My Emmanuel, The End of Expectation – Sergio Edson Rodriguez

Continuing in our series, “What I am waiting for this Advent”, we have a poignant-yet-pointed submission by Vicar Sergio Edson Rodriguez. In a season where so many words like “joy,” “hope,” even “justice” are mere buzz-words used and abused by those whose lives aren’t dependent on their fulfillment, he scolds white progressive Christianity for commodifying these words just as the nation has commodified the holy season of Christmas. Yet, too, he speaks of God’s promise to defy every boundary and every border and every wall in our lives once and for all – and it is a vision perfectly in line with the impending arrival of el Dioscito, baby Jesus. Read, comment, and share!

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


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What am I waiting for this Advent?

To mature.

Of course from the outset, this desire for maturity seems quite pedantic and fanciful as one does not simply wait for maturity to occur as a commodity but rather is inducted into a well-ripened openness to life. However, I feel quite justified in yearning for an existence that touches the core of all that is in the scope of this universe that is Dioscito’s[1]. Too often, the openness to life, this acknowledgement of the pervading presence of God in our cosmos, is commodified in this particular season with clarion with calls to Christian generosity, or the so-called war on Christmas kind of culture, or secular consumerism. In all of these movements this season, openness to life means how disposed are you to stuff; stuff that people need, that people want, that define people.

If you want that sort of stuff, that’s fine and dandy but perhaps I might be quite persnickety in wanting more out of life than simply stuff and how that stuff makes me feel better about my circumstances. Rather, I want to be drawn into the core of life that God pours out into this world; that God suffers in this world; that God cries out with a joyful shout within this world filled with suffering, hopelessness, addiction, and pain.

I want to be open to seeing the face of God who has rushed head long into human existence and has made a home there. For God’s home is precisely in places where abundant life seems to eke out in glimpses of grace.

So, I propose for my own sanity this Advent/Christmas/whatever-you-want-to-call-it to center my anxiety driven search for maturity along several  fins [2]or if you prefer along several telos [3]grounded in the mystery of this God who has decided to become un invitado [4]to our fiesta[5] that is life.

El Fin de Esperanza*[6]

I hope for the end of Hope*.

We hope for a better tomorrow.

We hope for the day when God shall come again.

I hope that this line at Wal-Mart isn’t too long this Black Friday.

I find this word to be quite a vacuous sound in the ears of many who think that hope itself has become a place word for inactivity. That Hope itself is a word that is closed to the openness of life because it ultimately knows the end of the story; there’s a happily ever after; the end. It does not struggle with the ambiguities of this world mired with questions of food scarcity, intimate partner violence, mood disorders, and so on and so forth.

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As a Latinx[7] Vicar, I find this pie-in-the-sky hope to be insignificant in the realities of those who struggle to make ends meet, who find the deck stacked against them and who do not see the so-called Christian generosity towards the dregs of society as a sign of good-will towards humanity. It is this hope that must come to an end. The Parousia of the Son of Man (Matt 24:37) means for me the openness of time towards the uncertainty of God’s presence. This ends our hope for a fantastical reality to come. Instead, I find that the Parousia silences the inquietude of my anxious hope with the faint movement of God hovering, living, breathing into our most insignificant of realities. Esperanza[8] ends where the darkness of the coming of God overshadows the ambiguities of this world.

El Fin del Siglo*

I anticipate the acabamiento[9] of the age*. Unto the ages of ages. World without end. The end of our play. Fin. There’s this buzz word that is so common amongst theologians and seminarians as almost to make it synonymous with some form of theological schooling; prolepsis: the in-breaking of the Kingdom upon this earth has been proleptically seen and tasted on the cross and from the cross. Frankly, I find this particular word to be lacking all sort of vibrancy and dynamic engagement with the realities of what it means to be church today. Prolepsis conveys a sterile almost pharmacological notion that undermines the passion, the gusto, the flavor of life itself in favor of a more rigid construction of western liturgical tastes. I find that prolepsis, while helpful in explicating one’s position on paper, needs to be fine-tuned to how it appears in the life of people who need to hear this dimension shattering reality.

As a Latinx Lutheran, why must I wait for full reconciliation to occur in the distant future?

Why are there only glimpses of the future when we need Christ and Christ’s kingdom now to topple over the sin of this age that enslaves folx to shackles of hatred, greed and profit? When John the Baptist chastises the Pharisees and Sadducees, he paints a picture of the shifting of weights in the balance of God’s refining presence (Matt 3:10); God’s ax is swinging now, the fruits are ripe now, let the fire burn. El siglo ends not as a visage of things to come but in the fires of a God who’s presence is a swinging ax and a refining fire.

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El Fin de Justicia*

I yearn for the conclusion of Justice*. Liberty and justice for all. Law and Order. Social justice. Above all the words I have thus uttered, I yearn with the passion of a thousand suns for this word to finally be put to rest. Rather than produce actual substantive changes that one could touch, taste, disfrutar[10], justice stands currently as a litmus test within the church as a marker of true prophetic zeal and of the advent of a younger more progressive leadership. How loud, often and strongly one clamors for justice is often the sign of someone who’s got it going on in the more white progressive circle of Lutheranism.

