On Caves and Histories – Joel Morales Cruz, Ph.D.

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Finding what is lost and reclaiming what has been stolen are common themes in Scripture. So imagine if the power and peace and justice when the “things” found or reclaimed are your history, your songs, your memories and songs. LSTC alumnus Joel Cruz, Ph.D. writes about a recent trip he took Puerto Rico, both for the sake of reconnecting with his family’s roots, but also to reclaim history stolen from the people of island – whether by Spanish colonialism or United States imperialism. Read, comment, and share, friends.


Over the Labor Day weekend I had the pleasure of touring the famous Window Caves in Puerto Rico, a four million year old cave system replete with bats and swallows that eventually opens up over a majestic view of the countryside seven hundred feet below.

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Parts of the allure of the caves are the petroglyphs – rock carvings– left by my Taíno ancestors centuries ago. I took a moment to talk to the guide about the indigenous mythology of the earth, and specifically caves, serving as wombs of creation from which the people emerged from darkness into light. It is a worldview found throughout the Americas. From there the conversation took an interesting turn as we spoke of the myth of Taíno extinction and how research into mitochondrial DNA has revealed the survival of the Taíno into modern times. We continued, touching upon the control over history-telling by the colonial powers, first the Spanish and then the United States.

Generations of Puerto Rican children, including those in my family, were taught that the island had no natural resources (despite the fact that agricultural and mining companies were harvesting said resources out in the countryside!) and that Puerto Ricans had no history of their own; that US citizenship was a gift conferred upon the population in 1917 despite not having been “worthy” of it. They were told that Puerto Ricans, unlike the Cubans, never rebelled against the Spanish — the well-known Grito de Lares of 1868 and other smaller revolts notwithstanding. However, in the last several decades those long-taught assumptions have been challenged and Puerto Ricans on the island and the mainland have sought to reclaim their history and their contributions to culture, sports, music, art, literature, and religion.

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Museum of the Americas – San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I found an example of this a few days later in the Museum of the Americas, located in the former barracks of the Spanish and US occupying forces in Old San Juan. Its mission is to simply focus on the indigenous and African roots of American history (the continent, not just the US)  in order to make the invisible visible again. Though small, it is nonetheless powerful as it recounts the stories of native resistance and survival to conquest, of the African heartbeat that pulses through our food, music, and arts, of the social and political movements in Puerto Rico that sought dignity and liberation throughout the centuries of colonization – one the museum notes continues into the present day.

The process of reclaiming one’s history is integral both to the sense of identity and to the future survival of any community, especially during times of social, political, and demographic upheaval. This act is so important that the Brazilian theologian, Rubem Alves likened it to a sacrament:

“The historian is someone who recovers forgotten memories and disseminates them as a sacrament to those who have lost the memory. Indeed, what finer community sacrament is there than the memories of a common past, punctuated by the existence of pain, of sacrifice, and of hope? – to recover in order to disseminate. The historian is not an archaeologist of memories. He (sic) is a sower of visions and hope.”

In our efforts to decolonize our own Lutheran backyard it is imperative that we not forget the task of decolonizing our historical memory. As the center of world Christianity continues its southward trek and as the demographics of this country changes, our own tradition should become aware of the role Lutherans have played on the larger global stage as well as the voices and contributions of those who do not reflect an assumed German-Scandinavian background — both as a matter of historical perspective and humility and a recognition of the work God has been doing among communities of color.

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#decolonizeLutheranism

One of the most tangible ways in which congregations are aware of our larger heritage is in our calendar of festivals and commemorations that are printed in our bulletins and websites weekly, marking the women and men who have impacted our tradition and the greater Church. Recovering the sacrament of memory might include an update to our calendar that gives larger place to those from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the ethnic traditions in our country beyond the litany of early church, reformation, and more obscure European names we are accustomed to hearing.

Let us decolonize the calendar.

Additionally, the prayers composed throughout time by other communities as they wrestle with God’s Spirit in the world can help enrich our worship through new words, metaphors, and perspectives. These can, at the same time, bring us closer to the lives and struggles of our brothers and sisters elsewhere.

Let us decolonize the liturgy.

The teaching of church histories in our universities and seminaries can no longer be limited to the long-discredited tale of early Christianity brought into Europe and later into North America some unspoken culmination. Nor can our own Lutheran story be divorced from either the global histories of conquest and exploitation or the struggles of the people who experienced it around the world. Professors of color, women, and sexual minorities will be integral in this task.

Let us decolonize our schools.

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The process of recovering a community’s history is no more about erasing the rich memories of another than the freeing of slaves is about enslaving the former slave-owners.  It entails the liberation of those in power from the lies of domination and nationalism as much as it does the empowering of those on the margins of memory. In this journey together, the biblical motif joins with indigenous theology as we are born out of darkness to gaze upon a brilliant vista of possibility and hope beyond our imaginations.


Joel.jpgJoel Morales Cruz earned his Ph.D. in World Christianity and Mission from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor. Dr. Cruz is the author of The Histories of the Latin American Church: A Handbook and the condensed Histories of the Latin American Church: A Brief Introduction (both Fortress Press, 2014), as well as The Mexican Reformation: Catholic Pluralism, Enlightenment Religion, and the Iglesia de Jesús Movement in Benito Juárez’s Mexico (1859-72) (Wipf & Stock, 2011). He has contributed an essay on the 16th century figure, Bartolomé de Las Casas for Global Perspectives on the Reformation (Eerdmans, Fall 2016) and a chapter on Mainline Protestantism in Latin America for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Latin American Christianity. Dr. Cruz lives with his two dogs in and two cats in Chicago where he is contemplating the subject of his next publication.

I Long for the Dream that is America – Deacon Inez Torres Davis

Linda Thomas at CTS eventContinuing our series of Hispanic Heritage month, Deacon Inez Torres Davis – from the Women of the ELCA – gives us a candid reflection on the exhilaration and disappointment of working to dismantle systems of white supremacy in the church and broader society. Both lyrical and terse, her words are a fantastic point of departure for any discussion on race, patriotism, and justice. Read, comment, and share, friends. Keep the conversation going!

