My Testimony – Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas

Linda Thomas & Dr. Cone--Graduation June 1981_let
Me and my mentor during my divinity studies, the Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone.

During my second year of theological studies I had a personal and vocational crisis. I began seminary to fulfill my call to ministry that came when I was 12 years old, the same year I began my menstrual cycle. This latter point is very important because it meant that I knew that God knew I was a young girl. My home congregation affirmed me. No one told me that I could not be a pastor because I was a girl.  But, in my second year of seminary, for the first time in my life, people who looked like me questioned my call to ministry. African American male students raised this question and their evidence was found in the bible and church tradition. They were clear that women could not be ordained.

This first experience of sexism was not only extremely painful; it was disorienting because I knew the texts to which they referred: Genesis chapter 2 –“woman was made from man’s side” and so was secondary; Paul in letters to the Ephesian 5:22-24; I Cor 11:3; I Timothy 2: 11-15 basically said that the man was head of the household and women were to be quiet and obedient to her husband. I felt as though I had been check mated by these men, because I believed the bible was authoritative as was tradition.  But, I could not let go of my experience: what about God’s calling of me at the age if twelve. My world fell apart. How could I put together “the word of God” with the “my call by God”?

I decided to do a search for a use-able past and in so doing found an answer that has been incorporated into my life to this day. My embodied strength, wit, and proclivity to speak truth to power is a result of my close relationship to a woman born into slavery, and only freed because of her agency to pick up her bed and walk when her promised freedom was denied.

 

Her slaveholder named her Isabella and like most enslaved black women she did not control her body. She bore 12 children all of whom were sold into slavery so the plantation economy could grow and flourish. Even with all this as part of her everyday life, Isabella remembered the God her mother introduced her to, whose presence was found in the night sky that held the stars connecting her to that divinity and to her mother. Throughout her life she was never alone and in time Isabella heard a call from God to preach.

This God welled up in her on the day of she had expected to be freed from slavery but was told that she had to work several more years. She could not believe that her Christian slaveholder, who she held regard for, would do such a thing. This betrayal and her assurance in the God of her mother is what propelled her under the cover of the awesome dark night to take leave for her assignment to preach God’s word of truth and deliverance. Betrayal led to freedom granted by God and it was not a theoretical freedom but, one of physicality–meaning that her embodied self was freed by God. She packed a few provisions, walked from the plantation, and asked God for a new name. She no longer wanted the name given to her by the slaveholder.

sojourner-truth
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

She desired a new name to signal that she was no longer enslaved and held as property. God answered, “you shall be called Sojourner” and hence forth she no longer answered to the name Isabella.

Living into her new name, Sojourner followed Jesus’ pattern of walking from town to town across this country preaching the good news, offering hope, asking questions, and standing with vulnerable people. She was both an abolitionist and a woman’s rights advocate. Like the prophets and Jesus, she brought a message she was compelled to preach grounded in the truth of the Triune God. She raised questions about God presence in the activities of Christians who practiced chattel slavery and later spoke about women’s equality with men. She responded to anyone who attempted to limit the authority vested in her by God to preach about the relationship between and among those with structural power and those without such power.

When people wanted to know her “full name,” Sojourner asked God “to give her a handle for her name” and the response from God was “Truth.”  This new name, Sojourner Truth, sealed her divine identity and added strength to her gait as she missioned from place to place. It was unusual for a black woman–to freely walk and preach God’s word, but who else could it have been more fitting than a black woman–one who had been scorned and abused, spit upon and reviled and discounted by the authorities of her day (read her famous ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech here).

GettyImages_2001082
A drawing depicting Sojourner Truth preaching.

This woman Sojourner Truth is my spiritual mother. I have been to her grave site and she continues to mentor me always steering me in the direction of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

So why do I mention this now?

Have you been watching the news this past week?

The president of the United States of America denigrated three African American women reporters in one week – women who were simply doing their job by asking appropriate questions on behalf of the American people to hold him accountable.

Are you aware that two Muslim women were elected to Congress, despite the way that as candidate and president used his power to discriminate against Muslims?

Did you note that two Native women were also elected to Congress, just weeks after voting privileges were essentially stripped from Native communities in North Dakota, also won seats in Congress, and one in one of the most conservative states in the country?

Not to mention the slew of female veterans who are going to Congress – Democrat and Republican alike – who have signed a pledge among them to always be bipartisan in their workings with each other?

Sojourner Truth is perched, among the great cloud of witnesses, hiding in the invisible brush that separates her world from ours – and looks upon all of us, strong black women and Muslim women and Native women, approvingly nodding her head with contentment and pride.

1294407-Leymah-Gbowee-Quote-When-women-gather-great-things-will-happen.jpg

She calls us to remember Hagar, the Egyptian, who with her son Ishmael was sent to die in the wilderness, but was saved by God, she names and told that her son would become a great nation (Genesis 16 and 21:9-20). She encourages us to recall the Syrophoenician woman who was scorned and mocked and clapped-back because she knew the life of her daughter was on the line (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). And of course, we harken back to Mary Magdalene – who witnessed the Crucifixion and was the first person to see Jesus post-resurrection, (although the disciples did not believe her) and was supported by Jesus despite the despicable things people said about her being a prostitute of which there is no evidence in the Gospels (Matthew 27:55-61, 28:1-10; Mark 15:40-47, 16:1-11; Luke 8:1-3, 24:1-12; John 19:25, 20:1-18).