What will endure after the last poster of protest is thrown into the recycle bin or the latest Instagram Photo clamoring for justice is scrolled by fingers twitching for more images to appease its very hunger for feel-good moments? Seeing, walking, cleansing hearing, raising, bringing, Jesus paints us an image of a reality that moves and shakes the very foundation of a world mired in brokenness and oppression. He wasn’t just shouting for a world to be turned upside down but for the very lives of people to be made anew. Let us see, walk, be cleansed, hear, be raised and be brought into God’s world that abides against the tides of death. Hay vida! Hay amor! Hay gozo! Asi termina la justicia.[11]

El Fin de Manana*

I wait for tomorrow to cease* and for the day to endure. Growing up, I hated saying hasta luego[12] to all my family members at the wee hours of the morning as our family fiestas came to a close. In my heart, I ached with an unease about the whole affair because deep inside mi ser[13], I had to confront the mundane hours of the coming day. The world seemed to spin on an endless axis of ends; the end of good times, of life, of relationships, of convivir[14], of loves.

What I felt then I know now to be true that the weight of this cycle of life and death, togetherness and separateness, has given way to a more enduring time. “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus…they shall name him Emmanuel”(Matthew 1:23).

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From the darkness of the womb, the mystery of the endless convivir in the midst of pain and suffering that is Dioscito with us is made manifest. El Fin de Manana comes not in a day of cataclysmic bang but in the birth pangs of life.


sergeSergio Rodriguez is a word and sacrament candidate in the Southwestern Texas Synod and is a M.Div student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. Currently, he is a Synodically Authorized Minister at St. Paul’s Square Ministries (St. Paul Lutheran-Karnes CitySt. Paul Lutheran-Nordheim).


[1] A vernacular expression common in Mexican-American communities with many meanings. Combining the Spanish word for God – Dios – with the suffix –ito suggesting something intimate or small, it can either be an way of saying “God” that is more gentle and familiar, or is also at times used to express the baby Jesus, the sweet and tender “little” God.

[2] fin – “end” in Spanish.

[3] telos – Greek for “end” or “conclusion/culmination.”

[4] invitado – a guest, literally “invited one”.

[5] fiesta – party/festival/celebration.

[6] In the following sections – subtitles ending with an * will be followed with their translations immediately afterwards, also marked with an *

[7] Latinx – a contemporary way to say a word commonly used to describe people in the United States who are descended from the peoples of Latin America, Latina/Latino, but ending it with an ‘x’ so as to be inclusive of non-binary people, as well as more generally gender-inclusive.

[8] esperanza – hope.

[9] acabamiento – the termination or end of.

[10] disfrutar – to enjoy.

[11] Spanish – “There is light! There is love! There is Life! That’s how justice ends!”

[12] hasta luego – “see you later”.

[13] mi ser – my being.

[14] convivir – living together.

Waiting and Wanting: Approaching Advent in the Midst of Grief – Rev. Collette Broady Grund

Keeping in tune with the beginning of the liturgical calendar year, We Talk. We Listen. is doing a series entitled simply “What I’m Waiting for this Advent.Our first author, Rev. Colette Broady Grund of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Mankato, MN, minces no words as she wades through recent family tragedy: “So, at the most basic level, I am waiting for my life to stop sucking.” Yet she explains how the season’s texts comfort her and give much needed support for her grief. Read, comment, and share.

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


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On this past Thanksgiving Day – Thursday, November 28 – it was 5 months since my 46-year-old husband died suddenly. In the time since, my children and I have experienced two hospitalizations, two car accidents, multiple trips to urgent care and one broken bone. I’ve cut back to working three days a week plus Sunday, and there has not been one week in the last ten where I actually worked even that much.

I wrote this sitting in the urgent care waiting room, hoping somebody could stop a month-long battle I’ve been fighting with a cold. (It turned out to be pneumonia. Hooray.)

So, at the most basic level, I am waiting for my life to stop sucking.

Somewhat deeper down, I am waiting for the next bad thing, further proof that I am living in the valley of death’s shadow, in a dark night of the soul. I am, as Mary Oliver says in my favorite of her poems, “so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.” I am mostly waiting for this Advent, this Christmas, this first year to be over.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Other widows that I know in person or through the internet are waiting too, without much hope that next year will be better. People in my congregation and yours are waiting after terminal diagnoses, knowing that life will only stop sucking because they’re going to die. Our nation waits without much hope on either side for the end of this impeachment trial, knowing we are likely to be left in the same divided congress and country we started with.

While I know many of my contemporaries feel as I do, I am surprised to find myself in good company with the biblical saints in this kind of waiting.

The church I serve uses the Narrative Lectionary and we are still in our first run through the cycle, so the preaching texts often come to me unknown. I have laughed in the face of God with Sarah at promises too good to be true. I have wrestled through many sleepless nights like Jacob, and have walked out the other side with a limping faith. I have felt the bitterness of Naomi at her widow’s lot, while at the same time surrounded by women who have bound their lives to mine and will not let me go.

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In this fall’s reading through the Hebrew Scriptures, I have noticed how painful the lives God’s people endure are, how uncertain their future even when they do what God asks. These saints have made me feel so much less alone.

We are moving now into the season of prophets. In this year’s readings, as always, they speak words of promise after desolation, a future hope powerful enough to sustain the weary faithful through generations of exile. The nearly un-redeemable Hosea speaks God’s tender parental love even for me who wants little to do with her Mother right now. Isaiah tells me that God can bring a new shoot from my cut down heart, a life on the other side of death. Jeremiah casts a vision over the desolation all around me, promising that life will be restored in an abundance beyond Eden. Isaiah calls out comfort, that I have suffered enough and the road to God is about to get flat and straight.

