#TreasuresofDarkness, Day 3: Psalm 68:31 and the Stirrings of Revolution – Rev. Kwame Pitts

This week, We Talk. We Listen.is very happy to welcome the Rev. Kwame Pitts back to the blog, and for the chance to introduce the wider public to her dynamic blog series on African and African diasporic thought and life Treasures of Darkness. Originally posted here, Rev. Pitts’ reflection on the richness and power of African-rooted spirituality and ethics is the kind of education and challenge that many white Christians say they appreciate, but so often don’t. Read, comment, and share – and follow the #TreasuresOfDarkness devotional for Black History Month.
Francisco Herrera – Interim Blog Editor, Ph. D. student

“Black was an emotionally partisan color, the handmaid and symbol of baseness and evil, a sign of danger and repulsion. Embedded in the concept of blackness, was its direct opposite-whiteness…White and black connoted purity and filthiness, virginity and sin, virtue and baseness, beauty and ugliness, beneficence and evil, God and the devil….Blackness not only had a distinctive negative connotation but also was personalized as the devil.” from Yorbua Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism, Dr. Tracey E. Hucks

“The missionaries who introduced the gospel to Africa in the past 200 years did not bring God to our continent. Instead, God brought them. They proclaimed the name Jesus Chrsit. But they used the names of the God who was and is already known by African peoples: such as Mungu, Ngai, Olodumare, Asis and thousands more. These were not empty names. They were names of the one and the same God.” Dr. John Mbiti, as quoted by Dr. Peter Paris from The Spirituality of African Peoples

One of the issues that I am rooted in my constructive and valid criticism of Westernized Christianity, is the factor that we, as African Peoples of the Diaspora are not religious or spiritual enough and need to be trained and educated in the right way of worship.

That Christianity was exclusive to Western European ideals, because we were obviously uncivilized because we worshiped the Creator in a variety of ways and languages. That we were cursed because of our skin, and therefore anything that we contributed to the global culture should be eradicated and erased.

Even today, when African Descent peoples here in the U.S. worship and celebrate the Creator God, with songs and dancing and drumming it is still seen as barbaric. When we venerate our Ancestors, it is seen as demonic. And yet, it is through the African Diaspora communities that the communications both ancient, sacred and now, sacred are still being utilized. That many peoples, for that matter of different cultures who have been oppressed and marginalized because of whom they are and that they did not fit the “accepted norm” of whiteness, also have a deeper connection to the Creator because of these rituals and traditions.

“The principle that holds all of these beings together is harmony. Every being, divine and human, is responsible for the nurturing harmony within and between the various levels of created existence and hence with the Great High God. The manifestation of disharmony is considered evil, and not reflective of the Great High God.” Dr. Peter Paris.

In other words, peoples of the African Diaspora, since we were birthed into Creation, have held fast to the practical and ethical obligations both to ourselves as Tribes of peoples, to Creation and to the Creator.

Here below, is my original post and contribution towards the #TreasuresofDarkness African Descent History Devotional.

Ache’.

Amen.

The Revolution has always been birthed in the bosom of Africa

Curiously enough,

by scholars and theologians alike,

Psalm 68 has been difficult to analyze and decipher

Also,

Interestingly

Psalm 68, verse 31

Has routinely been ignored or not included

in much of the lectionary-

Sometimes it is everything BUT

Verse 31.

Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.

Papa Legba, Protector of the Crossroads; a presence for an exile and enslaved Peoples; a presence for Revolution

Rather interesting that the word “bronze” has been substituted for the Hebrew חַשְׁמַנִּים

which means ambassador, envoy

And in other places, the definition has been translated into nobles, Princes and even red cloth.

Curious about how items such as red cloth, bronze and other interpretations came to be, to describe one of the mighty civilizations of the world-or perhaps, it was only the material and the profitable that mattered on describing places in Africa-

because the Peoples of Africa,

where never seen as vital

or important

Or even, related to the colonizing white/European

as even human.

There are two key interpretations. One, cultivated by white abolitionists and subsequently used by Europeans who embark upon an African “civilizing mission”, holds that it is they — white/Europeans — who are God’s children. Hence, it is white/Europeans to whom Ethiopia is stretching for her hands for deliverance from slavery and primitivism. The other, cultivated by the enslaved and their downpressed descendants, holds that the Bible is their story — the “half never told“. Africans will therefore righteously deliver their own selves from bondage. Interpretation of Psalm 68:31

Treasures entrusted to the people of God-Resting place of the Ark?

In the Hebrew, כּ֥וּשׁ

is translated into Cush,

Cush,

Son of Ham,

Cursed for all eternity

This curse passed down to all of his descendants

of being

BLACK,

which because of Ham seeing Noah his father’s most vulnerable moment

Was a sign of disrespect

And the excuse to enslave the entirety of a People.

And yet,

It’s hilarious because this particular Psalm

Speaks of God

FIGHTING

FOR

THE

VULNERABLE

Clearly throughout the Psalm,

God is protecting those who have been abandoned

Abused

And leads out those who have been wrongly imprisoned

By the early part of the 19th century various mystics, poets and preachers begin to proselytize this message in public. Prince Hall, a Barbadian freemason, resident in Boston, proclaims that the Haitian Revolution is prophecy revealed: “Thus doth Ethiopia begin to stretch forth her hand, from a sink of slavery to freedom and equality. Interpretation of Psalm 68:31

The Psalms are songs

Expressing our heartache, our sorrow and our determination

as Beloved of God

Psalm 68:31 then,

Is a Song of Freedom

Because the chosen peoples of God,

in times when humanity pits itself against one another,

In the name of dominance

and greed,

and selfishness

Reach out their arms to the Creator,

Because the Creator indeed,

protects Peoples

counted among the Sacred.