And they’re all there, waving us on.

So we needn’t, and shan’t, fear.

Not then, not now, not ever.

Amen.


fontDr. 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.

Advertisements

Antisemitism, White Male Fragility, My Grandfather, and what Jewish Law Teaches about the Nature of Hate – Rev. Dr. Klaus-Peter Adam

IMG_4512This time last week was a dark moment in our country’s history. In the span of three days. Law enforcement apprehended a would-be serial bomber who had been targeting critics of President Trump, a racist went on a deliberate shooting spree with the intent of killing innocent black people – murdering two in a grocery store in cold blood, and then an antisemitic gunman massacred 11 people as they prepared to celebrate havdalah – or the prayers marking the end of the sabbath. To lead a powerful discussion on how to approach such violence – violence perpetrated by trio of men who identified as white – LSTC professor Klaus-Peter Adam offers to us this reflection on the morning before shabbat. Multilayered and honest, he struggles – as so many of us – to make sense of last week’s horrid killings through his own personal experience as well as the wisdom of Jewish scholarship. 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.”


Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA - 29 Oct 2018
Mandatory Credit: Photo by JARED WICKERHAM/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9948253an) The Star of David memorials are lined with flowers at the Tree of Life synagogue two days after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 29 October 2018. Officials report 11 people were killed by the gunman identified as Robert Bowers who has been charged with hate crimes and other federal charges . Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA – 29 Oct 2018

The massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Sabbath ended the life of eleven members of a Jewish congregation as they were gathering for prayer. This shooting, targeting a vital Jewish neighborhood in Pennsylvania, is one of the fiercest attacks against the Jewish community in the United States.

Mass shootings, largely by white males, evoke the experiences against minoritized people that, I initially thought, were simply political extremism – but over the last two years events like this have turned into the political new normal. It is truly a terrifying sign for this country that these attacks have now reached a synagogue – and I say this as a German American Lutheran theologian and grandson of a Nazi party member. It signals the country’s level of venomous hate has risen to such a point that antisemitism is now lifting ugly face again in this country.

The but especially the fact that this attack happened at a synagogue during a Sabbath service hits a particularly open nerve in this country. First, this attack took place at a moment in history when minorities in the United States find themselves exposed to multiple forms of discrimination. The parallels in the discrimination against Jews and African Americans have been widely noted – especially by W.E.B. Du Bois. When Du Bois saw first-hand the destruction of Polish Judaism on a visit of the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1949, Du Bois concluded that the hateful acts against Jews in Nazi Germany could not be considered an isolated phenomenon. He saw them in the context of “the perverted teaching and human hate and prejudice.” (The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto, Jewish Life, May 1952, 14-15.)

The second reason why the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh this past weekend hits a nerve is its timing. It happens around the anniversary of the intersection of undercurrents of racial hate that undermined the communities of Germans under its right-wing, fascist dictatorship. In these Fall days Germany remembers the context of hate and prejudice that erupted in the so-called November pogroms against Jews. This year we will be remembering the 80’s anniversary of the so-called Kristallnacht – “the night of broken crystal glass” –  on November 9, 1938; the night the November-pogroms began. In order to instill terror in the German Jewish population, synagogues were burnt down their synagogues,  Jewish homes were vandalized along with schools and businesses,  Jews were arrested in mass while almost were killed outright 100.

kristallnacht-2
Vandalized Jewish-owned business the day after Kristallnacht.

The shattered crystal glass of the synagogues was meant to demonstrate how the government intended to treat Jews should they choose to stay in the country. This nationwide bullying in 1938 followed a well-orchestrated plan to fuel hatred against Jews. The November pogroms were part of a broad, systemic anti-semitic affront in which the violent outbursts against Jews followed on the heels of aggressive ridiculing hate-instilling propaganda that included iconographic references to the cliché of the rich, ugly, hook-nosed Jew,  known from traditional European antisemitism, and by then wide-spread in many media.

Yet, what lesson will the shooting of Pittsburgh teach me this year? While the gunshots in Pittsburgh are not part of a politically-sponsored, systemic anti-semitism, they echo the very sentiment of publicly proclaimed hate against minorities. The shooter from Pittsburgh subscribes to white supremacy.

Tellingly, he is an isolated 46 year old deranged male, who had bought into the homespun anti-semitic rhetoric and the hate that is vastly present in right winged websites. In its own way, it is similar to the continuous hateful rhetoric against minorities which culminated in the killing of Jews in 1930’s and 40’s in Germany. The Nazis conveyed to citizens that hatred against Jews as the necessary step that would pave the way for the process of establishing a racially pure body of citizens and a better society. Their repeated racial slurs and discriminatory practices would become the fabric of hate into which the Holocaust, labeled “the final solution” of the problem of the Jews, would be woven into the everyday work of administrators and functionaries in German society on every level – and the strategy was terrifyingly effective.

181025-police-captured-mail-bomber-feature1

And this same strategy of infusing hate also works in our days here in the US: the bloodbath in the Tree of Life synagogue coincides with a series of attempted onslaughts on Democratic politicians earlier that week. All of the targets were outspoken critics of President Trump and the sender was another emotionally challenged, estranged white male, equally motivated by right-winged hateful propaganda, Cesar Sayoc.