I cannot say I believe their words just yet, but I want to. Maybe that wanting is movement enough toward God. It may only be desire now, but God’s spirit may yet use this season to fan that spark into an actual flame of faith.

In hope of just that, I have cleared space on my dining room buffet for a family Advent wreath and I began lighting the candles last week. I did not, however begin with the first blue candle, because my LSTC advisor and worship professor, Rev. Dr. Mark Bangert taught me well to stay in my liturgical season. Instead, I have begun where the wreath is supposed to end, in the middle, with the Christ candle. If there is anyone who knows about growing hope from a Spirit-conceived spark into a full-formed being, it is Christ.

So I light Christ’s candle daily, hoping that as it shrinks, my faith will grow. Perhaps by Christmas, I will look into the manger and fully believe that the Holy One has come to dwell in the midst of my life too.

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Rev. Collette Broady Grund lives in Mankato, Minnesota with the five children that call her step/mom. They are all finding their way forward together after the death of their husband and step/dad in June, with much help from Bethlehem Lutheran Church, where she serves as associate pastor. Rev. Broady Grund also directs Connections Ministry, an ecumenical ministry that shelters people experiencing homeless. She blogs about her grief and ministry at www.collettebroadygrund.com.

The Spirit of Our Questions. Oh, and We Might Be Nicodemus… – Rev. Rachelle Brown

In the US these days, the words “church” and “decline” are frequently conjoined. There are many reasons for this – economic, cultural, political, etc… – yet discussion of these factors rarely leads to any significant change. This is what makes Rev. Rachelle Brown’s commentary on the matter so unique and reorienting – because she doesn’t suggest yet another “fix” for the problem, as have so many others, but rather acquiesces to the difficult idea that indeed Christ is calling the church to die in order to be born again. Fascinated by this? Scared? Worried? So were we – yet her thoughts may give you unexpected comfort. Read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – Interim Blog Editor, PhD Student at LSTC


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photo credit

Year after year, reports arrive showing a decline in U.S. Christianity. Not long ago, a news report offered these three points, “Americans are becoming less religious,” “Confidence in organized religion is down, and Americans are less and less inclined to seek guidance from clergy” (“Church and Clergy Have Fallen Out of Favor, New Polls Show”, NPR Morning Edition, July 17, 2019).

The content of the message is clear and consistent…

Christianity in the U.S. is on a steep decline.

Before the keyboards blaze under our fingers into another book trying to explain why church attendance is down, here is my first question “Was Jesus really concerned about the future of the temple, priests, and religious leaders? Which leads to the second question…

“What if the point of Jesus’ teaching is the spiritual life?”

It may be true that Jesus was teaching us to live a Spiritual life and we have built a religion. I am not the first person in the history of Christianity to pause and reflect in this way, nor am I asking you to consider shutting down churches. Rather, I am asking you to consider what it might mean to be a Christian in an age of religious organizations.

After leaving church all together out of hurt and frustration, about 15 years ago, I decided to be a follower of Jesus again. My decision led me back to church, then seminary, and ministry. There have been many times in which being a Christian and in a church is very uncomfortable.

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In this era, we have many uncomfortable questions. The beauty and wisdom of the Gospels is how Jesus answered and asked questions. There is one passage in particular, John 3:1-10, the conversation between Jesus and the powerful religious leader Nicodemus that offers us a few clues about the reason churches are failing. Too often, we breeze past this moment in scripture, believing we are Jesus standing in the alley for a nighttime meeting. The headlines are telling us something very different:

We just might be Nicodemus.

Many modern Christians exude confidence, assurance to be “right” or sharing the “truth” as either conservative or liberal. Nicodemus is a powerful religious leader, or the keeper of the faith. Pardon my interpretation, but it may even be true that in modern times, when a big world event happens, Nicodemus might be on the news as a commentator for the “religious” point of view.

In the meeting with Jesus, at night, off the main pathway, Nicodemus calls Jesus “rabbi.” Kind of like a modern Christian religious leader saying, “Now Pastor, WE know you are doing some amazing ministry, it seems like God is with you and blessing you.” However, Jesus picks up on the royal “we” and wants no part of that. Jesus gets to the point – if you want to really experience God – be born from above. Jesus was talking about birth and spirit.

Nicodemus was trying to understand the teaching of Jesus, but his only view was from the “we” as the religious leaders.

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Nicodemus Visiting Jesus – Henry Ossawa Tanner

Nicodemus did not like where the conversation was going because this teaching of Jesus defied the laws of nature as Nicodemus understood it: Birth happens once, you know that, there is no do-over. Out of frustration, then, Jesus finally asks his own question: “Tell me, how can you be a teacher of the faith and do not understand these things?” Jesus then went on to explain to Nicodemus: I am trying to describe what is happening here and now, the very human and real experiences. You can’t even believe me. How can you even begin to understand the spiritual truths?

Pause for a moment and consider the chilling reality that many Christians today just might be Nicodemus. This is a tough message. But just like Nicodemus trying to understand the spiritual teaching in the middle of the night, if you are looking for a religious answer to the questions of today – you will be disappointed, because the best answers of any tradition are just a shadow of the brighter truth.

Jesus in this conversation with Nicodemus, and throughout the gospels, describes the life we long for, the spiritual life.

As one who is ordained by a Christian church, with the robes, stoles, and lived in the position of a religious leader, I experience the dilemma. I have asked myself if I can be both spiritual and part of a religious organization?