Ase.


75095313_10218587923942285_6894276822024847360_oRev. Kwame Pitts (M.Div. LSTC2015) is empowered and emboldened by the presence of the Ancestors, living out her life as such. Her call is not only to prophetically teach and preach but also experience her Faith along a dual and sometimes complex spiritual pathway, as the Creator has called her. Following and continuing the responsibilities laid out through her Womanist theologian mentors and Elders, her Ancestors both known and unknown, and venerating her namesake in the work of building a nation, Kwame lives her life authentically, as a Woman of the African Diaspora, working and rooted in transformative and social justice. She has been ordained in the ELCA since 2015 and currently serves in Upstate NY Synod both as Pastor and Campus Pastor. She continues towards completion of her Master’s of Sacred Theology (STM) from Chicago Theological Seminary (May 2020).

Also, for those who wish to follow the #TreasuresOfDarkness devotional that accompanies Pastor Kwame’s series, click on and save this image as well as click here.

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These Times Call for a Prophetic Church – Rev. Kenneth Wheeler

In a truly stirring address to our reader one of the most august voices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Rev. Kenneth Wheeler, weighs in with a passionate reminder of how Jesus call for love and justice animated the very soul of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and by extension must continue to do so today. So on this day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, take in this reflection and ask God where you are to be sent!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student and Interim Editor


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Dr. King and Coretta Scott King being booked for arrest.

Edgar Hoover who was the Director of The F.B.I. during Dr. King’s life called him the most dangerous man in America. He said that because he believed although wrongly that Dr. King had Communist ties. But although Hoover was wrong about Dr. King having communist ties he was right in calling Dr. King dangerous.

He was dangerous because his message was a prophetic message that challenged a Nation’s assumptions about truth and power. Power that defined itself in the misguided notion of white supremacy that would violate and denigrate the personality and humanity of African-American people;

Many of our churches and our Pastors have lost the capacity to be dangerous because we have lost our prophetic voice and we have lost our prophetic voice because we have cleaned Jesus up and made him antiseptic and sterile so that the crosses we wear around our necks are just decoration.

In times like these we need for the church to recapture its reputation for being dangerous.

In times like these we need the church to be a drum major for Justice. In times like these we need a prophetic church – called by God to be God’s mouthpiece, called to declare “thus said the Lord.” Called to speak a Word and let the chips fall where they may, Called to march into the palace of the King and tell him, “Let Justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream” (Micah 5:24).

Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah were prophets who functioned in the 8th century BCE in Israel. They were speaking to a social and economic context very much like the times in which we live. There was a huge gap and a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The majority of wealth was concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite while the poor were scraping to get by. And most egregious was an unbridled greed and arrogance that made those in power callous to meting out justice fairly and evenly. And so when we read these words in Isaiah 58 we understand the basis for the harshness of the prophet. He says to them that God will not honor your worship because it is a sham. “You gather into your houses of worship and on your fast days you cover your head with ashes and sackcloth but you refuse to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free” (Isa. 58:4-6). Prophets don’t fleece their people.

Prophets aren’t governed by public opinion polls. By the nature of their call they will often create enemies especially those who are in seats of power. Their prophetic task will mean that they will find themselves alone and alienated from family and friends. Near the end of Dr. King’s life he found himself standing isolated and alone when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam.

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Dr. King marching against the war in Vietnam.

In 1967 Dr. King delivered perhaps one of the most important speeches of his life. Delivered at Riverside Church in New York, it was entitled “A Time to Break Silence.” – and it he made official his opposition to the Vietnam War and the reasons for his opposition. Dr. King was widely criticized for this speech from every corner, including those who had been very close to him during the Civil Rights movement. Some folk would call him a traitor because they saw this speech as an attack against President Lyndon Johnson, who had been deemed as a great friend to the Civil Rights Movement. Time Magazine called the speech demagogic slander, and The Washington Post went so far as to declare that Dr. King had diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people.

King’s opposition to the war was rooted first and foremost in his understanding of a faith that saw the sanctity of life all life. War and particularly the Vietnam War and we could add the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were and are fundamentally destructive to this divine principle. King saw faith as real and that is why he clung to the principle of non-violence. Non-violence was a practical and pragmatic way to live out the words of Micah 6: . “The Lord has shown us what is good and what does he require of us? But to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”

All of life he said was interwoven; inextricably bound. Justice was indivisible. Violence is fundamentally a threat not only to justice but to community. Our commitment must be to justice, to building communities that provide for fairness and economic health that reach across all communities for where justice reigns peace reigns.

Too many young men and women have lost their lives over insignificant things like some insignia that bears the name of some athlete on a shoe or a jersey that somebody wants and would be willing to kill for because we have come to a place in our culture where things have become more important than a human life.

Several years ago I preached on the Southside of Chicago, in a neighborhood of where a week prior a father was in a van changing the diaper of his six month old infant when someone pulled up who obviously knew the father and let out a barrage of bullets – five of them ripping through the body of that baby. Our associations have consequences. The people we hang with if they are dealing in unsavory things have consequences and sometimes the consequences are tragic and ugly.

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When I was a Pastor at Cross Lutheran in downtown Milwaukee, I remember the cold-blooded murder of a mother, gunned-down like a dog as her young teenage year old son watched and then cradled his mother in his arms as she lay dying. Her life was taken for the contents of her purse.

Every time I think about the concealed-carry law I have to wonder what were those lawmakers thinking not only when they proposed it but when they passed it.