The fatal violence of the frustrated white male haunts me personally as well – the confluence of one’s own personal hateful attitude with hateful sentiments in the collective – because it has roots in my own family.

German-schoolgirls-in-peasant-costume.jpg
Nazi propaganda often appealed to aspects of folk culture, which resonated strongly with both urban and rural Germans.

In the 1930’s in the southwest German village of cabbage farmers, Bernhausen, 10 miles south of Stuttgart where I grew up, my paternal grandfather, Karl (1902-1985), had bought into the vitriolic hate of the Nazi propaganda. In 1934 Karl became the movement’s village leader. The son of an impoverished family of farmers, he had been one of the frustrated, economically strained “Arian” males in post-World War I Germany, who found themselves in their twenties suffering through unemployment and economic hardship that they perceived as part of the collective humiliation imposed through the 1918 Treaty of Versailles. Nazi propaganda skillfully instrumentalized the frustration of disappointed males to spark a mixture of personal and national hate against the unfair retaliatory despair of an entire generation. Their conspiracy theory called for a collective hateful revenge against a national insult imposed by an imaginary conspiracy of global Judaism. To my grandfather Karl it was attractive to channel his frustration through the nationalist, racist, hateful ideology of “Arian” supremacy.

And because of this, many questions arise: Why are white men more susceptible to hateful ideologies and tend to act out their hate in mass shootings? What attracts them to fall for racist hateful violence and to indiscriminately target individuals if they belong to the group of their hated enemies?

What is it specifically about the frustrated white male loner that makes a racist hateful leadership attractive and that motivates to publicly declare on social media, as the Pittsburgh shooter did: “screw the optics, I’m going in”? What is it about the multi-ethnic society that drives their sense of superiority to an extent that makes them want to extinct the others? Yet, as the shots of Pittsburgh echo throughout the nation in the homestretch of an exhausting and bitter political season that has seen rising levels of vitriol and threats of violence, a more pressing question is:

What is an alternative narrative capable of countering the rising hatred in this country?

kroger killer

There is hardly one single answer to the problem of how to undo the harm of hatred sparked by the ideology of nationalism or of white supremacy. But ancient Jewish law presents a quite insightful explanation about the mechanisms and the trajectory of hate in humans. The legal thinkers point to the roots of an individual’s deeds in one’s intentionality. They consider the intent to commit an action as equal to carrying out one’s plan – hence, hateful thoughts will eventually be carried out by hateful deeds. The wording of the 9th/10th commandment “you shall not covet” precisely captures the flow from the mental planning of theft and its implementation as an organic interfusion. In the process of taking agency, humans think, plan and subsequently act out their intentions.

In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:21-28 Jesus points to this mechanism of the human brain in which intentions permeate actions: Like any other action, hateful actions will originate in one’s heart and mind. They have long been premeditated. Actions are merely the outside of long term thought processes. It is in our mind where we will have to reject hate. And, only if we actively reject our hateful thoughts and teach love instead, only if together as a civil society we will develop strategies to convince the frustrated white males among us to give up their hateful thinking that permeates social media.

Only then, will we be successful in ending the violent outburst of hate among us.


adamKlaus-Peter Adam is the Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Because Sometimes There are No Words – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas

I remembered Charleston this weekend when once again I saw a community gathered in a sacred space in the midst of a holy ritual murdered in cold blood. As Jews celebrated a bris – the Jewish celebration of circumcision and life for newborn baby boys – the horrific occurred again— eleven people were slain at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg, PA We also witnessed violence by a man inspired by the President of the United States, who sent pipe-bombs to people and a news station, people simply exercising their constitutional right to raise reasonable questions, especially to raise question of leader who consistently uses false, polarizing rhetoric from the lofty heights of the US Presidency.

Then, once again, was the cold-blooded, racist murder of two black people in Louisville, Kentucky – murders which received little news coverage. The shooter, a white male and avowed racist, was even apprehended alive with no struggle, as though the execution style killing of two black bystanders was of no significance – such a crime in clear violation of those who are made in God’s image.

Here at We Talk. We Listen. most of our posts are scheduled well in advance, but we have been known to delay publication for a day or two when an event calls us to do so in order to find the appropriate voice to bring a reflection. With the pain of this past weekend, and with all of these voices, we just haven’t been able to find someone to help us lead a way forward.

But we are looking, dear readers. We are looking.

And as we do, know that we love all of you and that Jesus is with us in this mess.

All of us.

Identity Crisis – Rev. Mauricio Vieira

IMG_4512After a hiatus of a couple of weeks, we have returned to our series honoring Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month – and this new post is truly a curious one. Written by Rev. Mauricio Vieira, a naturalized US-citizen from Brazil serving in rural Illinois, it is a poignant reflection on how being a “white-passing” Latino immigrant has been problematic. 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.”


maxresdefault
Colorism in the Latino community – see video here.

Peace, sisters, and brothers, be with you from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. How should I describe my journey as a Latino ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America? Four words come to mind: post-adolescence identity crisis. 

Allow me to explain.