John 3 is saying a few key things to churches and religious leaders,

  1. I know you are upset and it is hard to understand why so many are not interested in our ways anymore.
  2. If we continue on this path, we will die.
  3. We are called to follow Jesus and live a Spiritual life.
  4. Face it, the wind of the Spirit blows, and you cannot control it.
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Brenda Boss

When the wind of the Spirit blows, we don’t know where it comes from, or where it goes, but it is ok, that is the spiritual life. Even the early church struggled with how to gather with those who follow tradition and others outside of the tradition. Religious people had to change. Remember Peter needed a vision to lay down religious and cultural traditions (Acts 10).

In the Spirit of our questions, here is another: If we are to be pursuing the spiritual life, why do we even have churches, or any of these pieces from tradition? The fact that we gather in a church, is not a bad thing. Jesus didn’t ask anyone to leave their faith. Jesus said, don’t limit the work of the Spirit – be born again.

Our work is to get honest, look beyond what we see, and strip away the coverings of tradition that keep us from following the blowing wind of the Spirit!

Spirituality is when we make the space for people to show up and ask tough, gut wrenching questions, for which do not have prepared answers. It is our work to push beyond religion into the spirituality of living in these bodies and our very human experiences. Into these spaces, the Spirit arrives, rushing in from places unknown, giving life rather than the life-limiting answers often provided by religious organizations.

The Gospel message woven in life, death, and resurrection of Jesus teaches us that when we are vulnerable, stripped away of all covering, broken, and without life, only then can we experience resurrection and new life.

If we are going to be the spiritual people, created by God, seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus then we need to focus on being Christians first. Because when we are Christians living a spiritual life, any thing that flows from it, in word, deed, song, prayer, worship, or ritual becomes a light, creating a place for people to gather, ask the hard and confusing questions, receive love, be filled with hope, and experience new life.

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Being Christians first, rooted in the teachings of Jesus, is a spiritual starting place. If the church is dying as the reports over the decades and empty buildings attest, then we must pay attention to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, clear our confusion, and begin a long overdue spiritual journey.


RachelleMetropolitan Community Churches (MCC) ordained clergy and chaplain with Heart of Hospice – Acadiana, Rev. Brown’s ministry includes local church and denominational leadership. Rev. Brown holds a Master of Divinity from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO; Master of Communications from Missouri State University, and is a current PhD Candidate at Chicago Theological Seminary. As a theologian and educator, she explores intersections of ethics, human sciences, and American religion.

Satis Est in Exile: Queer Latinx Reflections Over the Augsburg Confession – Sergio Edson Rodriguez

Our final reflection on Pride Month and Lutheran theology, we have a fascinating piece by Sergio Edson Rodriguez – a latinx, synodically authorized minister in south Texas, and seminarian at Wartburg Theological Seminary. But as a gay Tejano living along la frontera (the borderlands between the United States and Mexico) Minister Rodriguez’s need for grace was very different than that of Luther’s. His exploration of this difference, mixed with his personal story, is the subject of this week’s post, and it is a marvelous one. So please, read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student and Interim Blog Editor


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“La Bamba” – Victoria de Almeida

 

This might sound quite odd to most of you but if I had not discovered the liberating message words of Satis Est in the Confesio, I would be stuck in the closet, living an unhappy life of machismo and self-loathing.

As the son of two Mexican immigrants on this side of La Frontera  in the Rio Grande Valley, I grew up in an environment of ridged societal norms and work ethic based off of hay que sufrir. I was to be an hombre, a macho, a hardworking man who gave up everything for his wife and kids. I was to honor la familia and take care of mis padres all the while conquering the hearts (y honor) of many senoritas. And so when I was in the fifth grade, I started to notice my own eyes following the movements of many of my male classmates and my heart yearned to be together with my male best friend. What did this mean for me knowing what my abuelos, tios and papa week after week taught me about what it meant to be a hombre? What would happen to my relationship with my papa if he knew I started to have these odd feelings? I saw how my papa struggled to provide for our family in his construction jobs, how he rehearsed his answers to border patrol agents, how he showered my sister and I with such tender affection that I could not fear losing his love. So, I didn’t tell him.

Yet how could I stop being myself, a small, timid, passive child who at the drop of a hat would bawl his eyes out? Since I was used to being the butt of many jokes, being called Maricón for starts, I decided at a fairly young age to bury myself in the thin veneer of sports, clubs, music and video games as I attempted to make sense of who I was and what I was feeling.

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Translation: “They called me ‘fag’ in high school.” Video here.

I grew to loathe the deep inclinations of my heart as puberty increased my dissatisfaction with my nascent sexuality. It was at this time that I stopped attending la Misa at Our Lady of Sorrows in McAllen, TX because I could not see how any institution could tell me how to think or how not to be true to myself. And with this severing of my affiliation, the ax fell upon other identity markers of my youth as I struggled to make sense of my own beliefs and feelings: Español, followed by my own hatred of La Raza.

I was a Maricón and I didn’t feel that neither my father or the church understood what it meant when I longed to be loved by another man like me. So when it came time to go to college, I took the decision to go far away from mi familia y la raza at Baylor University. Finally, I would be among folks who would think to some degree like me; rational, liberal and etc… Of course I did not realize at the time that I was going to a conservative school with conservative classmates and required religion courses.