Dr. King talked about the need for somebody to exercise common sense. In a climate where our urban centers night after night continue to experience horrific and devastating acts of violence why do we need to put more guns in circulation and risk putting more and more innocent people in harm’s way? More importantly, what does this law teach our children about how they should settle conflict?

Jesus reminds us that if we choose to live by the law of retribution, an eye for an eye the result is blindness.

We’ve become comfortable as a people with the makeshift memorials that dot too many places in our neighborhoods that mark the spot where another one of our children have become the victims of gun violence.

And much of the responsibility for the violence that we witness I believe must be borne by the policies of a nation that have historically disregarded the humanity and dignity of communities of people because their skin color was red, black, or brown.

The sin of racism has perverted our religion, our courts and our body politic. This is the first violence and it is the violence that we must work diligently to eradicate whenever we see it and wherever it raises its ugly head.

I have come to the conclusion and we all need to come to understand that poverty is more than about individual choices and circumstances. To see poverty in this way is to miss the forces and the policies that are made by people outside of the community that often impact the poor in ways that keep them poor.

Hospitals who choose to close their doors and leave a community already desperate for good health care that’s economic violence.

Factories that choose to shut down and move to another region in the country or to move out of the country because they would like to increase their profit margins by paying lower wages and fewer benefits to people who would just be happy to have a job – that’s economic violence.

We close schools in the most challenged communities, in communities that need quality education the most, and who could benefit from having the most creative, seasoned and compassionate educators and we build prisons – that’s violence to the nth degree and we ought to be up in arms about that trigger that somebody is also pulling every day.

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Dr. King  opposed this war on moral grounds, on religious grounds – as a matter of his own faith and how he understood the mission and ministry of Jesus but he would also make a powerful connection between the injustice of that war and any war for that matter that diverts valuable resources from the poorest of the poor in our own Nation.

In his own words: “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men in my own country, I have told them that guns and violence will not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked and rightly so, what about Vietnam [and for 2020 – Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran?] They asked if our own Nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today; my own government. For the sake of these young men, for the sake of my own government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

And we cannot be silent.

Ultimately, the violence that is happening in our own communities with our children killing each other means that there is a work for us to do. We cannot give up on our children. They need us more now than ever. They need for us to care. They need for us to believe in them, to love them, to inspire them to dream. But most of all they need to see in us who are their elders a consistency between the values and morality we preach and teach matching the lives we lead.

On a larger scale we must work to build a community that is filled with quality schools and we must work to ensure that these schools are filled with educators who believe that every child is capable of learning.

We must work tirelessly to put people in offices  who will pay attention to our communities and to those issues that will allow our neighborhoods to flourish and our people to succeed.

I AM CONVINCED THAT IF WE ARE TO STEM THE TIDE OF VIOLENCE IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS WE MUST BE COMMITTED TO THE DOING OF JUSTICE. Working to bring jobs into this city that will pay a fair and livable wage.

Because there is violence in poverty. This is the first violence. Long and protracted poverty that has become entrenched so deep that it settles into the bones is violence of the worst kind because it scars the soul. It kills one’s dreams.

When I have listened to some of the King tributes in recent years I hear a King that is unrecognizable to me. He has been turned into some kind of fairy tale figure and we end up trivializing his significance in the struggle for justice and human dignity. If his life is to have any real meaning for this age we’ve got to take him out of the monument that we have placed him in, chisel away at that rock until we touch the humanity of who he was-find the soul and the faith that allowed him to lead a movement that challenged a violent and brutal system that everyday made a conscious choice to denigrate a people and squash their personality because of the color of their skin.

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Equally, some of us have made Jesus so divine that we have made him untouchable. But that’s not the Jesus that I read about. My Bible tells me about a Jesus who went to the Temple and turned over tables and drove out those who were using religion to extort monies from the poorest members of the community. My Bible tells me about this same Jesus who came to his hometown and preached a message filled with the imagination of God:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has anointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. To set the burdened and the battered free and to announce: that this is God’s time to act.” (Luke 4:14-21)

This is the Jesus that King came to know. This was the work and faith of Jesus that inspired him. But this is the same Jesus that we confess as Lord and Savior. This Jesus the flesh and blood Jesus who ate with sinners, who touched lepers, who healed the sick, who fed the hungry masses, who experienced the disappointment of denial and betrayal by his friends, who so loved the world that he gave his life for that world that we might have life and that life abundant not just in the great bye and bye but abundant life on this side of the grave.

They did not march for naught. They did not march so that we could turn on each other like wild dogs, not able to see each other as the brothers and sisters we are.

They did not suffer the daily humiliation of being called out of their names, of being addressed as “boy,” or “girl,” when they were 40-50-60 and 70 years old by whites who believed that Black people were less than human and not worthy of being addressed by the title of Mr. or Mrs.  No! No! They did not suffer the kind of wounds so that we can humiliate and wound each other by using the “n-word” –   word that still carries with it a kind of vitriol and poison whose primary aim is to destroy and kill; They did not march, go to jail, bleed and die so that we could ever turn on each other and wreak havoc and leave a trail of fathers broken and mothers weeping not because their children have died for something important and noble but because we felt that somebody challenged our manhood ,or disrespected us with a glance or a stare that we took as a threat.

They did not march and struggle and suffer a daily humiliation by those who thought them less than human-not worthy of the freedom of a human being-the dignity of a human being.

We celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today but surely this day is more than just about one man or one man’s life. It is about many people, a movement that grew out of a clear view that people deserved to be treated with dignity and respect.

And when I think about this struggle it was a struggle rooted in love.

