firm. In her free time, Crystal enjoys grilling, story telling, and singing with her family.

*LGBTQIA = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Ally; the term is intended to be inclusive of all non-heterosexual and non-binary gender persons .

Between the Cross and the Resurrection – Dr. Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Dr TThis week’s tribute to Dr. Westhelle now comes from another colleague, this one from Argentina – the Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Dr. Nancy Elizabeth Bedford. A collection of memories of Westhelle and different point in their respective careers, she gives the reader simple insight into who he was as a thinker, as a native of Latin America, and a trust colleague. Please read, comment, and share!

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


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I met Vítor for the first time when we invited him to deliver the 2001 Carnahan Lectures at Instituto Universitario ISEDET in Buenos Aires, where I was teaching. My colleagues Mercedes García Bachmann and Guillermo Hansen had often spoken of him, since they had both gotten their doctorates at LSTC. Hansen always spoke of Vítor as a “theologian’s theologian” because of the depth and subtlety of his thought, and also because he had helped shape so many theologians through the years.[1] I was therefore very interested in hearing what he might have to say.

On that occasion Vítor gave a series of six lectures on – as I remember it – the theology of the cross. I think he must have included elements of his later book The Scandalous God. The Use and Abuse of the Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006) in the lectures. At least, that is my recollection, though my memory of that time is treacherous, in part because when he visited our campus my youngest daughters, twins, were only about six or seven months old and I wasn’t getting much sleep; and also, because Argentina was heading toward one of its cyclical political and economic crises, and the situation on the ground was tense and fraught. I remember listening to his lectures in a rather fragmented way, punctuated by interruptions.

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Perhaps I only think he spoke about the epistemology of the cross because that later became my favorite theme from his theology. Along with his book on ecclesiology, The Church Event. Call and Challenge of the Church Protestant (Mineapolis: Fortress, 2010) the book on the theology of the cross is the one I’ve often assigned in my syllabi.

At any rate, after one of the evening sessions, a group of us went out to eat in San Telmo (one of the traditional neighborhoods bordering downtown Buenos Aires where one can listen to live tango). I asked him what it was like to live and teach theology in Chicago, which I imagined as a cold and snowy place, traversed by icy winds cutting through brutal Mies van der Rohe cityscapes. His description of the city and its interculturality kindled my imagination, though I could not have foreseen that less than two years later I’d be moving there myself.  When I did and was installed in the chair I now hold at Garrett-Evangelical, we organized a symposium on “Faith, Hope and Love Seeking Justice” (April 2004). Vítor was one of the invited speakers. He lectured on poesis, praxis and theoria, themes that also later appeared in one of the chapters of The Scandalous God.

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The main entrance to the campus of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

In the following years I often sent my PhD students to Hyde Park to take a seminar with Vítor, always confident that they would be the better for it. At various times we served together on dissertation committees. The last one was for Katie Mae Deaver late in the spring of 2017, along with José David Rodríguez and Wanda Deifelt from Luther College. On that occasion, I remember complaining about “theories” of the atonement, saying that one could not develop a theory about the atonement, but only provide narratives (in Spanish, “relatos”). With a twinkle in his eye, Vítor dutifully spoke only of atonement “narratives” for the remainder of the meeting. That particular committee was a rare pleasure, in that it was an all-Latin American dissertation committee though we were in the United States. My sense is that Vítor had a way of making Latin America “happen,” no matter where he was.

I noticed this even at his memorial service: at one point I looked up and thought “Huh! There are people speaking English here” – only to remember that, after all, we were in Chicago.

In October 2017 I had gone down to LSTC to preach in chapel for a series they were doing on Lutherans and other Christian confessional traditions, seeking reconciliation in the context of the celebration of the 500 years of the Reformation. I was to speak from the Anabaptist perspective, and Vítor was to preside if he felt up to it. I had not seen him for several months. A man came up to me, smiling. He looked vaguely familiar, but I did not recognize him. It was only when he greeted me by name and I heard his voice that I realized it was Vítor. I knew then that the cancer and its treatment were ravishing his body in unimaginable ways. Yet as he read the liturgy, speaking in a clear, strong voice and leading the community in worship, there was no question as to who it was.

vitor podium.jpg

He was planning to fly to Argentina a few days later to give the inaugural lecture at the Red Ecuménica de Educación Teológica (REET) and had emailed me suggesting that we have lunch after the service. I imagined that he wanted to mull over the situation in Protestant theological education in the South Cone of South America, which had changed a good deal even in the past five years. I declined, however, because I already had plans to meet up with my daughter who was in college on the South Side. On the way home from his memorial service I remembered that day in chapel half a year previously and realized that perhaps it had been his way of saying good bye: one that I had not been subtle enough to catch at the time. I had known he was sick, but I simply had not believed his life would be over so soon.

Vítor did his best theology in the liminal space to be found between naming the “scandal” of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18-31) and realizing that to name that scandal is already to risk domesticating it or even making into something banal. That was one reason he underscored that the theology of the cross cannot not be watered down into mere discourse or doctrine -that is, into words alone- but rather is “a way of life” and “a practice that involves a risk” (The Scandalous God, ix-x). But he knew that if the theology of the cross is a praxis, so also is the resurrection: “a practice of labor, of mourning, and of love that moves beyond and across the limits of the régimes of truth to which we are beholden” (The Scandalous God, 164).

The last time I saw Vítor, he was dressed in his liturgical vestments, illuminated by candles and by the light streaming into the chapel: in some ways unrecognizable without his characteristic mane of hair and his jeans, yet somehow also the same Vítor he had always been. He was, once again, in a liminal space: between the already and the not yet, between LSTC and the road to Emmaus, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He was practicing – as always – the theology of the cross; I think he was also trying to show us how to practice resurrection.

resurrection

[1] Cf. http://ierp.org.ar/fallecio-el-teologo-de-teologos-vitor-westhelle/ (May 13, 2018)


nancy-bedfordNancy Elizabeth Bedford, Dr. theol. (Tübingen, 1994), was born in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. She has been Georgia Harkness Professor of Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evanston) since 2003. Previously she taught theology at Instituto Universitario ISEDET and Seminario Internacional Teológico Bautista (both in Buenos Aires). She has written or edited eight books and written over 80 book chapters and journal articles, which have appeared in five languages. Her most recent books are Galatians, A Theological Commentary (WJK, 2016) and with Virginia Azcuy and Mercedes García, Teología feminista a tres voces (Ediciones Manuel Hurtado, 2016). Her current book project develops a Christology of the marvelous exchange from a Latin American and Latino/a perspective. Her research interests focus on global feminist theories and theologies, Latin American theologies, Latino/Latina theologies in North America, theologies in migration, liberating readings of Scripture, hermeneutics, whiteness and racism, and the rearticulation of classical doctrinal loci from the perspective of critical, artistic and poetic reason.