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


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

I am a patriot.

I love this land, this nation—I long for the dream that is America.

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Time cover from July 8, 1987, depicting “We The People,” commissioned to celebrate the bicentennial of the US Constitution.

I come from a military family. My uncles and my brothers served in one or another branch of the military. From WWII to Korea to Vietnam to Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom, family members have offered their lives and bear the scars of military combat. When the National Anthem plays, my eyes tear and my chest swells.

Twice when I have shared this in training retreats White women told me how my statement helped them, brought them joy. Or, was it a sense of relief? I do not know; their perspective is not mine to explore. But I asked each woman to explore the why of her joy.

Why does hearing me say that I am a patriot provide another joy?

What mechanization of internalized white privilege lies beneath such?

Can’t I love America in all of her imperfections? Is the ability to inventory our nation’s shortcomings and then live a life in pursuit of making things better more the road-map of a patriot than to blindly assent to power and refuse any idea that things need to be fixed, or returned to some illusion of the past?

Do we require the sleight of hand that buries what is true about America in order to love her?  Not only is it possible to love the incomplete; it is an imperative of the gospel for what makes another an “enemy” if not our ability to see their lack, their failure?

But, the chickens are coming home …

Smart phones have brought into the homes of America the racial profiling and targeting of people of color. Social media provides the average person access to alternative press news. Groups like Daily Kos, MoveOn, NowThis, Color of Change, Colorlines, The Root, and the like get out the stories that the corporate media do not cover or would not otherwise cover.

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his sitting protest of the treatment of African Americans in the United States.

 

Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem because he refuses to “stand to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.” His refusal to stand was his protest against the police brutality visited upon his community. In response to his patriotic action, all kinds of baloney came out the conservative meat factory.

World Cup and Gold Medal winning soccer player Megan Rapinoe was the first white and the first woman to kneel during the playing of the national anthem. She did it to show solidarity with Kaepernick.  Then members of the West Virginia Tech Women’s Volleyball team kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem.

Opening day in the NFL had Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters raise a black-gloved fist during the national anthem. The protest was amplified later Sunday when four Miami Dolphins kneeled on the sideline with hands on their hearts as “The Star Spangled Banner” played in Seattle. The movement is spreading.

I am a patriot.

I long for the dream that is America.  

And, there are chickens coming home to roost.

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“Happi” American Horse gestures to supporters after locking himself to equipment in protest of the pipeline – August 31, 2016.

The Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by other tribes in their protest of the construction of the North Dakota Pipe Line that risks the water they drink as well as desecrate their holy land. The federal government’s temporary hold on the development of the North Dakota pipeline has only slightly shaken the world of entitlement and privilege. The Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners had the military capabilities of this nation at their beck-and-call; the protesters have only moral authority. Most recently the possible use of drones has been added to the police force’s ability to “protect and serve” the rights of the corporation. The same is reflected by the state of North Dakota vs. Amy Goodman in which state power seeks to punish Democracy Now! for its video reporting of attack dogs being used on peaceful protestors on September 3.

Power refuses to release its privilege. It is that simple.

I don’t care how complicated people want to make it.

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Extreme right wing activism has provided a candidate that the GOP struggles to handle, to make palatable. At the same time, the corporate media confuses providing fair coverage with making false equivalencies. And the nation teeters.

In my research the idea of curses being like birds who return to their place of origin (nest) is said to have first been offered in 1390 when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in The Parson’s Tale: “And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfuly retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a byrd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.” It speaks to the unwelcome dividends (the karma) of our wrong actions.

Jesus said it this way:

You reap what you sow.

My further research revealed how the 19th century when Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (1810), said, “Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost.”

Now, I realize I have the privilege of a quarter of a century of study in the racial history of this nation. It is this exposure to hidden as well as the collective racial truths of America that provides my perspective. When I say that the chickens are coming home to roost, I am speaking of how the racial injustices that have been practiced and continue to be practiced in this nation is delivering to us a tidal wave of issues and challenges that simply will not fly away or be hid from.

When Malcolm X referred to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as the “chickens coming home to roost”, what happened to him is what often happens to those who speak truth to power, his words were twisted. But, if we listen to Malcolm X, he spoke deep truth.

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Further, when given the opportunity to speak about progress toward racial justice, Malcolm X clearly stated he was unable to say there was progress being made because “if you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and you pull it out 6 inches, there is no progress. You pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And, they haven’t begun to pull the knife out.”

And here we are. We can count chickens. The evils of our society ruffle in their roost. There are many faces of oppression but there is no hierarchy of oppressions. Each is full-winged. Racism.  Sexism. Heterosexism. Classism. Age-ism. Able-ism. I list these few coming home to roost.

We must tend to the chickens.

It is the patriotic thing to do.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)


Resources:

A controversial commercial from Coca-Cola featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages.

#WeAre America ft. John Cena – “Love Has No Labels” | by the Ad Council


 

inez.jpgInez Torres Davis is an Indigenous Latina working within and for the whitest religious affiliation in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as Women of the ELCA’s core racial justice/anti-racism trainer – having worked in this capacity since January of 1997. She is also rostered Word & Service lay professional of the ELCA and currently serves on the World Day of Prayer USA Board, is an Illinois State Commissioner for Guardianship & Advocacy, and she sits on the ELCA’s Theological Discernment table. If this wasn’t enough, she’s also a blog writer (for WELCA and her own blog page), a spiritual director, a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, writer, and painter, as well as a Reiki master and creator of sacred spaces.

 

 

 

 

Embracing My Unique Identity – Sofia Garfias-Yi

Picture 002Sofia Garfias-Yi, our repeat feature, was asked by a friend to write the following reflection on her life for the Asian Pacific American Coalition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As you might guess by her name, Sofia is both Chinese and Mexican – and in this reflection she shares what this means to her as well as how she has dealt with racial stereo-typing.  So as we both begin the new school year, as well as begin reflecting a bit on the complexity of Latinx identity as part of Hispanic History Month, Sofia’s piece is an excellent way to begin. 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.”