Love gives us courage to fight against what is unjust and dark and evil, but it also gives us the courage to fight for our own humanity as well as the humanity of others and finally it gives us courage to act on behalf of the community to build community-a community where there is justice and dignity and opportunities for every individual to reach their full potential. These are difficult days still. There are people still living under the burden of economic oppression. We are losing to many of our young black males to prison – which Professor Michelle Alexander is calling The New Jim Crow. Poverty in this community is a nightmare. People are suffering because justice is scarce. Drugs have become a scourge on our community wreaking havoc not just upon individual lives but upon families.

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God’s ears are attuned to us. He hears our every groan. He hears our every cry.

And he’s calling out with His burning question: Who will go for us? The fullness of the Godhead is united in the question and united in the vision. Who will go?

Isaiah answered ‘Here I am Lord!” Send me.”

May it be so with you and me!

Get your courage up

There are some people counting on you and me to make our faith more than just about words.

Amen.


wheelerBorn in Vicksburg, MS. 1952 raised in Jackson, the Rev. Kenneth Wheeler was educated in the Jackson Public School System. He received B.A. in Religion 1974 from Concordia College Moorhead, MN and his M.Div. 1982 Trinity Lutheran Seminary Columbus, Ohio – and was granted an Honorary Doctorate 2018 from Wartburg Seminary. During his rich ministry life he served 18 years as Assistant to the Bishop, Greater Milwaukee Synod (ELCA) as well as pastoring 16 congregations as a trained intentional interim. In his own words, “I have a passion for justice because I believe that Justice is a Gospel issue. I have been privileged to speak in a number of places across the country on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout my ministry and that continues even in retirement.” These days, he glories in time spent wonderful wife of 44 years, Cloria – along with their three adult sons and five grand-children. In retirement their enjoy travel, reading and spending precious time with his grand-kids.

Reflection on a Christmas Present – Rev. Ronald Bonner

Rev. Ronald Bonner – Associate Pastor for at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GAshares some wisdom about gifts, “the work of Christmas,” and Epiphany for us this week. Leaning beautifully on Howard Thurman – pastor, mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and mystic – Bonner reflects on the Magi, the terror of the Massacre of the Innocents, and what it means to see the Christ child as a gift. Read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor


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How was your Christmas, did you get what you wanted? Did you get surprised by the generosity of a loved one? Did you get the black truck or red Mercedes for Christmas? Did you visit Disneyland or some other vacation dream spot? Did you get to spend time with family and friends, did you get an unexpected phone call or Facebook post from a loved one? What did you get for Christmas that made you pause, give thanks to God, and say, “what a Christmas present.”

Yes, Christmas is the hap, hap, happiest time of the year.

But there is also work that must to do.

Howard Thurman, wrote a poem called the Work of Christmas .

In part, he states:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:”

No more actual words were spoken to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, the human co-caretaker of the savior of the world. Joseph, who after the angels had stopped singing and when the star in the blue-velvet night sky has faded. When the magi had come, informed Herod of the birth of the baby, left their gifts, and returned to their homes. The shepherds had returned to their flocks Joseph is warned in a dream to flee for Herod the king is sending troops to kill the baby, to destroy the gift of love, to kill the human manifestation of God’s love dwelling with humanity.

The arrogance of envy had summoned a well-trained militia with one purpose to kill the baby, and if you can’t find this one, then kill them all — what a Christmas Present.

 

How absurd it was to kill the babies in an attempt to stop the essence of God’s love amongst us. To paraphrase Voltaire, “those who can make people believe absurdities can get them to commit atrocities.” The murders of the innocents, the stench of death floods the air, and there is an unmistakable cry of anguish. The efforts of a loyal army of men who feel nothing of killing the innocent, the fruit of their efforts, created 1st-century strange-fruits. The cry of Ramah, the cry of Lucy, the cry of Geneva, the cry of many a mother that lost a loved one because of a culture’s fear to say no to power, but will say yes to wanton violence.

Because one believes a false narrative, an absurdity for it becomes a comfort zone, a place of rest for those, who care nothing of the truth, especially for their personal gain.

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Bishop Abraham Allende of Ohio shared the following post on Facebook regarding the commemoration regarding the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. The following is an excerpt from a Christmas Sermon by Martin Luther, translated by Roland H. Bainton:

“The slaughter by Herod of all the children of Bethlehem and the regions about was a piece of sheer barbarism, but no doubt not that Herod would find a plausible defense so that people would regard it, not as tyranny, but as a necessary severity…and let no one doubt that Herod could devise a good case for the slaughter of the innocents.

He could plausibly argue that it was better to bereave a few hundred fathers and mothers of their children than to ruin the whole land.

Thus Herod and his men took the sword and became frightful murders even though they put out such a persuasive defense that everyone thought they were keeping the peace.”

If one can get others to believe an absurdity, then one can get them to commit atrocities.

 

And so Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus awaken by an angel in a dream, begins his work of Christmas to flee and protect the Christ-Child and his mother.

And where do they go? To Egypt. So once again, there is a God sent Joseph in Egypt doing what God has called him to do. One Joseph is saving a people the second Joseph is saving the savior of all people.

Thus, what Thurman continues to state as the work of Christmas, to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace to siblings, to make music in the heart. But more importantly, it is what Christ calls us to do. To truly celebrate Christ, we must also serve Christ. The work of Christmas is to serve God by protecting the Christ message.

Yes, to protect he whom God shared with the world, he whom God would one day sacrifice for each of us upon an old wooden cross, the Christ who came to give us life, we are called to protect for that is the work of Christmas and beyond.

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Sure, we don’t have to flee to Egypt with an actual child. Still, in a metaphorical or symbolic sense, we have a responsibility to protect Christ to protect the essence of Love that God has placed in and around us.