It all began in the year 2000. My wife Ana and I were somewhat fresh living in the United States and working as life sciences scholars at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One day someone working for the census bureau stops by, and Ana answers the door. There was a mistake with our census information. We had marked white. Ana looks at the inside of her forearms and all the veins visible through her ashen skin, gives the person a very puzzled look, and asks flat out, what do you mean?

The unfazed person then answered, “Sorry, you are not American.”

See, in spite of being born and raised in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ana and I are white as white comes. We are designated as white in our birth-land. Without relying on the precision of DNA tests, Ana is 100% Portuguese. I am more or less 70% Portuguese, 15% Italian, and 15% French – pure Caucasian blood unless proven otherwise by modern science. Therefore, without thinking, Ana just went with the motions and checked the box that said, white. I confess that the fact that someone had come back in an official capacity to knock on our door to correct the “mistake” gave me pause. I went on to learn much more from that point on.

As a consequence of my pure whiteness, I can claim to myself the colonizer heritage mentioned by Nicole Garcia in this blog. Our ancestors, the Portuguese, did pretty much the same stuff that was done in the rest of the Americas, plus one small devilish detail. We invented the concept of go to Africa, kidnap people, and ship them as cattle to a foreign land to live lives of slavery – the British took over the business later. This is a heritage that is not oblivious to me, nor my wife, nor my two sons.  Ana and I, we own it, and since the time we were college students, each one of us on their own path, and then together, have worked and stood against the prevailing racial injustices that happen in Brazil.

Contrary to North American perception, Brazil is a very racist country, and I have benefited from its systems of racism. That privilege allowed me to come to the United States legally, to be offered a job, to become a permanent resident, and then, later on, a citizen.

science.jpg

Nonetheless, like most Latinos, due to the excessive number of vowels in my name, which can be typical of Latin-derived names, combined with my place of birth, I was introduced to stereotyping very early. A lot of it can be dissipated in the science field. Flagship State University towns and work environments tend to be melting pots, including biology labs. Therefore, one’s accent and culture does not necessarily carry the same weigh in the power structure because this is what is important: can you generate data and get funding? If one can, ethnicity does not matter as much.  Even so, there were moments when, despite my qualifications and expertise, I lived the typical Latino experience in America, that is, almost always misinterpreted, often distrusted, seldom heard.

However, nothing had yet prepared me for the reality of the North American relationship systems outside the science “bubble.”

Seminary for me was brutal. I checked most of the handicap boxes, a second career, full-time, commuter, husband of a wife with a full-time job, father of two kids in elementary school, international student.  My perceived privilege – and physical strength – was shattered by mid-October during the fall semester of my first year. I made it, but I have scars.

I get it now what took me some time to figure out. In white North American Anglo-Saxon systems, solidarity and respect are earned, especially if you are perceived as a person of color – now you can see where this is getting twisted. I come from a system where there is an expectation of solidarity and respect out of the gate – at least if one is Caucasian – which is lost if you prove otherwise over time.  Therefore, when it came to the “real” world outside labs and conference rooms, acceptance was upside down to me, as it was paper styles. In life sciences, the conclusions are the last paragraphs. It took me a “D” to figure out that in human sciences the conclusion comes first. The seminary professor for whom I actually wrote that commented that it was upside down.

Whitewashed-Latino-4393.jpg
Latinxs talking about the pain and frustration of being seen as “white.”

But I digress.

So, there I was. On the one hand, male, Caucasian and privileged for some, and therefore steward of powers that now I know I have, but that I never claimed or wanted. On the other, Latino, foreigner, heavy accent, perceived as a person of color for others – even if one can still see the veins on my arms – and therefore almost always misinterpreted, often distrusted, seldom heard. It was a mess.

Who was I supposed to be in God’s beloved creation!?

I know it sounds dramatic, but I have many mundane and shocking examples to share. However, since I am mindful of the number of words suggested to me by my friend Francisco Herrera, I will mention only three.

There was this day in CPE small groups that a colleague told me out of the blue that she did not know what it was, but my presence alone was stressful to her. I wonder if she got confused by a big Caucasian male who acts like a Latino. Then there was the day when we were on a candidacy retreat, and I had volunteered to set up the worship space, only to hear a fellow person of color tell another that he was sticking around “to make sure our international student (yours truly) knew what he was doing.” By the way, that was after one of the internship supervisors in the retreat approached the organizer and offered to set up the worship space in my place, only to hear that I was the one assigned to do it.

Now comes the cherry on top.

Once I was attending one of the classes on Science and Religion and it happened that the speaker was presenting something about my country of birth, out of a website, that I knew to be, let’s say, scientifically incorrect. The speaker had no idea that sitting in the audience was not only a life scientist with a doctorate but also a native of the same country. Credentials enough, right? Nope, comments dismissed, even after the such were presented. Apparently, I did not know enough about my own country.

One can’t make this up!