“Oh, you’re Mexican? Why don’t you just get back over the border? Or are you too busy mowing lawns?”

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Me.

It was an unexpected statement for two reasons. One, it was the first time any sort of racially offensive comment had been directed towards me. And two, the statement came from someone I’d considered a friend. Whereas I usually shot down any sassy jokes with a witty remark, I didn’t know what to say that day. My other friends were chuckling along, and eventually I gave in because… well, I didn’t want to seem up tight.

They were probably all thinking the same thing: it’s Sofia, she’s laid back, and she probably won’t care.

But over the next few years, these little instances would come up again and again. What people found absolutely fascinating was that not only was I Mexican, but I was also Chinese. Friends compassionately dubbed me as a ‘Chexican,’ which I thought was pretty clever. But along with this playfulness came other small remarks along the lines of, ‘Of course you’re good at that, you’re Asian!’ to fulfill any Asian stereotypes people had. And every single time, it never crossed my mind to say anything.

The fact was that I felt like I was in some sort of gray area with embracing my identity. As someone with a bi-racial identity, I didn’t really feel like I fit into any specific group. I never fully adopted into some of the American customs and traditions, so I was out of the loop on some aspects of the culture. When I was surrounded by Asian people, I never felt fully a part of them, though we shared a lot of similarities. And quite frankly, I never had too many friends from a Latino background. I was stuck in some sort of identity limbo.

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My family (from left to right): my dad, Hector Garfias-Toledo; my dad’s dad, Nelson Garfias; my dad’s mom, Guadalupe Toledo (front) and me; Snow Huang, my mom’s mom, and my mom Jade Yi.

Though I still struggle with this, I would say that coming to University of Illinois has opened my eyes and helped me embrace myself. Experiences from meeting people in similar situations as mine to taking classes like Gender & Women Studies has made me realize that our identities are unique and should be taken seriously. Offensive and demeaning comments don’t always come from a faceless Facebook user or someone on the street. They can also come from people you consider your friends or acquaintances. It can simply be because they haven’t taken the time to learn what your identity really means, and other times they may simply think they can get away with it because they’re your friend.

However, as I learned, brushing it off and laughing along with my friends didn’t solve anything. I was afraid of seeming uptight or killing the mood, but the very real fact is that the stereotyping and generalization of people of any culture is destructive. Sometimes what it takes isn’t some sort of witty remark or equally offensive comment, but a simple statement that the people of a culture are so much more than their stereotypes. They are each equally unique and have so much to offer to this world.

So go ahead. Next time someone makes a comment, don’t start a fight or brush it off. Start a conversation. You’d be surprised.


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My friend Tina, who inspired me to share my story.

My name is Sofia Garfias-Yi, and I am currently a student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying Sociology and Communication. Though I was born in Austin, Texas, I spent most of my childhood in three different places: Taiwan, Mexico, and the Chicago suburbs. It was only by fourth grade that I settled down in the suburbs, where I currently live now with my parents. As a double PK (pastor’s kid), I’ve had a lot of interesting and wonderful experiences in many different churches, and this has certainly shaped who I’ve become today. My passions include exploring the city of Chicago, making art, and discovering new music.

Reflecting on Where We’ve Come From, Thinking Where to Go* – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas, Blog Editor

Linda Thomas at CTS eventWe have only just begun our work at “We Talk. We Listen.” and there is no better time to talk about the work of inclusion than the first week of classes at my seminary – The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In the last year we heard a wonderful symphony of voices – white pastors and bishops talking about white privilege and anti-racism, three transfolx explaining and exploring the issues of gender and what they mean to the church, and many posts about what it means to be a woman in ministry. So as we re-publish last week’s post, see this as a forum for conversation. Add some comments about what you think this blog can do, what we should do, how we’ve done. Anytime is the perfect time to start asking, as the work of the Gospel never rests, and neither do the forces of evil against whom we so often struggle and strain and sing! So keep reading and keep praying and keep commenting and keep on going!

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


 

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8)

As “We Talk. We Listen.” crosses the threshold of its one-year anniversary I am in a space of celebration for the coalition of voices that have participated in an amazingly constructive, cathartic and transformative process.

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The past 12 months have been an intense journey. As editor, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the many talented and thoughtful authors, researchers and readers. Your support, involvement and enthusiasm have made this forum what it is today.

We Talk. We Listen.” was inspired by womanist public theologian and religion and media specialist the Rev. Dr. Joan Harrell.[1] It endeavors to present diverse voices from a rainbow of social locations and examines how their stories intersect with Christian theology and current events. For her creative contribution and vision to this forum, I am extremely grateful.

Additionally, my gratitude extends to LSTC’s Ph.D. student Francisco Herrera. From its inception Francisco approached the blog as an artist painting on a canvas. He matched graphic representations to each post so that images matched the expressions penned by the blogger. He also managed day-to-day operations for the blog.

Through “We Talk. We Listen.” we have weaved through some of the church and society’s most complex issues.   We’ve weighed in on topics like what it means to be human and be clothed in skin of color in our world; how it feels to experience cultural currents that run counter to biblical teaching; attitudes of entitlement by majority populations, and many other “hot button issues”.

We have examined the many faces of our humanity, our frailty, partiality and brutality. We’ve tried to frame these issues from a theological perspective—how does a public church centered faith drive us, make us different, and keep us hopeful that meaningful progress will be manifest in God’s work through our efforts.

I believe that a significant takeaway from this inaugural year is embracing the need for a more consistent effort among members and leaders of the faith community to speak up, become more active in the aforementioned areas, and redouble our efforts to strive toward the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this year of developing and discovering how to support crucial and dynamic discussions that need to occur.

As “We Talk. We Listen.” eagerly endeavors into its second year, I find that we are facing many familiar obstacles that recent posts have discussed and future posts will seek to examine.