We protect Christ:

when we feed the hungry,
make provisions for those who are homeless,
work to rehabilitate young people who have escaped from human trafficking,
help those who have unfair barriers to full employment or healthcare, when we work to create suicide prevention awareness,
when we demand peace
when we stand up to Herod and his death squads.

When we refuse to let our babies or the Christ-Child be killed to protect the arrogance and envy of the king. When we protect the planet and not allow human greed lead to the destruction of ½ billion living animals, countless trees, and insects needed for human existence.

Today, we who are believers should revisit our baptismal vows. Today, we have a chance to re-own them and live out those vows as we also renounce the powers of evil in this Christmas present. Let us remind ourselves how believers protected the Christ in us by keeping us safe by bringing us to church and raised us to believe in the power and love of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

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In a metaphoric sense, we gather as an Egypt, a place where Christ is nurtured protected and loved. A place from which Christ is called to go into all of the world. We, also, are invited to go out to be Christ to the world. We come to worship and feel God’s love, and like little bees, we are to take the pollen of Christ and spread it throughout the world. Like Joseph did Christmas 2,000 years ago, we are to do this Christmas Present.

So as the season of Epiphany unfolds this year, let us protect Christ by sharing the message of God’s love both in word and in deed.


CST PhotoRonald S. Bonner Sr. is the Associate Pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA for Community Engagement with responsibilities for evangelism, outreach, service, and advocacy. One of pastor Bonner’s favorite scriptures is Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” One of his favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt. “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience…we must do that which we think we cannot.”

Pregnancy, Mary and Me – Pastor Tara Lamont Eastman

Pastor Tara Lamont Eastman, of Tree of Life Evangelical Lutheran Church in upstate New York, has a humorous and life-filled reflection for us this week. Not to give everything away, but she waxes cleverly on body image, pregnancy, and humanity’s longing for new life. So in this first full week of Christmas, take a few minutes to revel in this smiling commentary on the incarnation and then comment and share, and Merry Christmas!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student and interim blog editor


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As a pastor, I spend a lot of time in hospitals and nursing homes. It has been common for me when visiting an elderly person – most often women; that after communion or prayer to ask if there is anything they would like to talk about and they say with wide smile and glimmering eyes, “Oh I see that you are expecting – when is the baby due?

While there is sweetness to this statement, the truth of the matter is that truly, “I am not pregnant.”

When this first happened to me, my ego and self-image took a deep dive. The defensive statements both internal and external bubble to the surface, “My children are grown!” or “Am I really that heavy?” and “Why do I keep being asked this question?”

Not too long ago, I was wrapping up a visit with an elderly woman and I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to talk about and she responded with a look of joy in her eyes…

“Dear, when is your baby arriving?” I tried my best to make a cool and calm response as I patted my stomach…” No baby, just some extra fluff here.” Thankfully the tension is broken by our simultaneous laughter.

But as I headed out of her room the self-critical inner dialogue started to reel in my mind, and then a thought outside of this negative space broke through. “Perhaps what she saw in you was hope of new life.”

What – new life – hope… and then I started to recall all the times that I’d been the recipient of the, “Are you pregnant?” question when doing visits in nursing homes. While in my humanness, I thought I was the recipient of critique of my physical state the spirit of their eyes and voices was: hope and a desire for new life.

Once I stepped out of my own way, I began to realize that what these elderly folks were longing for was a remembrance of their own young days, when instead of sitting alone in a quiet room, they were caring for their own little ones. Perhaps the reoccurring question of “Are you pregnant”, was their attempt to connect with new life and all the possibility it brings?

In the gospel of Luke, chapter one, the song of Mary responding to the conception of Jesus brings me to a space of hope, new life and unlimited possibilities.

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Mother of Life – Nellie Edwards (Mary depicted as Virgin of Guadelupe)

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

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If I imagine what Mary might have been thinking and feeling when she comes to understand her role in God’s story, I wonder if there was a moment of protest and disbelief to a refrain, “I’m not pregnant!”

I wonder what questions Mary faced when family and friends wanted to know the details of her personal life. I wonder how many rolled their eyes, when Mary said, “I have conceived by the Holy Spirit!” Somewhere between Mary’s song, the visits with my elderly ladies, and my body continuing to become the embodiment of the gospel; is the intersection of unexpected possibility and surprises of the Holy Spirit.

  • By the support and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, Mary sang a song, “Let it be with me”. She boldly lived into an uncertain future with serious personal and social risk.
  • By the support and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the elderly ladies I visit must see themselves in my presence and when asked, “What else do you want to talk about?” They tell me. They want to talk about babies, hope and new life.
  • By the support and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, I am provided the grace to ask the question of my parishioners, “What would you like to talk about?” Only to know that what they ask is about them – and not me.

In the season of Advent into Christmas, we have waited for Emmanuel, “God with us” to arrive. As we waited, prayed and anticipated the birth of Christ; I pray our eyes sparkle in anticipation, our hearts hold on to hope and our voices are bold enough to ask the question, “God, what new life are you birthing in me this Christmas?”

The world needs more hope, life and twinkling of eyes. So for hope’s sake – don’t be afraid of the questions. The questions bring new life and open doors to holy and wild possibilities.