Again like in my childhood, I became the butt of many jokes but this time these really stung me; go back where you came from, wetback. These years of college made me yearn for the familiar rhythm of life where I could live and breathe the same air as my antepasados did as they toiled the contours of the North Mexican soil. So, I decided then to recover what I was able to as I studied in Waco; my Roman Catholic faith. So I returned back to the bosom of La Virgen de Guadalupe even though I knew that if I were to pursue the calling I had in my heart, that I would be celibate. But at that time, I rationalized the entire process. I would be like El Padrecito, like Cantinflas

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Promo poster for the film”El Padrecito.” or in English “The Good Priest.”

Luchando – fighting and struggling – for the marginalized of society. I would be a blessing to my papa y mama because I would be closer to God on their behalf.

But more so, I would finally win the battle over my self-loathing over my sexuality and ethnicity because the gracious merits of Christ would enable me to win my victory over these powers of wickedness.

La Virgen would enable me to win the crown of victory through my ministry. I would no longer be a queer disappointment but to be loved with all the crosses heaped upon me.

And so I began the sleepless nights, the scruples in, within and under Confession and Contrition, the utterances of a laundry list of litanies with the particular caveat of helping me not commit a mortal sin. But no matter what, I always found myself impeded from taking la hostia because deep down inside I felt a pull drawing me deeper and deeper into the pit of resentment, resentment because I knew that I hated being a maricón. With a deep sorrow weighing me down, I would leave la misa at St. Peter’s Student Center in Waco, TX with deep regret for not having tasted the sweet meal of salvation. This cycle came to a halt during a my senior year in college.

One Tuesday afternoon as I arrived to my apartment after class, I broke down. I broke down because enough was enough of this charade. I was tired of hating myself for being attracted to men and then almost breaking out in a cold sweat because I might have or not committed a mortal sin.

I just wanted grace. I just wanted love. I wanted Dioscito to look at me with tender eyes and hold me, hold me with a love that unconditionally accepts me just as I am.

Suddenly an odd thought came to mind; perhaps Dr. Luther was correct.

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See for years, I had a zeal for the Roman Catholic faith that I attempted to do whatever it took to convert people back to Holy Mother church. So during the semester I broke down, I finished Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand for my History of Protestantism class. Here was a man who like me was seen in such a horrendous light and who also yearned for God as I did. Here was a man who loved his wife and children so tenderly that I found myself back in the arms of my own papa with every passing description of Luther’s love for his son, Hans. His message of justification by grace through faith warmed my heart; God in Jesus Christ unconditionally held me, a Queer Latino in his loving familia. Immediately, I phoned my only Lutheran friend with the desire to learn more about the Lutheran faith. The Book of Concord was the road he pointed me to; the road to Wittenburg. Quickly, I ran to the library and seized upon the Tappert edition and turned to the Augsburg Confession; the first Lutheran Symbol…

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The Luther Rose

I devoured each article with such a hunger that could only be explained as my own personal Pentecost moment. There it was my vida, my faith, my hope that I would never again lose my cultura y my sexuality. La Misa was celebrated. La Virgen retained. La Hostia to be tasted with faith. La familia and ministry pursued together as sacred. But above all, God viewed me with the eyes of mercy and new life, me a Queer Latino hijo de imigrantes from la Frontera. Through God’s son, I felt my self-loathing melt away and give way to a life in the company of people like me.

Ya llegue. Satis Est. – I had made it. It (I) was enough

Even now as a Queer Latinx Luterano vicario (Latinix Lutheran vicar), I lean into my own encounter with the living God that Melanchthon and Luther proclaimed whenever I encounter other Queer Latinx folk who yearn for a place and a word that wrapped them in unconditional mercy.

As I look towards La Frontera and see the beautiful faces of la Raza struggling to come over to this country, I can not help but see in their lives, my own life. Their hopes as my hope. Their own struggles as my own. God’s grace for them as God’s grace for me.

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sergeSergio Rodriguez is a word and sacrament candidate in the Southwestern Texas Synod and is a M.Div student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. Currently, he is a Synodically Authorized Minister at St. Paul’s Square Ministries (St. Paul Lutheran-Karnes City; St. Paul Lutheran-Nordheim).

Queer Resistance, Holy Vocation – Joshua Warfield

As Pride Month continues, We Talk. We Listen. is most happy to present an extraordinarily thorough exploration of the queer resistance inherent in Lutheran theology. Joshua K. “Pace” Warfield, PhD student and scholar/theologian at the Graduate Theological Union reminds us just how queer a thing it is to resist – both either by what we do and what we are. Read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student and Interim Editor


 

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Marsh P. Johnson in the wake of the Stonewall Riots

Resistance is a queer thing.

Fifty years ago, on a humid night, police raided the Stonewall Inn for the second time in a week. Staff, drag queens, crossdressers, and transwomen were the frequent targets of these raids, often times arrested. This time, a spark of something (revolution? just being sick and tired of having no safe place? the Holy Spirit?) must have crackled in the air as, at least according to legend, a black trans woman named Marsha P. Johnson threw a bottle at the police, setting off a two day riot where the queer community resisted.

The Stonewall Riots lasted from June 28th through June 30th 1969, and are frequently cited as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

Four hundred ninety-eight years ago, a monk stood before his emperor, representatives of the church, his own prince, peers, enemies, and friends. He stood on trial, forced to defend forty-one errors in his teachings. While his prince was able to secure him safe passage to the imperial diet, his life, safety, and career were very much at risk. This man, of course, was Martin Luther. While scholars debate whether or not he actually said “Here I stand,” his response at the Diet of Worms was nonetheless an act of resistance: “If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against [their] conscience.”[1]

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Resistance is a Lutheran thing.