In her August 22nd post, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin thoughtfully examines glaring racial disparities that have persisted since the inception of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. After 28 years, the ELCA continues to under-perform on its self-imposed goal of diversity and inclusion at a rate of at least 10%.

Rev. Paris-Austin provides a magnificent examination of systems, why they’re in place and the checks and balances that need to exist in the way of racial, cultural and ethnic inclusion for the purpose of “justice and peacemaking of our national church”.

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Pastors and activists Rev. Tuhina Rasche (L) and Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin (R) standing with Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton.

As expressed in this piece, Rev. Paris-Austin seeks to remain fully engaged in the conversation with the ultimate goal of reversing the trend of virtually homogenous religious communities. She has demonstrated commendable responsiveness and obedience to the Holy Spirit through her address of the assembly accompanied by action. Continuing to be discerning and attentive to the Spirit’s leanings, Rev. Paris-Austin has stepped out on faith with the foundational guidance that only God’s word can provide.

That same week, then, her colleague, Rev. Tuhina Rasche, spoke about her side of the same issue – the flesh. When life doesn’t have flesh – when it can’t feel, can’t weep, can’t bleed you start to have problems. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus left us a physical reminder of our bond to him – the eucharist. So she then wrote about her part in writing a constitutional resolution so that the ELCA would have accountability, solidarity, and resources to accomplish its announced goal of making the church more inclusive of ethnic differences.

Her experience and subsequent contribution to the blog demonstrates how essential this forum “We Talk. We Listen.” really is to the larger tasks at hand.

As a nation, we are on the precipice of electing our next President and Commander-in-Chief. This cycle, however, has brought to the fore a previously overlooked and very tiny segment of our population (about 1 percent of the total U.S. population[2]). The confluence of Muslim voices and the upcoming presidential election stands to be a showdown of epic proportions.

Amidst this polarized and heated 2016 election, there has also been an upsurge in anti-Muslim rhetoric, leaving many in the Islamic community feeling in danger.

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What to do when you see Islamophobia.

In her December 2015 post, Sara Trumm, the Program Coordinator for LSTC at the Center for Christian Muslim Engagement (CCME), penned “Responding to Anti-Muslim Rhetoric: How to Be a Muslim Ally.” Through the piece, Trumm goes far in linking valuable community resources and suggestions on how non-Muslims can and should access them. To be certain, “We Talk. We Listen.” will continue to be a voice for positive change in this area.

LSTC student authors have contributed foundational articles to the national conversation about gender diversity. Last fall, River Needham proved instrumental in helping us to better understand transgender identity and issues in “Trans/forming our World, our Words and our Selves”.

As a result of contributions by members of the community like Needham, our society is experiencing a growing level of discussion and exposure of many issues impacting the transgender community.

This past spring, “We Talk. We Listen.” also featured the personal account of a beloved graduate of LSTC’s experience as transgender. Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson provoked reflection on the topic he shared with us through “My Gender, So Far…” His piece was so well received; The Huffington Post ultimately picked it up.

Andrew’s recounting of his experience causes readers to pause and resolve to extend understanding and compassion to those facing questions or issues surrounding identification as transgender. The reader is left with a profound sense of necessity for inclusiveness of this community — emphasizing Christian love, the general valuing of diversity and recognizing that they too are image-bearers of Almighty God.

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Andrew Tobias Nelson presiding at the Proclaim retreat for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).

Not only are some of the more profound ideological issues of our humanity being discussed within our forum, but the more pragmatic ones rotate to center stage as well. High on that list includes the long-standing issue of the gender pay gap. First Lady Michelle Obama and at least two dozen American companies took the occasion of Women’s Equality Day this past June to refocus the spotlight on this issue. We know that this discussion on eliminating the pay gap needs to be a regular one in order to bring about positive concrete results. “We Talk. We Listen.” encourages the community to be attuned to this issue. Let us know where and how you see the tide turning towards a narrowing in the pay gap.

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These and many more invigorating discussions can and likely will be found within “We Talk. We Listen.” in this our second year.

To our new and returning students, I wish you well in this upcoming season of study and look forward to seeing you today! Your educational undertaking is crucial and will provide an invaluable contribution to the knowledge, wisdom and depth of spirit required for our society to flourish.

Your ability to keep an open mind and a warm heart will imbue you with the necessary strength to affect change and our Public Church curriculum will help you to do so.  Our faculty takes seriously our charge to cultivate mature, wise Christian leaders to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world. That charge includes developing this blog — creating a powerful resource for students who will become colleagues and leaders in ministry.

To those preparing for the momentous challenge of preparing to be pastors and those preparing for service to the church in some other purposeful capacity, I lift you up and genuinely hope that this blog provides you with a way to remain abreast of issues that directly impact those you interact with daily.

To readers and contributors who are alumni or function as board and trustee members, I additionally challenge you to read, enjoy, engage, question and pray.

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LSTC students, faculty, and staff laughing on a March afternoon.

At our core as humans, we possess different views on a plethora of subjects. For most of humanity our core also dictates, however that we care about the well-being of each other and our world. The bible teaches us that “we are the light of the world” and are called to be light in the time that we are living. So I hope that as you read and consider contributing to the blog that you also respond to your environment in faithful and transformative ways.

Going forward, I passionately encourage readers and contributors alike to share the existence of this forum with fellow members of the community of faith as well as the community at large.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

*This is a re-post of the blog entry from August 30, 2016


[1] Dr. Joan Harrell is the Associate Director, Community Engagement and Visiting Scholar at the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Healthcare. She is also the founder of RacismContradictsChristianity.com and Senior Associate Editor, Journal of Healthcare, Science and the Humanities.

[2] Pew Research Center, A new estimate of the U.S. Muslim population
 (www.pewresearch.org 2016)


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

 

Caught in the Words – Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Picture 002The flesh is messy. It needs food, love, caresses and correction. When it doesn’t have flesh – when it can’t feel, can’t weep, can’t bleed you start to have problems. It is the, of no wonder that Jesus left us a physical reminder of our bond to him – the eucharist. From this point, then, Rev. Tuhina Rasche (ELCA) shares with us why something even so simple as a constitutional resolution for the ELCA absolutely must have flesh – accountability, solidarity, and money – if it is to accomplish it’s goal. Read, comment, and share, friends!