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pastor tara

Pastor Eastman (she/her), currently serving as a pastor in the Upstate NY Synod, combines her love of ministry with her life-long love of writing, music and visual arts. She is a graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary’s Theological Education for Emerging Ministry Program and the Youth and Theology Certificate Program at Princeton Seminary. Highlights from 25 years of ministry include being the Artist-in-Residence and faculty or presenter at the 2013 Forums on Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary and the 2012 Inhabit Conference in Seattle, Washington. Her personal blog, Uphill Idealist, has been an ongoing source of expression of her theological and creative work for over ten years. She and her family call southwestern NY home – her husband Ian, her children Heather and Nigel, grandson Owen and her always peppy beagle mix, Aggie. For information please contact Tara at 716-969-3950 or taralamonteastman@gmail.com.

Our Mother in Heaven – Katya Lysander, Ph.D.

To begin the Christmas season, we have a brave reflection on Mary the mother of Jesus, written by lay leader, musician, and PhD in cognitive psychology Katya Lysander. And in the coming days, as we reflect and sing of the birth of Jesus, Dr. Lysander asks us a simple but provocative question that charges most every assumption people make about the faith head-on: “What if Mary is enough?”  Take a peek and – as always – read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student and interim blog editor

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Alaverdi Cathedral Fresco – Akhmeta, Georgia

She never succeeded in accepting the tyrannical god the nuns preached to her about; she preferred a more joyful, maternal, and compassionate god.

“That is the Most Holy Virgin Mary,” the nuns explained to her.

“She is God?”

“No, she is the Mother of God.”

“Yes, but who has the say in heaven, God or his Mama?”

– Isabel Allende, Eva Luna

I remember early on being bothered by the maleness woven into the Christian description of God, inextricable from it. If God existed before and beyond gender, why insist on “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer? Why, indeed, Lord at all? “Because that’s what happened,” I was told. “Because back then, people wouldn’t have listened to a woman.”

I suppose it’s fortunate that people (angels, an aggrieved fiancé) made an exception for Mary.

However, the church of my youth didn’t have much use for Mary except at Christmas, and even then, we were never quite sure what to do with her. How could we be? In a clean 1960s-era sanctuary deliberately stripped of all graven images or anything that might be construed as ornamentation, Mary seemed like an embarrassing reminder of the messy reality of the body — we were here for higher things. From where I stood, women appeared completely incidental to the faith – never sufficient, and rarely necessary. You could tell all the important parts of the story without mentioning women except as concessions to domestic life, and props for parables.

If you left the women out, no protestant would find fault with you.

Few would even notice what was missing. 

In the face of that erasure, I could have cobbled together a different disembodied creator God from scattered metaphors in scripture, a cosmic mother hen, a wise creator who is somehow less paternal. I could have been satisfied with the rhetorical sop that at least the Spirit (Sophia) is frequently conceptualized as feminine. I could (and do) change the words of that old familiar prayer, and instead say Our Mother in heaven, and hope the person standing next to me in the pew doesn’t notice.

But when I do, I’m not giving she/her pronouns to the metaphorical Parent of the real, incarnate Son. In case you’ve forgotten, there is already a mother in heaven. A mother who is revered in gaudily beautiful churches where art represents human bodies having human feelings and the omnipresent scent of melted beeswax confesses the joy of being in physical space. A mother who is fully embodied, who is as mystical and praiseworthy as any member of the Trinity.

A mother who feels fully spiritually sufficient in and of herself.

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Ukrainian icon

There’s precious little in the canon about Mary, compared to a lot of other people: fear and trembling with an angel (Luke 1:30), one magnificent monologue (Luke 1:46-55), the birth (Luke 2, Matthew 1:18-2:23), some plot points going to Egypt and back (Matthew 2:13-21), a little nagging about wine (John 2:1-11), and then the crucifixion and a well-deserved retirement. Yet despite this, she is a distinct center of spiritual gravity in the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

“Gravity” isn’t an accidental metaphor — you can’t consider the literal translation of Theotokos, “God-bearer,” without wondering about the weight of what she bore. How heavy was it on her heart, that the being she was co-creating with the Spirit would overturn the order of things more thoroughly than any flood or plague? 

However, you don’t get hundreds of apparitions, dozens of miraculous icons, shrines and springs and bodily assumption into heaven just for having a complicated pregnancy. As Christianity spread, pre-existing mother goddesses may have drawn Mary’s meaning towards them over time, expanding her importance beyond what is strictly given in the text. Any gravitational body will tend to be pulled towards others of sufficient mass — I admit to being drawn towards them myself.

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Japanese mosaic of Mary and Jesus – Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Perhaps devotion to Mary the Mother of God, Mary the God-Bearer, persists because we recognize on some level that God’s incarnate power must extend beyond a male body. Not merely for the irresistible allegory between the mystery of creation and the weird alchemy of childbearing, but because if God’s experience as a biological being was so important, then God needs more than one side of the story.

I know how it is to walk around in a body that is seen by some as existing more to house persons than to be a person, to be unable to deny its membership in the marked class, not man but something other. Perhaps it’s arrogant to want to be able to identify with an incarnate God like a character in a novel, to insist on representation to that level of specificity. Perhaps I should be grateful that God walked around in a body at all. There is neither Jew nor Greek, after all, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). 

For a while, I tried to make that be enough, but it’s not enough. I can’t justify being one more woman throwing herself and her power at the feet of one more man.

I know it’s not enough because it stings every time I run into the usual male God-language in worship (I go back every so often to check). Buffer it in enough poetry, ordain women to speak it, wash it down with some decent architecture and a little incense, and I can put up with it for a few weeks in a row. However, I leave each service knowing that’s not my home. It’s someone’s home, and we all deserve a spiritual home, but it’s not mine.

For myself, home is where all the seats of power and veneration are filled by women. If that disturbs you, you’re right to be disturbed – femininity is a powerful and un-tameable force, and women in power are still disconcerting. If my embrace of Mary the Mother (of) God seems a bridge too far, I’m willing to say I’m not strictly a Christian.