Perhaps because of these anniversaries, this milestone in queer history and the approaching 500th anniversary of the Diet of Worms, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of resistance. Perhaps it’s the current political climate, where since taking office, the current administration “has waged a nonstop onslaught against the rights of LGBTQ people,”with the Trans Equality website tracking nearly forty actions taken against the LGBTQ community, not to mention communities of color, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and other marginalized communities.[2]

Our lives, as queer people, are lives of resistance.

From the moment we are born, we are gendered in blue or pink colors. We are spoon-fed a culture of heteronormativity telling us that an ideal life is a married, heterosexual life and anything else is deviant or immoral. We teeth on gendered expectations of everything from what toys we can play with to what color clothes we can wear to what kind of haircuts we have. Growing up in the church, we are often baptized into expectations around family, marriage, and gender, with the infamous clobber passages waiting to remind us of our deep, embedded sinfulness if we dare express our queerness.

Our queer resistance comes in one of two ways: either we resist by being ourselves or we resist being ourselves. In other words, in the first option, just being true to ourselves is an act of resistance; the second option, by hiding our truths deep within us, we resist being who we are, whether we do so out of fear or safety or any other reason.

When I was fourteen, soon after I finally admitted to myself that I might be queer, I remember going into my mother’s study and pulling a Bible off of her shelf. My mother is an ordained Lutheran pastor, so finding a Bible was easy. I pulled it out and looked up the word “homosexuality” in the index which took me to the passage “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”[3] Of course I found out later that the English Standard Version of this passage is not a very good rendering of the Greek, but, at fourteen, at the beginning of the road to self-acceptance, this Bible passage told me that I was not going to go to heaven, I would not be inheriting the life abundant promised to Christians in John 10.10.

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It appeared that those promises were only for those who were straight and cisgender.

What followed was an insurmountable desire to not be queer, for the divine to change me, transform me, because in that moment it seemed impossible for me to be able to be “gay” and “Christian.” In order to be perceived as straight and match my assigned gender, I “butched up” my gender performance—sweat pants and ratty jeans with graphic tee shirts became my wardrobe of choice. I asked a friend to point out whenever I sounded or my mannerisms were too gay or effeminate so I could police my behavior. However, the more straight-acting I became (or perceived myself to become), the more distant I felt from God. I felt like a rubber band that kept stretching and stretching and sooner or later I felt like I would snap.

I spent far too long resisting myself, trying to silence that voice deep within me telling me, calling me, to be who I am and love myself. Yes, every time we queer folk love ourselves as we are it is an act of resistance. To do otherwise “cannot be either safe or honest,” to borrow Luther’s language.

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And that voice deep within me, calling me to resist the world around me and be true to myself, I have no doubt that it is the voice of the Holy Spirit. It is the same queer, rainbow Spirit that calls all of us queer folk to a holy vocation of resisting a world that tells us who we are is not enough, who we are is unlovable or dirty or perverted or flawed or broken.

It is the same rainbow fire that danced over the heads of the disciples at Pentecost, that same rainbow fire pulses through our veins, the same pulsating voice of resistance that led Luther to his “here I stand” moment, the same fire that ignited the resistance at Stonewall fifty years ago, or Compton’s Cafeteria, or the riots following Harvey Milk’s assassination. It is the same glittery sparkle that ignites in a young queer person at their first pride event, where they finally feel seen as who they are. It is the same comforting Spirit who listen to our sighs and cries too deep for words when another one of our black, trans sisters is murdered.

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It is the same Spirit of Marcella Althaus-Reid’s lemon vendors on the streets of Constitucion or San Telmo, the same Spirit that led her to write these sacred words: “the Queer God [calls] us toward a life of Queer holiness, [and] has been coming out for a long time…. [T]he Queer God—fluid and unstable as ourselves, but also laughing and taking pleasure while pursuing a divine destiny of the kind of transgressive justice which disorders the law—comes in glory and in resurrection.”[4]

Yes, resistance is our holy calling. Resistance is a queer thing.


pic2Joshua K. “Pace” Warfield (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] Martin Brecht, transl. James L. Shaff, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1493-1521, (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 1985), 460.

[2] https://transequality.org/the-discrimination-administration

[3] Emphasis added. English Standard Version. Even the NRSV translates this passage as “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.”

[4] Marcella Althaus-Reid, The Queer God, (London: Routledge, 2003), 171.

What Could We Have Done…? – Rev. Jhon Freddy Correa

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Pastor Betty Rendon (ELCA) – in ICE custody since May 8, 2019.

Since the news of Pastor Betty Rendón’s arrest and detention by ICE agents last week, corners from all over the church – not just to the ELCA – have rallied to her cause. Sojourner’s Magazine wrote a feature, Prof. Leah Schade at Patheos has written pieces both the details of the arrest and ways to support Pastor Betty  and as well as a theological reflection on godly disobedience to secular law, Rev. Emily Heitzman has weighed in at RevBlogGalPals, Religion News Service, and the Chicago Sun Times just published a piece on Pastor Betty’s daughter – Paula Hincapie-Rendón – and the details of her illegal arrest at the hands of ICE. 

But today, we’re going to hear from Rev. Jhon Freddy Correa – from Colombia like Pastor Betty – who was the previous Latinx pastor at Emaus Lutheran Church before Pastor Betty.  Brief and powerful – he reflects on not only Pastor Betty’s plight, but reminds us of lack of community that makes this possible. Read, comment, share, and help us #FreePastorBetty.

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Editor


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Emaus Lutheran Church – Racine, WI.