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


“My name is Tuhina Verma Rasche. I am the Associate Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland… and I offer myself as tribute from District C.”

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Rev. Tuhina Rasche speaking at the 2016  Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly.

I used words from the recent Hunger Games trilogy in my 30-second Churchwide voting member nomination speech at the 2015 Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly. There is no irony whatsoever that I was voted to be the Person of Color/ First Language other than English voting member from my synod. The words I selected in my nomination speech were partially in jest, but they were also a critique of particular words that have been used to define my place within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I was offering myself as a token, a sacrifice within a broken system.

It was at Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans earlier this month that I got caught up in words. It is safe to say that I am obsessed with how words are used in the world. I am fascinated how words are put together to construct ideas and used to communicate between people. And there were no shortage of words at Churchwide. I believe words to be important, but I have come to realize that sometimes, words are not the entirety of the world. There are times where words are simply not enough.

And there are times where words seem meaningful, but upon closer inspection, they lack power.

Words need accompanying actions.

Words need flesh.

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http://www.decolonizelutheranism.org / #decolonizeLutheranism

Before Churchwide Assembly, I was informed by co-conspirators in the #decolonizeLutheranism movement that the Assembly would be voting to amend the denomination’s constitutional provision that the ELCA would reach ten percent minority membership within ten years of its inception, and that this particular voting would take place en bloc with additional amendments. The specific amendment on diversity shifted from a concrete number to words speaking of a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in relation to the demographic data of a community.

The words shifted.

Not just in the constitution, but in my heart.

The ELCA had high hopes for who we were supposed to be, but we never achieved those aspirations. We had words and a number that never truly became a part of our identity. After 28 years of hope, we remain on of the whitest mainline Protestant denominations in the United States. The amended language, moving from ten percent to a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity, felt like the ELCA presented words that expressed a vague notion without much accountability.

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Results of a 2015 study by Pew Research showing that the ELCA is the whitest church in the United States.

And that hurt.

Even though the history of the denomination in which I serve did not achieve a goal and did not have an ideal history with racial and ethnic and racial diversity, I did not want these words to be written from the church’s history. I could not sit well with a revisionist history. While the history was far from ideal, these words were a part of my history. These words were a part of my experience as an ordained woman of color within our church. We can learn from what we do not erase. We can also take time to grieve what never came to pass.

I got caught up in the words…

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Presiding during the eucharistic worship service at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

There are particular words that pierce my being. I grieved during Thursday worship at Churchwide Assembly. The Words of Institution are powerful and terrifying. They are words that profess a broken Christ for each and every one of us. These powerful words of our crucified Lord call us not just to ponder, but also to act. During the Eucharist, my mind went to siblings of color who are crucified daily, whether that crucifixion be the traumatic metaphorical or the horrific physical. It was in the Words of Institution that I was reminded that those who partake of such a holy meal are called to act in response to God’s love. That action could be great or small.

It was time to act.

I was on the search for accountability. I yearned for words to state accountability with this amendment to our constitution; I wanted to know just how congregations would work with synods and Churchwide to become more reflective of their communities? How would we be accountable to one another to serve as the body of the crucified and risen God in the world? In searching between the words and letters of this proposed amendment and being moved by the Eucharist, I was desperately searching for something… and I was not the only one.

The work of Churchwide Assembly cannot be done in isolation. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it is that there are so many within our church that work incredibly hard to profess the Gospel. Sometimes that work comes through church polity and agendas. Sometimes that work comes through extensive planning and coordinating worship services. Sometimes that work comes in writing memorials and amendments to continuing resolutions. It is with this collective body, amazing siblings in Christ, some who have served the ELCA since its birth, some who are a couple of years within their first call, that Christ was present. Christ came in our voices as we sat across from tables working on language, in the furious typing of notes and recommendations, in sitting with people hearing their experiences and hopes and dreams, in fervent prayer. Christ was present in all of it.

All of this led to one sentence. A string of words linked together to communicate an idea. This led to an amendment of the continuing resolution, which stated…

“Each synod shall submit their goals and strategies to the appropriate Churchwide unit office and shall annually submit a report on progress toward their goals to the Church Council.”

There is hope in this sentence. Through the hard work of Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin, a memorial was created to speak of accountability. The words that can lead to our action.

My words to speak to amending the continuing resolution were:

“This revision speaks of assessment yet does not have an overt statement of accountability. What are the metrics outside of US Census Data and congregational parochial reports that will be used to maintain accountability, especially if each synod is to develop their own goals and strategies to monitor progress?

There needs to be an intertwined relationship of accountability and empowerment to be a diverse church. How will Churchwide, synods, and congregations work together? What tools will be used to empower, and not simply monitor, congregations to become more reflective of the communities in which they reside, and what will the assessment be? What are the words and numbers that will be a part of our flesh?

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Discussing the amendment before the Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, LA.

The ELCA has been stepping up on conversations about diversity and who we are as a church body. We have evidence of Bishop Eaton’s work with the not only one, but three webcasts on racism, diversity, and being a welcoming church. But we need to do more. We did not make the commitment of 10% people of color/ primary language other than English. But this was a misguided goal at the onset, as a people of the good news of Jesus Christ, the only acceptable number is 100%. This is more than just numbers.

People of color, we’re here. Our ministries matter. Our lives matter. Our place in this church matters. We are not just something to be handled and we are more than photo opportunities.

We are a church of a crucified Lord, and there is a need to mourn and lament that we did not meet our intentions. And we must ponder why.

As an ordained person of color in our church, I do not want to be written out of the church’s history, even if it did not meet our ideals. We profess death AND resurrection. We saw that in this place, voting to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and approving AMMPARO. Let us continue such work in our own neighborhoods and on our own streets.