Jesus may be at the right hand of our bodiless Creator, but Mary forms the closest link between me and the incarnation, the meat of my experience here on earth.

If I admit that I’m more Marian than Christian, is that heresy or honesty? 

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I don’t think making Mary the center of my spiritual life is just a way to access some anthropological root of what is holy, or a way to restore cosmic balance after centuries of Lord and King and Father. I simply don’t think that the incarnation would have happened without Mary as a collaborator. An all-powerful God doesn’t ask permission to join two beings’ circulatory systems for 40 weeks just so they can walk among their creation — not unless it can’t happen without Mary’s say-so.

“Be it unto me according to your word…”

These days that phrase sounds less like permission to me, and more like that most womanly of things, a spell.

Words that have their own momentum to set mysterious processes in motion. Words that hand off your wishes and your will to something greater. Words of power.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

Blessed are you, Mary, first among authors, for you wrote the Word of God in your own blood.

Rejoice, most highly favored Lady. God is with(in) you.


45135931_2275407242688399_4867130710185476096_oKatya Lysander, PhD, is a layperson with a lot of opinions. She finished her doctorate in cognitive psychology at Northwestern University in 2018, and since then has been using her research skills as an in-house evaluator at Chicago House Social Service Agency.

Our Wait Is Not an Idle Wait – Rev. Kenneth Wheeler

Continuing our theme of What I am waiting for this Advent…” Rev. Kenneth Wheeler, sometime regular to We Talk. We Listen. gives us a special reminder of how “to wait” has very different meanings to very different people – and as a black man, the word “wait” carries the impossible wait of white indifference. So enjoy this last, precious reflection of the season, and we’ll be seeing you in Christmas. And of course, read, comment, and share.
Francisco Herrera – PhD student and Interim Editor

“Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.
They will spread their wings and soar like eagles; They will run and not get tired.”
Isaiah 40:31
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The prophet Isaiah is writing to a people who know the enigma of oppression and captivity. Their land has been invaded by the Babylonians, their Temple has been left in ruins and they have been carted off to the land of their captors. The darkness for them is real and now the prophet speaks this word about waiting.

I grew up in the Deep South when segregation was legal. Our movement and our freedom as Black People were restricted. White People in that moment who held all of the power presumed to speak for us-presumed to know us and to know what was best for us.

When our people stood up to demand our freedom, to assert our humanity we would often hear from those who held the seats of power…

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Wait.

The word became an ugly word to me because coming from the mouths of our oppressors to wait meant to slow up, to slow down and cool off. We are doing all we can to make things right they would say just be patient but being patient and waiting meant doing nothing and doing nothing was not an option.But the waiting that Isaiah speaks of in this text is not a sit on your hands, do nothing kind of waiting.

It is not an idle wait.

No!

This is a hope filled waiting because God is in the wait and God is active and acting in the wait. God is preparing to do a New thing. In the darkness a light shines and that light shines upon God’s people.

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Harriet (2019)

My wife and I saw the movie Harriet over the Thanksgiving Holiday. It is the story of Harriet Tubman, a woman born into slavery but who never accepted the narrative that her white slave master told about her or her People. She was a woman of deep faith, a strong faith. She believed that God talked to her and not just talked to her but directed her in her effort to free herself and to free her people from the terrible and cruel reality of slavery. She would say, “No human being was meant to own another human being.”

In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Moses and Jesus my trust and my faith are rooted in this God who hears our cry for deliverance, liberation and justice and who stands in solidarity with us in our thirst to be free and to live with the dignity that every person is meant to live with.

There are forces today just as there were in the time of Isaiah who claimed to have all of the power and who use that power to intimidate, humiliate and denigrate the personality of those that they deem less worthy and of little significance.

I wake some mornings feeling the weariness of these times from the daily assaults being waged against poor people, Immigrants and People of color. And when I am tempted to throw in the towel I hear the words of this prophet reminding us that God is the Creator of all that we can see.

He does not grow tired. He does not pause to catch his breath.
He energizes those who get tired.
For even young people get tired and drop out,
Young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.

I’m longing for a time when my sleep will not be interrupted by a nightmare of police violence that has happened to some young black male, not because he has broken the law but because his black skin has been weaponized.

I’m longing for some peace and reconciliation between the races before I leave this earth. And because my wait is a hope-filled wait I will continue to work for the kind of world that I’m longing for.

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In the Season of Hope, Promise and Possibility,

The Reverend Kenneth W.


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Born in Vicksburg, MS. 1952 raised in Jackson, the Rev. Kenneth Wheeler was educated in the Jackson Public School System. He received B.A. in Religion 1974 from Concordia College Moorhead, MN and his M.Div. 1982 Trinity Lutheran Seminary Columbus, Ohio – and was granted an Honorary Doctorate 2018 from Wartburg Seminary. During his rich ministry life he served 18 years as Assistant to the Bishop, Greater Milwaukee Synod (ELCA) as well as pastoring 16 congregations as a trained intentional interim. In his own words, “I have a passion for justice because I believe that Justice is a Gospel issue. I have been privileged to speak in a number of places across the country on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout my ministry and that continues even in retirement.” These days, he glories in time spent wonderful wife of 44 years, Cloria – along with their three adult sons and five grand-children. In retirement their enjoy travel, reading and spending precious time with his grand-kids.

Waiting for Snow – J. Pace Warfield-May

This week’s reflection on our Advent theme – “What I am waiting for this Advent” – is a deeply evocative post by Graduate Theological Union Ph. D. student, and queer Lutheran systematic theologian, J. Pace Warfield (they, them, theirs). And what are they waiting for? Snow. But it has less to do with the change of seasons and more to do with needing the kind of pause that only the earth can provide, pause that we desperately need. Read, comment, and share.