It could have been me, my family or yours.
A few words of accompaniment!
for Betty Elena Rendón Madrid

Normally I keep my Facebook profile on private so as to safeguard memories. But today I must change it from “private” to “public” in order to express my feelings, prayers and appreciation to the Latinx community, from Emaus Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin, the ELCA and the USA.

What I have come to learn from Pastor Betty’s arrest and imprisonment, along with that of her family…

…that our commitment to one another must be constant, not only in moments of immense need.

I ask myself what the bishops and pastors now assembled on her behalf were able to do before the vigil last Thursday.

What Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton could have done before her tweet.

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What could have been done by the community before mobilizing a crowd for a vigil where Pastor Betty was detained, which could have been coordinated by other community orgs before they even had Betty’s name as a slogan.

What could Betty have done and if the family had known what to expect before they were apprehended?

What could I have done before I wrote these questions and reflection?

And now, the most important question is…

What I am willing to do not only today, but tomorrow and the next day?

The Promise of the Gospel is that God is faithful, that God continues to invite us to fight for a community anchored in unconditional love, community fully committed to who we are. When we read “Don’t be afraid” in the Gospels, it is both a daily reminder that Jesus is with us in every day, as much as in our day-to-live as well as every time we open a Bible.

“I’m with you! I have defeated the world!”

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So, I wonder:

What will it take to live every day as a “beloved community”?

…to change ourselves from “private” to “public” with our faith?

…from letters, photos, and slogans to actions?

…to create spaces so that others can live life fully and not end up in a prison, hospitals, deported, or disillusioned from an serving institutions?

__________

#FREEPASTORBETTTY – LINKS…

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ONLINE DONATIONS: As expenses for Pastor Betty and her family mount, make a donation through – Emaus Lutheran Church, Racine. Simply click here, look for the line that says “Good Samaritan,” type “Pastor Betty” in the subject line, then click “continue.”

CHECK DONATIONS: write checks out to “Immanuel Lutheran Church” with “Rendón Family Fund” in memo line (or send cash) and mail to: Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1500 W. Elmdale Ave, Chicago, IL 60660

Sign the petition at Faithful America demanding the release of Betty Rendón and her family.

Mail cards of support to Pastor Rendón’s via…

Emaus Lutheran Church – 1925 Summit Ave, Racine, WI 53404

Phone(262) 634-5515

jhon freddJhon Freddy Correa is a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) student in the area of World Christianity and Mission at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. As a (Re) Developement pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and has been serving at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lehigh Acres FL since 2016, where he moved after serving at Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, WI. Rev. Correa enjoys time at the beach, music, reading, and spending time with family. 

Living Bi-vocationally – Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney

As the church in the United States has undergone significant changes in its finances, so too have the ways that pastors pay their bills. The Rev. Tiffany Chaney – of Gathered by Grace in Montgomery, Alabama – speaks candidly of what it means to juggle the needs of ordained ministry with work for the Montgomery hospital cooperative, Baptist Health. She doesn’t mince words – it isn’t easy. But in this piece she both speaks honestly of the blessings and the challenges she faces, as well as presents sound advice for anyone thinking to follow a similar path in word and sacrament ministry. Read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Editor


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Pastor Chaney – center, in purple – with “Dinner and Dialogue” participants.

“You sure do make it look easy!”

About six months after beginning a call as mission developer of Gathered by Grace in Montgomery, AL, where I also serve simultaneously as business development director for a local health system, Baptist Health, I received this comment from someone about their perception of my experience in my new bi-vocational call. Their perception had been formed from following me on social media. I immediately realized I had done the thing – the thing people do on social media – tell all the good parts of the story without acknowledging the challenges.

There are social media posts showing me teaching Bible study in a restaurant with engaged young adults and posts sharing my excitement to teach nurse residents about cultural sensitivity. But, I do not recall posting the day I tried to adjust my weekly schedule to be off work at the health system on Good Friday but had to go in any way to walk through a contract that needed to be submitted by the close of business, which I tried to complete before the noon community Good Friday service but couldn’t get it done in time,so I changed into my clergy shirt in my office, left to go preach at the Good Friday service, and came back to finish the contract.  

It has been two years since hearing this comment about making bi-vocational ministry look easy; and, it still sticks with me because as financial pressures increase for congregations, the matter of pastors being bi-vocational enters conversations more frequently. As one who shares periodically in the public space about my experiences being bi-vocational, I feel a certain sense of responsibility to do a better job of sharing my balanced reality. It would be irresponsible of me to only “make it look easy” because it is not.

It’s hard every day.

But, for me, it is also rewarding every day (well, maybe not every day, but certainly most days.)

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Montgomery, Alabama

I am blessed to serve in a unique situation. After being open to calls in a variety of places across the country, the Spirit led me back to Montgomery, AL for my second call, where I lived before seminary. I came back to Montgomery to explore opportunities for ministry, particularly engaging young adults, as I sensed a need to create space where the voices of young adults are centered as they discern their faith and are welcomed without judgment. Also, I felt called to exploring the possibilities for developing more diverse ELCA ministry in the state – I am currently one of two ELCA pastors of color serving congregations in Alabama. These needs and realities led to the development of Gathered by Grace.

When I left Montgomery seven years prior to go to seminary, I continued to work remotely with Baptist Health in a consulting capacity. This relationship was still in tack when the opportunity emerged for me to return to Montgomery to explore developing a new mission. As a result, I was able to return to serve in the same role I left to go to seminary, this time in a part-time capacity, as System Director of Business Development for the three-hospital health system.