The conversation must continue on accountability.”

We must live with and acknowledge that we did not meet our desired goals.

But let us face the future with good courage, as there is much work to do.


Resources

Robert P. Jones’ powerful book on the changing landscape of Christianity in the United States and beyond, The End of White Christian America.

George “Tink” Tinker’s article, a central reading for the #decolonizeLutheran movement, “Decolonizing the Language of Lutheran Theology.”

The central website for #decolonizeLutheranismwell as their bio-video.

A link to the Facebook page on #decolonizeLutheranism‘s first gathering/revival, #decolonize16. To register click here.


12829211_10102460194482458_3928793812784612436_o.jpgRev. Tuhina Verma Rasche (PLTS, M.Div. 2012) is the Associate Pastor of Adult Faith Formation and Social Ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, CA. She also served as a young adult mentor with The Forum for Theological Exploration, blogs at thislutheranlife.blogspot.com, and is the unofficial liturgist for and co-conspirator with #decolonizeLutheranism.

In Search of Authenticity – Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin

Linda Thomas at CTS eventCan bureaucracy provide a path toward justice? Like secular institutions, mainline Christian denominations use bureaucratic procedure to move toward change and transformation. However, unlike secular institutions, the Church is called through the Triune God to offer grace and strive for justice. With the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly recently completed, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin gives us a snap-shot of her activities during the week-long series of meetings and votes, and how she and others continue their tireless efforts to call the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to confess, reassess, and deal with the reality that after 28 years it’s racial composition is still 96% white. Reverend Austin reminds us that God created racial diversity and calls the ELCA to redouble it’s efforts to make good on its commitment to diversity. Read and be inspired, friends – and don’t forget to comment and share!

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


I have a love/hate relationship with systems.

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Participants at the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana.

At their best systems create pathways to justice and equity. Systems can establish order and promote fairness in a chaotic, disorderly and sinful world. This is why I deeply value our church constitutions and assemblies.  Setting the high aim of bringing forth God’s reign on earth, these systems seek to shape an orderly pathway for healthy relationships within and beyond the church, all for the glory of God!

So when the opportunity arose for me to attend the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the church geek in me leapt for joy. I cleared my calendar, arranged special activities for my children, adjusted my family budget and jumped on the plane to spend a week in New Orleans in August, knowing full well, that most of my time would be spent in the confines of a windowless convention hall. All because I knew that this was my chance to add my voice to the work of justice and peacemaking of our national church. Yes, I love systems.

But systems are designed and operated by human beings, who in our theology we understand to be both saints and sinners. That means that despite our best and most saintly of efforts, we will often fall into our own patterns of sinfulness that make the system oppressive, hurtful, harmful and very contrary to the way in which Jesus might do things. In the name of good order we find ourselves protecting the system from people rather than uplifting people through the system. It is my deep frustration with this reality that keeps me engaged with the system in an effort to call it to the same daily confession and repentance that I need in my life.

This summer I entered the Assembly with no particular agenda, other than to be certain that voices from the margins get moved to the center of the conversation. And through this simple calling, the Holy Spirit set me on a path of sleepless nights, copious writing, and a multitude of surprising conversations that led to a 2 minute speech on the floor of the assembly and affirmative vote to shake up the system.

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Graph of the Pew Study’s finding on diversity among religious communities in the United States. At 96% white – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is officially the whitest religious organization in the United States (see second-from-the-bottom).

 

You see, at its founding in 1988, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America set a goal for diversity and inclusion within our ranks. That goal was given a number, 10%, and institutionalized into the system via the Churchwide Constitution. 28 years later, the Pew reports showed that not only had we not achieved that goal, but the percentage of people of color in the ELCA was less than when we started.

It seems that forming Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations and staffing a Unit for Multi-Cultural Ministries was not sufficient to make change occur. It seems that despite, the presence and development of a library of resources by affiliated organizations like Women of the ELCA, a shift in the culture of the church is still slow to be made manifest. And it seemed that our system response to this failure, was to remove the goal from our governing documents and replace it with a commitment to work toward diversity.

Suffice it to say, this did not sit well with me, but the Holy Spirit was at work. It turns out She had gathered in this place and time the exact collection of individuals necessary to dream up a new vision for our church. She had tilled the soil and softened the hearts of leaders who were now naming new priorities of justice and inclusion.  As I sat humbly at the feet of phenomenal young adult leaders in our church, and under the wings of elders who have been walking this road since before I began, it became evident that She was calling the church geek in me to action.

 

It was time to call the system to account. It was resolution writing time.

In my heart, I simply wanted to tell the assembly, that we can do better. I wanted them to understand that God has provided us with all we need to do God’s work of building a beautiful, diverse, inclusive, beloved community. I know that is messy work, but I wanted the system, or rather, I wanted the people in the system to hear the grace that the answers exist within our midst. That we can be all that God is calling us to be. So my head got to work, laying out the WHEREAS[i] clauses that name our abundant resources and confess our failure. Then with Spirit guidance from young adults and wise elders the RESOLVED[ii] clauses came into being.

The final hurdle of the system

was now before me…

…funding.

You see, while my love/hate relationship with systems is complex, my hate/love relationship with money goes even deeper. But I knew that the reality of the capitalistic society in which we live, is that whatever solution I proposed, it was going to require money, a financial investment in our future. I wanted to be like Jesus and simply toss the tables in the temple and let the money fall where it may. I was inside the system, in a seat with voice and vote and an organized coalition of support, but I knew the system would not take well to such upset and the power we held, even collectively was not quite enough to bring forth the dollars needed. The question became; who was the Holy Spirit calling to complete what I had started?

This led me to more conversations, with more of God’s beloved church geeks and the answer became clear. It was time for a call to accountability to all we named and claimed as church. And it was time to trust the system.

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I stood on the Assembly floor and directed these words to our Presiding Bishop[iii]:

 “I love my church. By that I mean I love my church in all its expressions, in all the locations I have served, lived, loved and been formed. I am overjoyed by the intentional naming and claiming of our efforts to be a people of restorative justice and reconciling peace with a commitment to diversity.