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


You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love,

              comely as Jerusalem,

              terrible as an army with banners.

Turn away your eyes from me,

              for they overwhelm me.

   – Song of Solomon 6:4-5

 

In time the snow will rise, in time the snow will rise.

In time the Lord will rise, in time the Lord will rise.

– Sufjan Stevens, “That was the Worst Christmas Ever!”

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I have not had a snow day in nearly five years.

Moving from the mid-Atlantic region of the country to Bay Area California came with much change but losing the continual four note basso continuo of seasons that had enveloped all I had known my entire life—with change and fiery leaves, yellow curtains of pollen and flurries of snow—was among the hardest. It is weird how much the background of seasons impacts your life until it is suddenly gone and replaced with two: dry and rainy. After four years in Berkeley I returned to Maryland where I write this. It has not snowed yet, not significantly, anyway, but I have heard whispers that this will be a snowy winter, and I could not be more excited.

There is a beauty to waking up from yet another night of restlessness, with harried plans and a to-do list chipping away at every conscious thought fresh on my mind, to look outside and see a world forced to be still. A world shrouded in white and blue, painted onto every tree and house and car by a thick brush. To-do list be damned; it has been replaced with powdered hot chocolate in novelty mugs, time with my beloveds under faded flannel blankets that have the fainted smell of dust and binge-watching favorite television shows and movies.

There is a beauty to seeing snow on snow. To the way the air seems to crackle and your breath clouds in front of you. To the sweat on your brow as you shovel the sidewalk and feel simultaneously frozen and overheated in your winter clothes. The way everything seems so still and quiet. The snow as beautiful as Tirzah, as comely as Jerusalem. There is beauty to everything being still, at rest.

And yet, there is terror that lurks within the banks of snow. Those without heat or home, those who still are forced to labor in treacherous conditions. Those who lose pay because their work is shut down. And there is terror in the way everything is seemingly at rest, at wait. To the way the world seems dead and cold to the touch, or worse, the stillness of a predator about to pounce. Winter comes beautiful and terrible as an army with many banners.

Winter comes in a swirl of snow and cold; stare into the blue eyes of Winter, do not look away from her piercing gaze as she chills your heart with her terrible beauty. Turn your eyes away from me, dear Winter, for they overwhelm me.

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I long for the quiet of snow days, for the rest and sabbath they bring to me. I long for the quietness of mind that I can have when I can finally just turn it off, even if only for a day. I long for the terrible, beautiful, serenity. Snow on snow, I am terrified of the quiet.

Snow on snow, I long for the quiet. I am waiting for a snow day.

I am waiting for rest. 

I’m tired of waiting.

I have slept six hours in three days. My hands shake as I pace circles in the living room, the carpet wearing thin under my heels. This is not the first time I have traced these lines into the floor. My mind does not stop moving, it does not slow down.  This is not the first time my mind runs a marathon dragging me behind it. My heart beats in my throat. I try to swallow it back into my chest but my mouth is too dry. I’m tired of waiting for sleep.

I want nothing more than to stop, but my legs carry me in epicycles as I pace in orbit around the couch, my mind in a state of panic. I have lived with anxiety as long as I remember; I have paced circles into many a floor. The older I get, the harder it is to live with. The older I get, the more tired I am.

Emotions are like a multicolored spectrum for me. As I sink deeper into anxiety and depression, the colors begin to fade until there are only shades of gray that remain. I seem to watch life happen to me but cannot muster any emotional response. I’m trapped in a black and white film, feeling disembodied as the action happens around me. I want to shout “enough” but to shout takes energy and I have none. I’m tired of waiting to feel something, anything, other than dread and exhaustion.

I’m tired of living in a world on the brink of ecological collapse. I’m tired of waiting for those with power to do something. I’m tired of waiting with fear and anticipation for the 2020 election. I’m tired of waiting for healthcare to be seen as a human right, not as a privilege for the wealthy. I’m tired of the constant fear and panic being a queer person (or any other minority) in 2019 brings.

I’m tired of waiting for resurrection and hope in a world that no longer seems possible. I’m tired of the promise of spring when we are in the midst of winter. I’m tired of being a flamed-faced child for an apocalypse on the verge of unfolding. I’m tired of waiting in advent when my soul is so ready for incarnation. For justice, for peace, for the world to come.

I am tired of the sword against our necks. When is it time to beat them into plowshares? 

Sleep finally comes. I wake up the next morning. No snow, no rest. Not yet. But the air is cold. The dread in my stomach has been replaced with sadness and with something else, a spark of something. Is it hope? Feeling something, anything, other than dread is a beautiful, terrible feeling. Turn your eyes away from me, for they overwhelm me.

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I step outside and feel the sun send warmth to my face. In time, the snow will rise. In time, I will get my snow day and my sacred rest. In time, justice will flow like rivers and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

In time, yes, the Lord will rise.

Until then, I wait. Overhead, the clouds begin to block the sun. The sky turns gray, making the landscape with the naked trees feel dead and barren. A piece of cloud falls from the sky, tumbling in the winter air. It falls onto my hand and lingers a moment before melting against my skin. Today is already better than yesterday. A second flurry, then a third.


pic2J. Pace Warfield-May (they/them/their) is a PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California and received their MA in systematic theology from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (now United Lutheran Seminary). They are studying systematic theology, with research interests in Martin Luther and the Reformation, queer theology, and deconstruction. Pace presently lives in the Baltimore-DC metropolitan area with their husband, Matt, and two dogs.