I can certainly say, however, that not everything in this crazy and awesome life of serving Christ through God’s people has been annoying our upsetting for this Latino pastor and preacher. I have met classmates, teachers, colleagues, and parishioners who have made this journey absolutely a blessing. The support of my home congregation of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Urbana, IL. My friends from St. Andrew Lutheran Church and Campus Center, who welcomed my services during my time in Ministry In Context. My supervisor and the people of Grace Lutheran Church in Champaign, IL, who taught me more than I deserved during my internship, especially my beloved confirmation class. My candidacy committee, who accompanied and prayed for me along the way. Those from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Cullom, IL, and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Chatsworth, IL, who have embraced me as their proclaimer, teacher, and pastor. I don’t have space to name all of you. But, you know who you are I would not have done without you; and I continue to do it for you. I love you all.

lovely.jpg
Me and my family

So, here is my message to you, fellow Latinos who may be pursuing ministry, or to anyone who is not cookie cutter and feels like always having to justify why you are in such path…

By the way, it is a minimized version of the crude and lousy sermon that I preached on the before mentioned candidacy retreat. It goes like this. When one goes into my country to buy salt, one will find only one kind, which is cooking salt. It can be either coarse or finely ground but cooking salt, nonetheless.  In this country, there are a variety of salts, sometimes on the same shelf. There is water softening salt, salt to melt ice, rock salt, salt for ice cream machines. Besides the ordinary cooking salt, there is Kosher salt, sea salt, garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt, and Himalayan pink salt.

So remember, you too were called to be the salt of the earth. Figure it out what kind of salt God has made out of you, for this time and this place, and never, ever, let anyone take your saltiness away.

“[The God who abundantly poured grace upon you] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).

Amen.


mo.jpgPastor Mauricio Vieira was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and became an American Citizen. He is a former life scientist with a Ph.D. in Cell Biology by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He obtained his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Home is currently in Cullom, IL, with his wife Ana, sons Logan and Dominick – all culprits in this ministry – and puppies Gus and Molly.  He is currently the called Pastor to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cullom, IL and St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chatsworth, IL.

Coal and Poverty – Robin Lovett, ​M.Div. student LSTC

fontIt is no surprise to mention how growing up in poverty can greatly limit the quality of one’s future life. There are reduced opportunities to pursue education, jobs don’t pay as well, and the many systems and cycles that make life hard for your seem to be insurmountable. What we don’t often talk about, however, is how pollution is also something that disproportionately impacts the poor. This week’s author, Robin Lovett, talks about this in today’s post – at the end inviting everyone to contribute their energies to the cause of renewable foods in the United States. 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.”


Tiny-toes-up-close-with-grown-up-hands.jpg

I spent the last summer as a hospital chaplain during one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. I provided spiritual and emotional care for patients and their families, and I was assigned to my hospital’s two pediatric units. As a chaplain for a pediatric intensive care unit in a non-trauma hospital, I gratefully did not see many of my patients die. I saw young people of all ages with a variety of grave illnesses, from the tiniest, premature babies recovering from open-heart surgery to twenty-something year-olds suffering from childhood cancers. In the three months I interned as a chaplain, I only witnessed the deaths of two children.

Both died of asthma attacks.

The first was a teenage boy named Alexander, but his family called him Xander. He suffered a major asthma attack, which led to cardiac arrest, which led to brain death. He was on my unit for nearly a week before life-sustaining care was ended. In the days leading up to his death, I learned so much about this boy. He was an athlete at a high-performing school in Chicago. He always had friends around him, and he was always making others smile and laugh. His mother proudly told me about how Xander would spend time with the kids no one else wanted to be around – the bullied kids or the new kids. Similarly, Xander would often bring home abandoned animals to take care of them, like baby birds or lost dogs. His heart, the same one that could not withstand his asthma attack, was big.

The second boy was only eight, and his name was Trey. He had special needs and was non-verbal at baseline. Though he didn’t use words, his parents told me Trey nonetheless would always make sure you knew how he felt – and he was generally happy and excited in his young life. He loved Sponge Bob; he loved to play with his sisters, who adored him. Trey was surrounded by love and tenderness and he returned love and tenderness to the world.

Xander and Trey were very different from each other in life, but their deaths have so much in common – both with each other’s and with thousands of Americans every year who die of asthma attacks. Both Trey and Xander were black and both were from the Chicagoland area, a fact which reflects that asthma rates are highly disparate between different ethnic and geographic communities. Namely, poor children are most likely to die from asthma, especially those children who live in monetarily impoverished areas or children of color, wherever they might live.

And while these two children remain foremost in my memory because of their deaths, I had dozens of children on my unit who were hospitalized because of their severe asthma, most of whom were black.

power-plants-e345b37659f6fd47.jpg
A coal-fired power-plant in South Carolina.

The disparate rates of asthma depending on where you live, your class, and your race reflect the reality that asthma is not a tragic happenstance – asthma is a man-made disease. Asthma, which kills more than three-thousand six hundred people every year, is created by our collective lack of regard for the natural environment. It is caused by our willingness to pollute the air we breathe. Xander and Trey didn’t die randomly and we, collectively, could have prevented their deaths.

So when I read the Trump administration’s analysis of its own proposed deregulations on coal-burning power-plants, in the so-called “Affordable Clean Energy rule,” my stomach sank. By their own estimates, these deregulations will cost 1,400 lives annually and result in up to 15,000 new cases of upper-respiratory disease. These numbers do not reflect the additional 48,000 cases of asthma caused by the Affordable Clean Energy rule, nor have I yet mentioned the additional deaths and illnesses which would be caused by other efforts of environmental deregulation by the Trump Administration. This was most assuredly predicted by the Trump Administration: coal plants are some of this nation’s largest emitters of mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide, so the fact that they’re deadly is no surprise. These efforts do not present a goodwill effort at reducing your home’s energy bill by the Trump Administration, but instead show a calculated effort to determine how many lives coal is worth.