But I want MORE.

I want our commitments to be more than just lip-service.

I want them to move us to action.

I want them to be supported with a plan for success.

I want them supported by the wisdom of people of color who have been leading in our midst,

Let Us LEAD.

I want them supported with strategies of accountability that are adaptive & authentic and

I want them supported with resources, that means, dollars.

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At the assembly – from left to right – Rev. Tuhina Rasche, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin.

I am grateful for the strong affirmation and support of Reference and Counsel for this resolution and I support it being referred to Church Council for budgetary consideration.

I am trusting that the work of Called Together Forward[iv], the current priorities of the Council and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the actions of this Assembly thus far this week will serve to compel our church council to partner effectively with the Churchwide Staff, all the partners who are named in this resolution to bring to fruition the heart and content of this resolution”

The resolution was referred to the Church Council, an action that on its surface, that seems futile, but I am a child of the risen Christ and therefore called to live in hope. My hope and my prayer is that we will be who God calls us to be.

Meanwhile, I will continue to love the system by holding it accountable to fulfill this promise.


11181188_1017277271638254_7750523003400743439_n.jpgRev. Priscilla Paris-Austin (LSTC M.Div. 2011) is currently the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA. Additionally, she is a member of the Rostered Women of Color Project Steering Team for the ELCA as well as the Northwest Washington Synod Strategy Team for Authentic Diversity.


[i] WHEREAS the ELCA Church Council voted [CC15.11.55]:To recognize and affirm the extensive efforts of the presiding bishop to call the entire church to confront racism and to add our voice to that call; and To invite the presiding bishop to include the current efforts in a broader, comprehensive strategy toward becoming a racially and ethnically diverse church committed to dismantling racism; and

WHEREAS the Women of the ELCA has developed a wealth of resources and curriculum for racial justice from a Biblical and historical perspective and the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations along with the Ethnic Specific, Multicultural and Racial Justice team have developed strategies for engaging and  involving people of color in every aspect of the life of our church; and

WHEREAS our church is blessed with a breadth and depth of people of color and people with a first language other than English whose voices need to be amplified in order to guide this church in moving forward towards becoming a more inclusive and diverse church; and
WHEREAS even with these resources and supports, synods and congregations have had difficulty achieving this church’s commitment to diversity as reflected in the Continuing Resolutions under section 5.01 of the Constitution,  Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; therefore

[ii] BE IT RESOLVED the Churchwide Assembly direct the ELCA Church Council to form a Task Force for the purpose of developing a comprehensive set of strategies to equip congregations and synods to work towards becoming a more authentically diverse church. The work of the Task Force shall include but is not limited to:

  • consulting with WELCA,  the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations,  the Multicultural and Racial Justice Team, the Conference of Bishops and ecumenical partners;
  • collecting existing resources such as those available from WELCA and the Ethnic Specific Ministry Associations and beyond the ELCA;
  • identify needs for additional resources;
  • supporting synods in identifying their specific opportunities for growth;
  • assess the effectiveness of diversity strategies across the three expressions church in order to identify strategies that have yielded authentic diversity; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Task Force be composed of 1 person from each of the 9 regions and 1 Bishop who will serve as co-chair. The composition of the Task Force shall conform with the representational principles in section 5.01.f of the ELCA Constitution except that persons of Color and/or persons whose Primary Language is other than English shall comprise 100% of the Task Force and the Task Force will be ethnically diverse. The members of the Task Force shall be appointed by the Church Council in consultation with the ELCA Director of Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Church Council designate funds to support the work of the Task Force as soon as funds become available, no later than November April 2017. The work of the Task Force shall begin no later than August 2017 and conclude at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly; and be it further

RESOLVED that the Task Force submit a report and recommendations to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly that includes;

  • a summary of the information gathered by the Task Force and
  • a proposal of recommendations for metrics and supports to provide mutual accountability for our commitment to diversity across the three expressions of the church and a proposal for funding these efforts.

[iii] Video link is available at http://livestream.com/elca/events/5829763 Plenary 8 – 1:36-1:41 [approximately]

[iv] http://www.elca.org/future

Weeding Out Injustice, Harvesting Peace (Or Rules for Fighting Multi-headed Monsters) – Carmelo Santos, M.Div., Ph.D.

ThomasLinda sittingFighting the demons of systemic oppression is a holy, but exhausting work – not just for the time and energy that it demands, but for the seemingly endless -isms there are to fight. Carmelo Santos – scholar, pastor, and editor – gives us a word of encouragement this week, though. The ways that evil torments society may be a beast of many heads, but by fully confronting one of those societal ills you eventually end up taking out one or two others with it. So be of courage, friends, and keep fighting the good fight. Read, comment, and share!

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


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May Day Immigration Rally in San Jose, CA.

Going Radical in my Front Yard

My fifteen seconds of fame came when as a pastor in the DC Metro area I became involved with the immigrants’ rights movement. There were fasts to reunite families, rallies to agitate Congress to act on immigration reform, and pastoral meetings congressional staff. We even borrowed a page from the Occupy Wall Street movement and were successful in “occupying” Congress for about an hour in order to bring to our decision makers the voices of those most affected by their decisions (or more accurately, by their indecision).  And there were symbolic acts of civil disobedience (or, as my elders taught me to think of them, acts of obedience to the gospel).

During one of those events a journalist approached me for an interview. She seemed baffled by the fact that I was a Puerto Rican, therefore a U.S. citizen by birth, and yet I was investing so much time and energy advocating for the rights of undocumented immigrants in our country. She was curious about why I had chosen that particular cause among many other worthy causes, especially since it was one that did not affect me directly. The answer came to me almost like a vision, from which I am still learning. Here I would like to share that vision and some of the insights that I have gained from it. I hope others will find something helpful in them, especially those fighting the insatiable systemic monsters of oppressions in our society.