Immediately, I was aware of the complementary nature of both my calls, both centered on exploring and starting new opportunities to serve the people of Montgomery. My health care career involves market research, long and short term business planning and strategic planning, working with first line staff to enhance patient experience; and, writing and presenting the case for new health services in our state regulatory process. These skills are helpful to Gathered by Grace because I have a strong awareness of the community we serve, the ability to cast vision and work with Gathered by Grace’s Connection Team to live it out, and grant-writing ability that has resulted in successful grants to fund mission.

Both roles put me in spaces in the community that help to benefit the other.

Also complementary is the opportunity for my non-pastoral job to be in a health system with a mission rooted in faith. The leadership of the organization I serve respects and values the dual nature of my work, which has been essential as I strive to achieve balance.

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As the conversation around finding creative ways to fund ministry continues and bi-vocational ministry rises to the forefront as an option, there are values to serving bi-vocationally that I have found to be essential.

Determine focus. When I began serving in this call, I knew I would not be able to participate in as many different ways in the wider church as I had when I was a full-time pastor. I also knew it would be difficult to say no to potentially exciting ways to serve the church, so I found it best to decide ahead of time how I planned to focus my time outside of my mission development to make decision-making easier when faced with new opportunities. I chose two areas of focus I feel called to – strengthening vitality of congregations and helping to make the ELCA a place welcoming to people who find themselves on the margins of church. I have worked to stay within those foci as I determine how to use my time and allocate limited vacation days. It’s not easy but it is necessary in this call.

Be a good steward of time for both calls. I am called by God to serve in both my mission development work and my health care work and I take seriously the need to be a good steward of time for both calls. Because there are times when it is necessary to be fluid in scheduling, I choose to maintain an accounting of how I spend my time each day. No one sees this calculation but me; yet, I maintain it, because I want to ensure I am, over time, maintaining the balance I have committed to both calls.

Give myself grace. l often feel like I should be somewhere I am not. There have been times when I had to leave work at the hospital to attend clergy meetings scheduled in the middle of the day or missed the meetings because leaving wasn’t an option. Last year I missed the Mission Developer Retreat in my synod because it was scheduled for the same time as the state hearing for a health care project I had been working on for six months. While I have always had a good sense of awareness that I can’t be in two places at one time and can’t be everything to everybody, this has been even more pronounced in this call. I have learned to give myself grace.

Resist pastor fragility. This may be an unpopular opinion; but, I think during the busy seasons of Holy Week and Christmas, pastors sometimes lean in to the fragility of our busyness. This feels particularly apparent to me in this call where I am not only regularly immersed in work with pastors but also regularly immersed in work with people in a non-church setting. I serve people who work multiple jobs and side gigs, who are involved in a host of community initiatives, who are in grad school and work full time, who are raising families. They are busy and still dedicate time to serve in ministry. There are times of the year that are more hectic for me as a pastor; but, the same is true for the month-end of an accountant, the end of the semester for a teacher, trial time for a lawyer, holiday time for a retail associate, and every day for a single parent working multiple jobs to make ends meet. And, people with all these experiences still regularly show up and offer their gifts for ministry in churches in a variety of ways. Sometimes I show up tired for Gathered by Grace’s Tuesday night Dinner and Dialogue after working all day but so do the people I serve. And, God shows up, renewing and restoring us all.

Practice radical self care. With rare exceptions, I take a full day off each week. I go on vacations. I show up at AquaZumba class as often as possible. I spend planned and unplanned time with friends and family. I read regularly. I am active in the community. I watch TV movies with unrealistic love stories (spoiler alert: the 1980s child star in the movie will always find love in the end.) Yet, my language of “practice” is intentional. Self-care requires constant intentionality for me. There are plenty of ways I still need to work on better self care; but, I continue to practice it unapologetically.

As the need continues to emerge for creative ways to afford ministry in an environment of increased financial pressure, I am grateful for this bi-vocational ministry experience. It has helped me better engage conversations about what it takes for bi-vocational calls to be nourishing and life-giving for both pastor and congregation.

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I find it important to emphasize that bi-vocational ministry experiences are not monolithic. There are unique aspects of my experience that are not the same for my colleagues who also serve in bi-vocational calls. For instance, because I develop new ministry, I have had the opportunity to shape the culture of the ministry I serve. Gathered by Grace has always had a pastor with two jobs, so there has always been the awareness and expectation among participants that there are three days each week when my availability is limited during the day. This is a different experience from an established congregational setting used to having a full-time pastor in the past and now shifting to a new cultural reality as they transition to a part-time, bi-vocational pastor. These kinds of realities are needed in order for a healthy bi-vocational relationship to be established. It won’t work to have full-time expectations from a part-time pastor.

Flowing between the two ways I am called to serve can be stressful at times because time is a limited resource. But, having this experience of being bi-vocational is a gift from God that has been an essential part of my ongoing formation as pastor and leader.

It is not easy; but, it is rewarding!


Headshot - Rev. Tiffany ChaneyTiffany is Pastor Developer for Gathered by Grace, an ELCA mission, and System Director of Business Development for Baptist Health, a three-hospital health system, in Montgomery, Alabama. A life-long Lutheran, Tiffany strives to engage in ministry that reaches to the margins and welcomes all. She has been invited to preach, teach, and write about topics including racial justice, evangelism, and strategic planning. Tiffany is encouraged by Romans 8:38-39, truly believing nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.