 It’s hard to imagine what those numbers mean when you read them from the comfort of your desk; it’s all too easy to imagine what they mean when you’ve met and mourned children like Xander and Trey.

This was not the first time I have encountered deaths resulting from pollution. As a native Tennessean who considers East Tennessee my home, I was already all too familiar with pollution-related deaths. While many Americans might see few connections between rural, (mostly) white Appalachia and urban, racially diverse Chicago, both areas suffer greatly from poor health as a direct result of environmental degradation. Progressive massive fibrosis (better known as “black lung disease”) is known as a coal miners’ disease; COPD, another lung disease, is far more common in Appalachia than anywhere else in the country, and the biggest contributing factor to this is air quality and exposure to coal dust. Finally, lung cancer is most deadly in Appalachia. Air pollution, caused significantly by coal, is literally killing the people of Appalachia.

Another similarity between my home in Appalachia and the black Chicagoan children I cared for?

Poverty.

poverty health.jpg

Though across the US the poverty rate hovers at around 15%, it is 34% among black Chicagoans. In Appalachia, the poverty rate is about 20%, and many of the nation’s poorest counties are situated in these mountains. Nationally, the people living near coal plants have an average income of less than $19,000 a year, and many of them are people of color.

The deaths of black children in Chicagoland may seem like a far cry from the deaths of white coal miners and their families in Appalachia, but they point to the same truth: the true cost of polluting our air is the deaths of the most vulnerable people in our country, whether they be children of color in urban areas or workers in the hollers of the Smokey Mountains.

It’s impossible to say whether Xander and Trey died as a direct result of pollution, and even more difficult to say definitively if these deaths resulted from our use of coal. Climate scientists have been reticent to ascribe climate change or pollution as the cause of any one death. But, we do know that the actions of the Trump Administration will cause more deaths like Xander’s and Trey’s, and that these same deregulations will cause more intense suffering in Appalachia. When we fail to protect our natural environment, we inevitably fail to care for the least of these among us.

The cost of coal – the deaths of both the urban and rural poor – is far too high. We must move away from this deadly and dirty source of energy if we claim to care for the lives of the poor and disenfranchised in our midst. We must begin to care about climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation of any kind. Fighting back against the Trump Administration’s deregulation of the coal industry can be a first step, but it must be the first of many steps towards environmental justice.

fossil

(Written public comments on the “Afford Clean Energy Plan” can be submitted to the EPA until October 31st. Submit one online here.)

_______________

photoRobin Lovett  is an M.Div. student and a Public Church Fellow at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her sermons and writings can be found at robinlovettowen.com

This is a Love Letter – Maija Mikkelsen, M.Div. student LSTC

Dr TWe are now nearing an end-game with the Senate hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. However it turns out, the impact will be jarring, and so I was most blessed to hear the following poetic reflection from a student at my seminary – Maija Mikkelsen – taking Paul’s body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12-26 as her inspiration. So as the country prepares for what is to come, please read this poem, share this poem, and know that you are deeply and fully loved by God.

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


 

g9510-20_ford-cover

This is a love letter to Miriam, who led her people out of exile in Egypt.

This is a love letter to Ruth and Naomi, who cling one another in great devotion.

This is a love letter to Esther, who risked her life for a moment such as this.

 

This is a love letter to my mothers, my sisters, my aunts.

To my nieces, who are just getting started in this world.

To my friends and my neighbors and my classmates and my colleagues.

 

You, strong and resilient women and femmes,

who grasp each other tightly against the toxicity of this world.

You, who were all created in the image of God,

who makes all things, and sees that they are good.

—-

 

This is a love letter to the Egyptian slave, Hagar.

This is a love letter to Dinah and Bilhah and Zilpah.

This is a love letter to the unnamed Levite Concubine woman.

 

This is a love letter to the woman who is afraid to walk to the store alone at night.

To the femme who decides not to wear their favorite heels today.

To the man who is too ashamed to tell his story.

To the one who wonders, “does my story count?”

To the survivors who are not believed, who are silenced.

This is a love letter to the brave and the terrified,

to the loud and the quiet,

to the ones who speak up and the ones who cannot.

This is a love letter to all of those who have been affected by sexual violence.

Because #MeToo.

 

You are not alone in your suffering,

for as you suffer, we suffer with you, Christ suffers with you.

You are believed by Christ.

Your story matters.

You matter. You are loved.

——

Screenshot (13)

This is a love letter to Leah, forced to marry a man who did not love her.

This is a love letter to Jezebel, strong and defiant, whose masculinity threatened the men around her.

This is a love letter to Jael, who shed the role expected of her and became a warrior for her people.

 

This is a love letter to the ones who thought they were loved only to find out they were objectified.

To the 28th trans person whose body

was murdered and destroyed out of hatred and misplaced fear.

To the young girl who takes justice into her own hands, saving herself from her abuser.

 

You, my dear ones, you are holy and loved.

Your God bleeds alongside you, knows your pain, and promises you resurrection.

 


 

 

 

This is a love letter to Tamar, who creates her own understanding of righteousness.

This is a love letter to Ruth, takes it upon herself to initiate an intimate night.

This is a love letter to the women who are told that to be prude is not a choice,

yet to be sexual is not a choice either.

To the virgin bride, ashamed and frightened on her wedding night.

And to the lovers who hold each other’s naked bodies,

blissfully falling asleep after knowing each other intimately.

 

Your bodies are made for feeling deeply.

Your legs bring you to the highest summits,

Your minds paint the most beautiful pictures,

Your mouths sing the sweetest songs,

Your backs arch in ecstasy as your fingers grip the sheets.

God made you so, and saw that this is good.

——-

This is a love letter to Eve, who walked through the Garden naked and unashamed.

This is a love letter to Mary, the mother of Christ.

This is a love letter to Mary Magdalene, who witnessed and was not believed, who loved Jesus the Christ and who was loved right back.

 

This is a love letter to the bodies torn asunder in birth. And the souls shattered at loss.

To those across the world who bleed and bleed and bleed.

To those who stand in the mirror convincing themselves that they are worthy of being wanted.

To those who starve and purge themselves in an effort to feel accepted.

To those whose bodies are stolen from them and dragged through the streets.

 

Your bodies are good and whole.

Your bodies that cannot see, hear, or walk are good and whole.

Your black and brown, thick and thin, curvy and straight bodies are good and whole.

Your bodies that exist here in this world. With all their parts and uniqueness.

Your bodies are good and whole and part of the great body of Christ.

—–

7118622.jpg.scaled500.jpg

The Incarnate One has become just like you,

because you are chosen by God and because you are loved.

 

Before Jesus was at the Jordan River,

he was baptized by his mother’s blood,

coating him with a carnal love as he made his way into this world.

 

Before Jesus fed the five thousand with loaves and fishes,

Mary nourished him from the warm milk of her breast.

 

Before Jesus cast the demons out from the afflicted,

Mary held him and comforted him in his fears.

 

Before Jesus healed the bleeding woman,

Mary tended to his cuts and scrapes with tender care.

 

Before Jesus rose from the tomb,

Mary Magdalene held vigil by his pierced and lifeless body.

 

Jesus lived in a human body. Jesus was human.

God came into a human body because human bodies are good.

—–

This is a love letter to all of you,

This is a love letter to all of me,

For we are all one body,

together and necessary and good,

in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus the Christ who became human,

Became ordinary –

Just like you and me

Not in order to make us sacred,

But because we are already sacred

You, my beloved, you are sacred.

Amen.

*original art – “Ruth’s Heart,” Hilary Sylvester / “Tiara and Eve Marie,” Kate Hansen.


43160331_170448727170143_9121484735304957952_nMaija Mikkelsen is in her third year of studies for her Masters of Divinity at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She works to serve refugee populations both here in Chicago and in Rwanda, while working towards a career in pediatric chaplaincy. Fueled by the women around her, mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces, and friends, she seeks to live a life filled with love, honesty, and art.

More Suffering Will Not Save Us: Survivors and the Community of Salvation – Katherine Parent

IMG_4512Last Thursday’s Senate hearings for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford put millions victims of sexual violence on edge – and understandably so. Therefore, in order to process what last week’s trauma and insight, “We Talk. We Listen.” has asked Luther Seminary PhD student, Katherine Parent, to share some of her thoughts on the testimony – which she does keeping a firm eye on not only Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, but also Dr. Anita Hill – the first, and arguably most famous, of women to confront another Supreme Court nominee (this time Clarence Thomas), as well as what last week’s furor says about our nation. Please 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.”


180927104516-10-ford-senate-hearing-0927-large-169.jpg
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford before giving her testimony last Thursday.

It’s been a hell of a week. For the nth time, survivors stand in a global spotlight to witness to a prestigious white male attacker’s acts of sexual assault. Once again millions of survivors relive our pain, powerlessness, fury and grief, in millions of individual and unspeakable ways. The outcome matters; the US supreme court is part of a government that currently holds powers of life and death over billions of people.

But the outcome, for many of us who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence, feels horrifically predictable.  Literally every person who taught me about support for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence has told me that justice almost never happens through our court system.

Every man who ever hurt me did so in a way that would have been virtually impossible to prosecute by our country’s laws and in our culture. They knew it would cost more, socially and financially, than I could afford; they knew how to not leave marks.

One even boasted to the mutual friends who confronted him, “at least I haven’t raped anyone.”

So when I see people name this week’s courageous accuser as a Christ figure, it burns like salt in an open wound.

Christine Blasey Ford is incredibly brave. I believe her and I want her truth to be publicly known, as that is what she has stated she desires to mitigate further harm.  As I watch her most intimate pain ripped open on live feed, subjected to the scorn of trolls and senators, I certainly see Christ crucified.  I’m too young to have watched the Anita Hill hearings, but friends have told me how, like last Thursday, everyone in the country stopped what they were doing to listen. To debate whether they believed her. Hill says at the end of her powerful testimony that it would have been more comfortable for her to remain silent. 25 years later, Ford wrote that she was terrified to come forward, that she hoped against hope that it would not be necessary.

christa
“Christa” – a female depiction of the crucifixion by Edwina Sandys

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus begging for the cup of suffering to pass; knowing that the powers of this world would not allow that mercy.

Like so many other abusive white men I have known, Kavanaugh had people jumping to his defense with Jesus memes. I heard a white man decry the hearing as a “crucifixion” of Kavanaugh. Of course, this doesn’t compute. Jesus wasn’t crucified on his way to being interviewed for one of the top establishment positions in the land. No, he knew he was going to court to lose, to be imprisoned, and literally executed. But this defender clearly saw Kavanaugh as messiah-like in his power to swing the balance of the Supreme Court toward what they felt was godly. They saw him as betrayed by cruel and jealous masses who wanted that power for our own.  My mind jumped back two years to the Christian radio hosts mourning the “harm” done the Trump family by the dozen-plus women accusing him of sexual assault. The editorials by church ladies comparing him to King David, an imperfect man who God would use as an instrument of righteous violence. The moment I acknowledged the intuition, burning in my dreams and bones, that this rapist would be elected.

christine-blasey-ford-anita-hill-senators-1538070873
Above – the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Dr. Ford’s testimony last week / Below – Democrat members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Dr. Hill’s testimony in 1991

I’ve known since I was a little girl that white frat boys were allowed to binge drink and rape women, and that many of the richer and more prestigious of those same men went on to become senators and judges. I was also taught as a white woman that my anger was only holy if turned inward, and downward, at those scapegoats powerful white Christian men deemed best–the projection of their own violence onto black, brown, native, poor, immigrant, female, queer and trans bodies. My dutiful young answer to WWJD was “turn the other cheek” — meaning, forgive the angry white men. I eventually realized that I had been recruited, as a white woman, not only to accept white men’s violent whims but collaborate with them in oppressing others.  I realized that following the rules of rape culture, being an obsessively “modest” and virginal white Christian woman, took a good deal of privilege and self-harm to accomplish and did little to actually protect me from sexual harassment or intimate violence.

That these powerful white men did not themselves turn the other cheek, but rained denial and scorn on their accusers and bullets and bombs on those who dared to fight back. And that in publicly believing and repeating the sources of those rules—white male pastors, politicians, community leaders—I was harming not just myself but the millions of people on whose exploitation our country was founded.

anita-hill.jpg
Dr. Anita Hill before giving her testimony during the confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991.

As a church historian who studies white Christian racism, I’ve been struck by the constant signs in my source material that people knew. European settlers knew we were committing unacceptable violence against native people in our colonial occupation of North America. White people knew that the enslavement and for-profit torture of black people was abominable and wrong. Men knew that rape and control of women’s bodies was harmful. White women knew that white cisgender men – not the black and brown ones people blamed and lynched, not the queer and trans people persecuted – were far more likely to harm us than anyone else.  We had prophets in every generation. And in every era of American history that I have searched, I’ve found accounts by white people who both publicly recognized, but excused, the violence of their status quo.  Incredibly often, they excused it on the grounds that forcing people to accept a purer, superior faith in Jesus was worth any price.

So I hold the bitter knowledge that even if Kavanaugh had lost this particular job because people in our government believed his victims, we would not be saved.

If all it took to dismantle patriarchal white violence in our government was the public truth-telling of one survivor, Anita Hill’s courage would have done it.

Furthermore, black women would have taken the entire system down hundreds of years ago. Indigenous women would have dismantled the foundations of the European colonialism long before the US Supreme Court was created.

As generations of survivors who speak out against oppression and white patriarchal violence have learned—public truth-telling is needed for healing, but it does not cause empires to fall.

Who will save us? 

I know from experience that I cannot trust our court system, our police, our government—or our denominational or seminary structures–to protect me and people I love from sexual and domestic violence. I see Christ’s suffering reflected in Ford, in Hill, in all survivors of sexual violence—both those who choose to speak out and those who want or need to remain silent. But I do not see salvation in those moments. We do not need another sacrificial messiah, one more hurting body presented for scrutiny to a devouring hierarchy that shows its power by using and discarding such bodies.

anita hill brandeis
Dr. Anita Hill today – tenured professor at Brandeis University.

After being believed, the most important thing for many SV survivors is being supported in choosing and leading our own healing process. So I was curious about what Anita Hill had gone on to do after Congress confirmed her harasser Clarence Thomas as a conservative supreme court justice. I learned that Hill is a scholar who continues to teach and speak out against sexual harassment. What I learn from Hill, and from other survivors in my life, is that we can create alternative communities that make the justice and healing we need more likely to happen in the midst of political structures that refuse to change.

In “Making a Way out of No Way,” womanist theologian and survivor Monica Coleman writes a Christology not of an individual messiah but of salvific communities. People in our country—especially indigenous, black and brown people, women and queer and trans people—have already been doing this work for generations.

There are vast numbers of beloved wounded who have already created our own saving communities of harm reduction, restorative justice, mutual support and care.

 It’s never enough, it’s vulnerable, it’s messy and hard work.

But it is already happening, and we do not need to wait.


parentKatherine Parent is a young adult and PhD student in religious history at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. She is a multimedia artist in residence at Redeemer Lutheran church in Minneapolis. She has been a frequent guest artist at local kids camps and protests, and a performer with the Carnival de Resistance and with her folk band the Lacewings. She lives in intentional community and enjoys catching up on all the cartoons she didn’t watch as a kid.