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My vision was really a memory. I remembered the one time that I had decided to do some work in my garden (well, it’s really just a few flowerbeds in my front yard). After mowing the lawn I saw some weeds that were choking the other flowers near them. So I decided to tend to the problem. Now, I don’t know much about gardening but I do know that cutting off a weed won’t get rid of it; in fact, if you are not careful you might end up spreading weed seeds further, and have even more weeds in your garden. Paradoxically, to get rid of weeds in your garden you must not immediately get rid of them, instead you must go radical.

I am using the word radical in its literal sense of going to the roots. I went radical in my front yard. There were three weeds that I was determined to get rid off. First, I grabbed one and pulled hard, as hard as I could, but to no avail. The same happened with the other two. So I decided to dig them out. I chose one of them and began to dig out the earth beneath it. I dug and dug until the roots were finally exposed. I didn’t want any roots to remain so I dug a little more and then grabbed the roots to pull them out of the soil. To my surprise, not only did the weed that I was focusing on come out (the one that I had chosen out of the three possible ones) but the other two came out as well. The surprise to one who knows next to nothing about gardening) was that what I had thought to be three different plants, three different weeds, were in fact one!

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They all shared the same root system and so they were really one even though they appeared as many. That’s it; that was the vision/memory that came to me when the reporter asked me why I had chosen immigrants’ rights as my cause. I am convinced that by taking seriously any particular system of oppression, marginalization or injustice in our society and digging deeply into its roots we will be able to find that it is connected to many other social injustices.

Therefore, by going radical on any one of them we are truly fighting against them all.

Alternatively, by settling for simplistic solutions we might end up feeling good about ourselves and feeding the illusion that we are fighting for a just cause when unbeknownst to us we are actually further spreading seeds of violence, hatred, and division. Furthermore, my garden vision also helps me to remember that weeding out injustice is not the ultimate goal of our activism; growing flowers of peace, justice, and loving-kindness is.

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The Beast of Revelation 13- Albrecht Durer

 

Rules for Fighting Multi-Headed Monsters

Another metaphor that I find helpful regarding the struggle for social justice, and that I think complements the vision of the garden, is that of fighting a multi-headed monster. I am, of course, borrowing the image from the book of Revelations, where the beast stands for the Roman Empire, and the heads and horns are its many allies and proxies.

“Divide and conquer” is the favorite motto of the multi-headed beast. It has so many heads (racism, patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, etc.), each so monstrous and lethal on its own that it is easy to forget that it is but one head in a multi-headed monster. If the victims of the monster don’t realize that all the heads belong to the same beast then one hears baffling comments along the lines of “my monster is worse than your monster,” or “our cause is more urgent than your cause.”

The monster smiles, and sometimes one of the heads offers itself as the champion or “the voice” of one set of victims against the others, vowing solemnly to help them get back from the other groups the resources that have been stolen from them so that they can achieve the greatness that they yearn. And so they pledge allegiance to the very beast that has devoured their resources and whose insatiable greed has trumped their needs and condemned them to the misery that now afflicts them.

Blinded by their justified frustration, anger, and a myriad of unexamined prejudices, the groups aim their weapons against each other – and forget the beast!

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The beast feeds on hatred, ignorance and divisiveness. Therefore, the first rule for fighting the beast of injustice is this: don’t feed the beast!

An apostle who knew a thing or two about fighting beasts, wrote: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” (Ephesians 6:12). This is so easy to forget, but it is so true and so important to keep in mind in order to not allow our efforts to get derailed. We must be very clear about who, or, more accurately, what, the enemy is. Think again about the multi-headed beast. The damage it does to its victims is produced directly by a specific head and its fangs, metaphorically speaking, of course. But what if, like a shark, it grows new teeth constantly so that removing its teeth would be of no consequence. And, what if our beast were like the mythological hydra imagined by the Greeks, so that cutting any of its heads would only result in more heads growing instead!

The actual individuals and groups that perpetrate and perpetuate violence and oppression in its manifold expressions are like the teeth and heads of the beast. They are the ones causing pain and wreaking havoc in our marginalized and oppressed communities and yet the solution does not lie in attacking them or getting rid of them. This is hard to write but from s spiritual perspective they are not the ultimate enemy, in fact they themselves are victims of a form of demonic possession that has condemn them to serve the beast at the expense of having their humanity distorted almost beyond recognition. But Jesus taught us to love our enemies. And that is not a nice or even naïve platitude; it can actually be a very powerful tactic in the struggle for justice and peace, as many of our spiritual elders have shown us.

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Thus the second rule for fighting the beast of injustice is this: don’t get distracted, intimidated or overwhelmed by its many heads and sharp teeth, choose one of its heads (even as you keep the others in mind) and track it down to its neck all the way down to the heart.

That is, go radical: get to the roots.

That might not be as immediately satisfying as slashing off evil monsters’ heads, but if what we want is to bring about real change, to find long lasting solutions to the heart wrenching suffering that our communities face, then we must do the hard and unglamorous work of understanding the spiritual roots (or heart) of the systems of oppression that we fight and find effective ways to uproot them.

In the end we must remember the humbling and yet hope inspiring fact that only God’s Messiah can slay the dragon for good. And only the Spirit of God can weed our gardens and turn our desert places into blooming flowerbeds. We get to be part of God’s work of liberation, healing and redemption, but it is ultimately God’s work. That doesn’t mean that we can lower our guard or give up the struggle. On the contrary, it means that we can press on with a sense of peace knowing that our struggle is rooted in God’s work and therefore nothing will be lost.

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Therefore, the third and last rule for fighting the multi-headed monster of injustice is this: To remember that every small act of kindness, every word advocating justice, every sacrifice inspired by real love, every small gesture of reconciliation, is a seed that we offer to God, who will use them to plant the garden of a new society blooming with peace, justice and mercy.


05610d8.jpgCarmelo Santos is a graduate of LSTC’s M.Div. and Ph.D. programs. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Annandale, VA, as professorial lecturer at Georgetown University, and as editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics