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

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

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


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Joseph Dines With His Brothers – Yoram Raanan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Click here to see the awesome video

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

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

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

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

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

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Owners of the Masterpiece Cakeshop walking with lawyer and supporters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

What I Learned from Vítor – Rev. Dr. Robert Saler

IMG_4512In our tributes to Vítor Westhelle we now turn to a moving and instructive reflection by one of his former students – the Rev. Dr. Robert Saler. In it, Prof. Saler shares his keen thoughts into Westhelle’s gifts as a teacher and theologian – namely, the fact that everything in human life contained rich material for talking about God – everything – though it could never give all the answers nor pose all the questions. It is a fitting homage to a great teacher, thinker, and human being and we hope that you read, comment, and share!

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


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In both sets of my oral doctoral exams, he began his long questions by quoting a poem, or a Borges short story, or a Sontag essay – all before ending with a question about Chalcedon or Luther or Schleiermacher.

At the time I thought this was an attempt to put me “at ease” – that is, to calm my nerves in the testing space. By that standard, it tended to have the opposite effect, since I sat at the man’s feet for ten years as a student and junior colleague and still could never predict to the end where his capacious mind might end a sentence once begun. Vítor himself identified Juan Luis Segundo and Paul Ricouer as the only two philosophers whose sentence ends he himself could never predict; even as he said that in class I mentally added “Westhelle” to my own list.

Given this supple unpredictability from this teacher, his mischievous forcing of my mind to switch between poetry and technical academic theology within the course of a single question was not, to put it mildly, calm-inducing for a nervous doctoral student.

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But I now realize that this pedagogical choice on his part was an embodiment of the core lesson he taught me: that theology touches everything, and that nothing that is humanly beautiful or interesting is theologically irrelevant.

In that precise sense, he WAS putting me “at ease” in the manner described in the text formed from the seminars which caused me to want to study with him as my Doktorvater, The Church Event. In that book, Vítor rendered “at ease” as a description of adjacency, an embodied movement of the church in and through various spaces of death and redemption so as to recognize and realize God’s resurrection work within them. The church “at ease” is a divinely gifted event that occurs adjacent to the house, the street, the halls of power, the homes of the abused, the altar, the pulpit. No space in which the forces of death and the weak persistence of life clash can be one that is not captivating to the church.

This being put “at ease” captures the two things that I learned from Vitor: to regard nothing humanly interesting as theologically irrelevant, and to regard theology less as a discipline and more as an inter-discipline.

So many scholars turn theology into a discipline imprisoned by conjunctions: theology AND literature, theology OF culture. Theology on that schema functions, not only with a pretense of itself as a hermetically sealed discourse, but as a kind of divinely instituted “solution” – one that, like chemical solutions, dissolves marks of particularity on whatever surface it touches. God-talk becomes the solution to human-talk, and in so doing dis-solves the pathos of human speech. It is methodological Docetism which the world rightly rejects as heretically boring. In his writing and teaching and proclamation, Vìtor brooked no such quarantines, no such pretensions.

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Theology the Westhelle way is not some Procrustean ur-discipline that simplifies, flattens, dissects, or “solves” the complexity of other discursive artifacts. Theology for him was porous, always already an inter-discipline that moves among people, spaces, and discourses to subvert pretension and to draw out insight.

Unsurprisingly, the core of this understanding of theology’s task is Christological. Because God in Christ became human, became the scandal, nothing human is a scandal to theology. Because nails pierced the flesh of God’s Messiah, theology need fear no contamination and God-talk needs no special insulation from raw human speech. Because resurrection appeared to women bearing embalming spices in obedience to a God who had died for them on Good Friday, no amount of doubt need threaten the possibility of a surprising gift.

While one can find plenty of instances of the effects of this incarnational porosity of discourse in his scholarship, it was in his person and life that it shone through with humbling clarity. To my occasional chagrin as one who wanted to soak in as much of his thoughts as possible, in most of his courses he insisted that students be the ones to present. This method too, though, was central to the theological point that he wanted to make and, I believe, to teach us: that beginning a conversation from a variety of angles, regardless of initial “relevance” to the text at hand, would soon yield insights that resonated in deeper ways with the core questions of meaning and hope to which the texts pointed.

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In other words, Vítor himself was the creator of adjacent spaces, spaces where God-talk could be put “at ease” and be hosted by other stories, other philosophies, other gritty construals of hope.

He was fond of quoting Derrida’s point that, while we often think that hosting a stranger or enemy is the most difficult task, to be hosted is even more difficult: we relinquish our turf, our safety, and enter into the space of the Other with the knowledge that to be saved is not the same as being safe.

For all his mastery of his space, his subject, his discipline, Vítor allowed himself and his theology to be hosted: by his students, by his critical interlocutors, by his friends.

Our faith, and indeed the hard-won and tentative hope that he taught us, allows us to believe that he is now being hosted by the God whom he refused to insult by making simple. What is left for those of us who consider ourselves his students and friends to do is to move “at ease” in a world screaming for justice, in celebrations held in terms no less joyful for being incomprehensible to many of us, in the camps of refugees, in the halls of unflinching inquiry.

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Resurrection Morning – James Martin

In churches and bars, in forsaken spaces to which we will bring spices, in uncertain spaces where we will rely on hosts whose grace we cannot earn. To be the church, neither militant nor triumphant, but adjacent to, among, and with the crosses that stand and the tombs that empty.


robtalkingRobert Saler is associate dean and Research Professor of Lutheran Studies at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN, where he also serves as Executive Director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence. His 2014 book, Between Magisterium and Marketplace, began as a doctoral dissertation under Vitor Westhelle’s supervision.

 

The True Quality of a Theologian of the Cross – Rev. Dr. José David Rodriguez

Dr Thomas Smiling bigIn continuing our tributes to Vítor Westhelle, fellow colleague José David Rodriguez now shares some of his impressions. Both coming from Latin America, both having begun their studies at LSTC together in 1978, Prof. Rodriguez takes a moment to reflect on what it means to be this most Lutheran of things, a theologian of the cross, and how Dr. Westhelle understood that better than most. Read, comment, and share.

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


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Vítor Westhelle (1952-2018)

On Sunday May 13th our Brazilian colleague at LSTC Vítor Westhelle joined my father and others in the company of the Church Triumphant. As Rev. Dr. Carmelo Santos, one of Vítor’s former students and now colleague wrote recently on his Facebook page, we thank Vítor for introducing us to …the liberating mystery of the cross and to the practice of the resurrection. Few theologians have witness to this enigmatic experience that we will all face sooner or later, with the rational clarity and persuasion as Vítor – as demonstrated throughout his many lectures, books and articles.  Still fewer have witnessed with their life to what Martin Luther described as the true quality of a theologian of the cross.

The secret lies in the liberating experience that the practice of the resurrection grants as an unmerited gift to those who willingly and faithfully engage the challenges and risks that come with living in the context of the cross.

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For Vítor, this witness of faith took place not only in his role of teacher and scholar, but also – and consistently – as husband, father, friend, and colleague.  As demonstrated by the testimony of his colleagues, friends, and family during Vítor’s excruciating struggle against cancer, his willingness to come to terms with this terminal condition with hope and endurance was a clear sign of his trust in the liberating mystery of the cross in the context of the power of the resurrection.  Now, as Carmelo Santos also claims, …we trust that Vítor rests in peace continuing his theological labors not like one who sees as a dim reflection in a mirror, but as one that sees face to face and knows as he is known.

My relationship with Vítor and his family has run the span of approximately forty years.  We began our advanced studies in theology at LSTC in 1978 where he came with Christiane from Brazil; I came with my family from Puerto Rico.  Throughout the years we became fellow students, close friends, compadres (I am the godfather of his son Carlos), lecturers at common international events, and since the early nineties, dear colleagues at LSTC.

While my professional experience has led me to incur more administrative labors than Vitor, both of us continued our education in other international institutions of higher learning that enriched our vocation as teaching theologians.  For Vítor it was the University of Tübingen in Germany; for me it was The University of the West Indies in Jamaica.  Both of us are also ministers of Word and Sacrament and have had significant experience in parish ministry as well as social and political endeavors.  Given the precipitous departure of Vítor from our midst, there will be a vacuum that no one among us will be able to fill.

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Bruder Klaus Field Chapel – Mechernich, Germany

The memorial service for Vítor celebrated at LSTC on May 17th brought together a great number of people whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the creative, scholarly, teaching, and pastoral labors of this extraordinary Latin American theologian.  While the full range of contributions of towering figures like Vítor may only be acknowledged with the passing of time, the celebration at LSTC broke down barriers of time and space by including viewers in different geographical locations joining in the memorial celebration. This event reminds us that the relevance of faith in our times, rather than effacing, continues to be a present force of empowerment in the face of today’s challenges with hope and resilience.

May God’s grace, which filters through the fissures of rising walls of doubt and seemingly insurmountable challenges, continue to strengthen our resolve in witnessing to the true quality of a theologian of the cross.    


rodriguezRodriguez received the bachelor of arts from Universidad de Puerto Rico in the area of Philosophy (with honors). He earned the master of divinity, master of theology and doctor of theology degrees at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Ordained in 1975, Rodriguez  has served congregations in Puerto Rico and Chicago, held visiting appointments at the Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico and the Comunidad Teologica de Mexico, and has been an adjunct faculty member at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Ill., and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Ill., before joining the Lutheran School of Theology faculty in 1985.

His service to the church includes membership on a number of boards, including the editorial boards of the Association for the Theological Education of Hispanics and the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology. He was co-chair and planner of the first meeting of Hispanic-Latina theologians and ethicists held at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT). From 1997 to 2001 he was coordinator of EATWOT’s U.S. Minorities Region.

Rodriguez has contributed articles and or book reviews to The LutheranCurrents in Theology and MissionApuntesJournal of Religion (University of Chicago), and Voces Luteranas. He is currently working on the planning, coordinating, and publishing of the Rev. Evaristo Falco-Esteves lecture series.

What We Are and Will Be – the Rev. Dr. Kathleen D. (Kadi) Billman, Sermon for the Memorial Service for Vítor Westhelle, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago May 17, 2018

Dr TA little over one week ago, my seminary community was deeply shaken by the death of esteemed and beloved faculty member, the Rev. Dr. Vitor Westhelle. As our community worked itself through this grief – precisely one week before this year’s seminary graduates would receive their diplomas and begin their calls – we gathered last Thursday to pay our respects, and to honor and celebrate Dr. Westhelle’s life. Vitor’s devoted friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Kadi Billman, was asked to preach the memorial’s sermon, and it was a poignant request. In addition demonstrating why one of her most well-appreciated classes is called “Caring for the Dying and Bereaved,” Dr. Billman herself has recently lost her own husband to the disease, giving all who heard her words that morning even greater weight. Using many of her late colleague’s own words, her sermon reminded those in attendance of the power of God’s promises, and how to ‘keep the faith’ in times of despair and loss. It was a truly kairos moment for our community and we are blessed that she has agreed to share the sermon here. Read, comment, and share.

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


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Rev. Dr. Vitor Westhelle (1952 – 2018)

Beloved, we are God’s children now. What we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: when the Messiah is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. – John 3:2.

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The first and last word in remembering the faithful life of Vítor Westhelle must be the opening sentence of this verse:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now.”

Now.

In all things, at all times—especially in times of suffering and grief. For that is what Vítor said over and over: God is especially to be found among the suffering ones, in the places God is most in danger of being unrecognized.

But the following sentence of the verse has been dwelling in my mind and heart these past days because it expresses something of the landscape families and communities so often must travel in the wake of a profound loss:

“What we will be has not yet been revealed.”  

So let’s dwell there as a starting place. When someone as beloved as Vítor has moved beyond our sight, sound, and touch—someone whose teaching and way of engaging the world has so profoundly shaped our life together—the world itself has changed, and what we will be has not yet been revealed.

When Vítor’s eldest son Carlos wrote of the many roles his father embodied well, he said that the “one thing that unified everything” his father ever did was that “he was a teacher to all of us.” Carlos wrote, “…even in his last hour he was the one comforting us and teaching us. As his three boys sat next to him talking about his last wishes we mentioned the majority choice about a particular topic but he paused and said, ‘I worry about the minority.’ Through the pain he was experiencing he still wanted to make sure we learned more and grew; an example of how amazing a father he was. Words cannot summarize or capture his impact, accomplishments, and his absence leaves a large hole.”

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Yes, his absence leaves a very large hole—a Grand Canyon in the heart and among us, I think. We ache over this canyon of loss for Vítor’s beloved family, for the faculties of LSTC and EST, for the students he was still trying to write to when his body could not keep pace with the hopes of his heart, for the global Lutheran and ecumenical theological communities. 

What we will be, in each unique community, has not yet been revealed.

And we also remember that these “large holes” of life—the places and spaces where people groan in travail as they await an as-yet unrevealed future —are precisely the spaces where Vítor Westhelle made his pastoral and theological home. Our last faculty meeting took place the day after Ascension Day, and we read some quintessentially Vítor Westhelle words from a sermon he preached a few years ago on the ascension of Christ. Not surprisingly, the title of the sermon was “The Glory Down Below.”  Listen for the cadences of Vítor’s voice:

“Well my friends, it is a matter of where are we looking at. So let us remember the first lesson that the followers of Jesus had to learn after Jesus left them. The very first lesson was not for them to know when Jesus would return. After all, he said he would be always with them to the end of the ages. How could they know that, when in his ascension they were gazing up into the skies? The question was one of the gaze.

 So let us learn the first lesson that the disciples had to learn when the master they loved was lifted away from them. There they were standing in utter bewilderment, gazing at the clouds on high, gaping at the skies, probably wondering about his last words that said it was not their business to know about the time reconciliation would happen.

Now that the master was gone from their sight they had to learn where to turn their vision to. Not when but where does Jesus return was the point. Where should the gaze be fixed at? Two men stood by the disciples when they were staring up heavenwards. And they told the followers that theirs was the wrong quest. “Why do you stand looking into heaven?”

This is what is called a rhetorical question.

Those who were asking for the time of Jesus’ return were now being told that Jesus’ continuing presence, his parousia, his being-there was not a question of when, but of where. The text of Acts that tells us that Jesus’ ascension is …the very same way he comes to us: it is always from down below. The narrative of Jesus’ ascension is only a story to tell us about his descent. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

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Ascension – Eddie Calz

It is from down below that he comes. Don’t look into heaven. It is from down below that glory emerges. Don’t gaze up, look down. Look down where life is broken, where creation is tortured, where nature is abused. Down there in the troubles of our days lies the glory as much as it once was found in the womb of a poor peasant maid of Galilee, or lying in a manger in the midst of dung, animals, and flies.

 Consider then the homeless old woman in the city street and know that Christ is there and that NATO’s whole air force in all its glory is not armored as she is. So, do consider the lilies of the field, but consider as well the pollution, the waste, and the violence against which the blossoming of the most simple flower is already a triumph that beats the odds and tells a story of ascension.”[1]

Vítor pointed to where we might look to encounter the Messiah among us; the where always seemed more important than the when. We do not have to wait until some designated “end time” to experience what “eschaton” means; it is a matter of where we are gazing.  And so I hear Vitor’s voice pointing to the double meaning in “What we will be has not yet been revealed”:

anxiety and faith,

lament and hope,

ending and beginning

a kind of “crossing over” that can happen in the depths where these dwell together on a threshold that disappears when we try to finally “fix” it and pin it down.

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to order, click here

In his book, Eschatology and Space, Vitor quotes a sentence from Luther’s commentary on the Magnificat, that “God dwells in the darkness of faith, where no light is,” and goes on to say:

 This darkness is the night that seizes us in the eschatological event that is at once a judgment and act of grace in breaking down our self-built defenses. And these are the two opposite and complementary sides of an eschatological event: lament and remembrance, condemnation and justification, grave and grace. The dividing line between these pairs, the threshold, cannot be defined, measured, or theoretically located. In the moment that is done, it is no longer there. It can only be lived through; experienced.[2]

It can only be lived through; experienced.”  Three days before he died, Vítor’s last message to his faculty colleague indicated that he was experiencing in his own body the mysteries to which his life’s work points:  “In the school of life,” he wrote, “the last lesson comes, of course, at the end. The last lesson is, of course, about life, its telos and goal, its closure and termination.  The content of this last class, I can tell you because I see from a privileged vantage point, concerns and executes the lesson in life that is most difficult to address: how to be receptive, how to receive a gift.”

 The lesson in life that is most difficult to address: how to be receptive, how to receive a gift.”  Carlos said that amid the pain of parting his father reminded them that he lives on through the memories of everyone he touched.  He said, “As we held his hands, he was surrounded by those he loved dearly. Just like the unifying power of water reaching across continents, his soul is now free, and will forever unite us all.”

How do we become receptive amid sorrow?  How do we receive a gift? 

Perhaps we already have been experiencing this mystery or faith and hope amid disorientation and sorrow as communities across continents have gathered this week to offer expressions of gratitude for all Vítor Westhelle has meant to us; to share stories and memories; to reconfigure his life and legacy…a practice that will continue after the service when we gather to share memories and stories at a meal that will be an extension of our Communion here, also holy, and on and on into the future as Vítor’s words and stories are remembered and repeated in other conversations and writings.

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Barbara Rossing recently related Mark’s story of transfiguration to our life together with Vítor:  “Now I see transfiguration all around… in the gift of what Vítor gave and received from his students: transfiguration as boundary-crossing, opening up a glimpse of the future already in the present…Transfiguration in the care we embody…in how we abide in love, the transfiguring force that holds us together.”

Vitor was fond of a quote from Søren Kierkegaard that “the work of love in remembering one who is dead is a work of the most unselfish love,” because it “eliminates every possibility of repayment,” and added that the reverse is also implied: “The gift the dead receive in remembrance is a pure gift, because it cannot be repaid. Thus these, gift and death, are the eschata par excellence.”[3]

How do we receive a gift? 

Following our friend and teacher, let’s start with remembrance—a gift we can offer Vítor, a gift that cannot be repaid.  Yet, when offered in community, in shared gratitude and grief, perhaps we will be met by the Messiah who is not yet fully revealed but whose presence may be palpably present when the dividing line between lament and hope is, in unforgettable moments, dissolved, and we get a small foretaste of the feast to come. And in the very center of our sorrow we may hear Vítor say:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now. What we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: when the Messiah is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

May it be so.


billmanRev. Dr. Kathleen Billman earned her B.A. degree from Muskingum College (now Muskingum University) and M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.  Following seminary graduation and ordination (Billman is an ordained elder in the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church), Billman served as the pastor of an urban congregation in Trenton, New Jersey for eight years before returning to Princeton to complete the Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees.  After joining the faculty at LSTC in 1992, within a few years Billman was named dean of the seminary (in 1999) the first woman to serve in that position.  She then served as LSTC’s dean and vice president of academic affairs through June 30, 2009, when she returned to full-time teaching. Currently, she the John H. Tietjen Professor of Pastoral Ministry: Pastoral Theology and Director of the Master of Divinity Program.

[1]From the website “Westhelle Turf,” Ascension sermon, “The Glory Down Below,” http://www.vitorw.com/?s=ascension

[2] Vítor Westhelle, Eschatology and Space: The Lost Dimension in Theology Past and Present (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), 137.

[3] Ibid, 104.

On Advent, Cancer, and Christmas – A Re-posting in Honor of the Rev. Dr. Vitor Westhelle

black and white dr thomasYesterday morning, LSTC Professor of Systematic Theology – the Rev. Dr. Vitor Westhelle – died after a battle with cancer.  In response to a previous blog post on the disease written by another one of my colleagues, Prof. Lea Schweitz, Dr. Westhelle generously accepted my invitation to have his own thoughts on actually living with cancer posted on Christmas Day last year. A reflection on patience and passivity before God, it is just as poignant now as it was then – and we have republished the entire post in homage to this great scholar and colleague. Please read, comment, and share.

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


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When the first result of the biopsy came, the doctor, knowing I was a professor, and suspecting that I did not know what stage IV meant (I did), looked at me, part concerned, part whimsical, and explained: “It is like an A+ grade.” I did not know how to react, except to say that I rarely give an A+ grade. But we are talking about cancer and it is less rare than my A+ grades.

I thank prof. Lea Schweitz for her inspiring, graceful and … grim advent meditation. And could it be otherwise? Proper! After all, advent is in the church year the opening but also the ending. It is the beginning of the church calendar that starts with an apocalyptic blow of the trumpet. The Messiah comes, the decisive moment is near, the ax is dangling over our heads, the judge will pronounce the verdict.

Indeed, an occasion to talk about cancer, this uninvited guest that some of our bodies host and announces loathsome tidings. And then just lingers on, feasting at the table of our flesh.

As Lea well noticed in her reflections, some of us are better hosts then others. The race and class divide swings the pendulum definitely to African-Americans, and the proletariat (remember this word to describe the working poor? … it will be back!). These have gold status as preferential hosts. And the divide is designed to keep on growing (at least that was the decision taken by the US Electoral College in November of 2016). Yet, no one is safe. Family history (DNA), cultural, acquired or nutritional habits, environmental conditions all help to qualify the host for the arrival of the, elegant as it is (to use Lea’s apt description), vile guest, who has no plan to move out. Life within life that is there as a suicidal bomber. Or, perhaps, the herald of a new stage in human evolution.

I was recently referred to a passage (thanks Carolyn!) of Ezekiel 20:49  in which the prophet complains to God that, in delivering the assigned message, the hearers sneered at him. Ezekiel protests: “Ah Lord God, they are saying of me, ‘Is he not a maker of allegories?’”

Yes, Ezekiel, own it. This is what we all are in communicating God’s message: shameful makers of allegories, and we can do no other.

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The famous chess match between Death and the Knight – Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

Without apology for my preference, one of the most remarkable movies I have seen in my life was the 1957 production of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The title comes from Revelation 8: 1 that tells about the half an hour silence in heaven upon the Lamb’s opening of the seventh seal. The movie’s director is a son of a Lutheran priest that worked as a chaplain in a sanatorium. Ingmar Bergman used to sign along his name after a production, à la Bach, S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria), but was at the same time a doubting Thomas. The movie is about God’s silence midst the tragedies of life.

Briefly this is the allegory. A knight comes back from an unsuccessful Crusade where he went searching for meaning in his life, but to no avail. Back, he lands in a plague-ridden Sweden of the 14th century, and is met by death personified. As a master chess player, he lures the Grim Reaper into a chess game, seeking to postpone his demise. In the midst of this game, which was already days long, and while traveling back home, the knight gets to a church and goes to the confessional where he shares with the attending monk his meaningless life and the struggle he is having with death. In confession he reveals that he has a strategy to win the game, not knowing that he was confessing to death itself, his adversary, impersonating a monk.

Death, the decisive enemy (1 Cor 15: 26) is very tricky indeed. It comes as life within life to win the match. In this allegory I, as a cancer patient, do not identify with the knight. The doctors that treat me are the knight in the story in a deadly match with cancer that they alone see. In the movie, only the knight sees the enemy, the others think that he is playing alone. The doctors have the strategy, the medicines, the trial drugs, the chemo, and radiation and not rarely are they deceived by smart cancer cells that are ahead of the game.

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The reason for bringing this movie into this account is to say that cancer patients do not identify with any of the players, but with the chessboard and the pieces that keep on falling in moves being made on either side. We are the neutral ground over which a battle for life or death is being fought. This allegory of the chess game with death, a classic medieval motif, is quite depressing when one identifies oneself with an inert component of it, a chess board with its pieces.  But it is realistic. It is not about the drama and search for a meaningful life. And it is not even about death and its stratagems either. It is about us, patients. Patients that do not have a scheduled release date, let alone the very idea of a release. Elusive remission, perhaps.

Except for some moments in which we are presented with an option for treatment (happens only at critical moments in which the physician will not take full responsibility, and one has to sign a pile of documents that exempt everyone of responsibility if things turn out bad), we as patients, are not subjects, just chessboards over which the game of life and death is being played.

The word “patient” itself tells the tale. It comes from the Greek pathos, undergoing suffering, describing an utterly passive condition. This estate of passivity is proper to convey our surrendering to God, but it is a disturbing thought when you know that, in dealing with physicians and oncologists, there is ultimately no other option but to trust them and their expertise.

And no one can doubt the advances in the treatment of cancer from which we may benefit, and they administer. But in fact, we are paradoxically closer than we think to the native healers of our lands before colonization, with the difference that, for the healers, the connection with the divine was explicit, now it is not, but equally real, and, maybe, for that reason, comforting.

But allegories and analogies carry us only that far. There are many other actors at play. Friends and family are there with us, and often suffer more with the prospect of our passing than we can ever truly appreciate. Nurses, technicians, and assistants that administer drugs, take and measure vital signs, and an array of other things that they do,  are angels of mercy. They also carry the weight of our pain as the metabolism in our bodies keeps changing, while they undergo mutation.

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However, today is Christmas.

The frightening time of advent’s apocalyptic expectations turns into a festive celebration, because God joins the human condition. Emmanuel, God with and in the world, meeting life precisely there were it is most fragile and abandoned. God is there as a fragile babe with and in the underside of the divide to be there with those who need. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Mark 2: 17). And this is not an allegory to describe a spiritual condition. It is the physician who takes upon herself the condition of those who need healing, soteria! This is what is meant by God taking our flesh, being incarnate: God’s got cancer. Or should we say “incancerated”?


westhelleDr. Westhelle (1952 – 2018) began his theological career as a journalist for the national church newspaper in São Leopoldo, RS, Brazil (1975-76). Ordained in 1988, he served for four years as parish pastor of a 13-point parish in Paróquia Evangélica de Matelândia, PR, Brazil. At that time he also was the Coordinator of the Ecumenical Commission on Land in Paraná where he was an enabler and a companion with those struggling for land and justice. In 1989 Westhelle was invited to be a member of the faculty of Escola Superior de Teologia, São Leopoldo as professor of systematic theology and ethics, where he continued until he joined the Lutheran School of Theology in 1993. He was visiting professor at the University of Natal, South Africa, and the University of Aarhus, Denmark.  He wrote widely on the theology of Luther, and on the themes of Liberation, Creation, the Apocalyptic and Eschatology. The cross-theme, in particular, theologia crucis, defined who Westhelle was as a theologian. A prolific writer and editor, with more than 130 scholarly publications, Westhelle was author or co-editor of nine books, as well as a highly-sought speaker throughout academic circles and the Church.

A Tribute to The Rev. Dr. James H. Cone – Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr.

Dr Thomas Smiling bigIt is impossible to over-estimate the impact that the writings of the Rev. Dr. James H. Cone had upon Black America – all the more so for those who entered the academy. My colleague of some years at LSTC, the Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, shares some of his own insights today – a reflection on not only what Cone meant to him in the 60s and 70s, but what Cone means to him today, and to the world. Read, comment, and share.

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


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Civil rights leader and clergyman Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (third from left) marches with other civil rights leaders in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. More than 200,000 activists took part in the march, which King described as “the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of the United States.”

The late 1960s were pivotal years in the life of this country and the world. 

There were rebellions in Watts, Newark, Detroit and other cities across the nation.  There was the Vietnam War.  The Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum as evidenced by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a year later the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Civil Rights activists were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi and peaceful demonstrators were viciously attacked as they attempted to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  The Black Power Movement and the voice of Malcolm X became prominent in northern urban centers.  Four young African American women were murdered along with the murders of Malcolm X, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy.  The 1960s was a time of racial upheaval in the country.

Black people were resisting, publicly, racism and racial prejudice in America.

The 1960s were signature years in my formation as an African American male, Christian, and Lutheran.  You see, I was the product of an integrated public educational system in Detroit.  My peers were Black and Jewish.  It appeared that we were “getting along” with each other.  Religiously, I was a member of an integrated church and predominantly white denomination.  Those educational and religious experiences led me to believe and accept the “goodness” of white people.  Galatians 3:28 was real to me.

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Then, the 1967 Detroit Rebellion (some people call it a ‘riot’) erupted.  That event focused the attention of many residents of Detroit and the nation on the ravages of white racism and its impact on Black people.  The reality of police brutality and the virulent racism practiced by the Detroit Police Department drove African Americans into the streets.  My world, protected by its middle-class orientation, was shaken.

In 1968 I began formal ministry at a small Lutheran congregation on the Eastside of Detroit.  Paired with a white male pastor, my responsibility was to build a youth ministry.  This was one response the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) made to the “urban crisis.”  The LCA felt that if it hired African Americans from the community they could help build connections with the community.  I was a member of a group of young Black people employed, as “my soul looks back” to borrow the title of The Rev. Dr. James H. Cone’s book My Soul Looks Back (Orbis Books, 1986), by the LCA to be a hedge between it and the Black community.

Then it happened.  Black Theology and Black Power (Harper & Row, 1969) hit the public.  I did not know much about Black Theology or the Black Religious Tradition.  Although I was christened in my mother’s church, St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Ashland, Kentucky the Black Religious Tradition was foreign to me.  And, if the truth be told, I knew very little about the history of Black people in the United States of America.  I knew about “safe” Black people like Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver! 

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Cone’s book, however, shook my liberal middle-class African American slumber.  I read that book with eagerness.  I got angry because Cone had disturbed my world.  How dare he say that white people and the white church were racist!  I experienced something different.  It was possible for Black people and white people to live together and get along, especially in the church.

By the time I got to seminary I expected African American history and Black theology to be incorporated into the curriculum.

Well, they weren’t included.

After a coffee hour conversation with one of Cone’s severest critiques on the faculty, who thought some of us were interested in “Blackenizing” the curriculum, I decided to incorporate Cone’s theology in the papers I wrote.  Two white male professors appeared to have some social conscience and readily accepted what I did.  This was my way of resisting racism and the exclusion of what African Americans thought about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the church.

After completing graduate studies in ethics, I joined the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC).  Two books written by Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (J. B. Lippincott Company, 1970) and God of the Oppressed (Seabury Press, Inc., 1975), which I bought and read in seminary, were pivotal in my theological journey.  Cone’s argument was convincing and based on the ministry I already engaged in, I knew to be true.

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A Lutheran parish confirmation class, ca. 1969.

White theology, more specifically white Lutheran theology, was not going to liberate oppressed Black people in the Lutheran church or in communities across the globe.  The voices of African Americans and African American Lutherans needed to be heard. 

Quite simply our understanding of God, Jesus, and what we are called to be and do was different.  The difference was our experience of being oppressed simply because we are black.  Liberation from white racism was important if Black people and Black Lutherans were going to be authentically free.

It was then that I determined to teach a course on the theology and ethics of James H. Cone.

My first course on Cone’s theology and ethics was quite an eye-opener.  There were five students, the course was in the evening, and there were no Lutheran seminarians in the course!  And, the course was only an elective course in Black Theology (students were free to take it or not).  Rather than succumb to anger, I turned to the organizer side of my ministry.  Since I had some freedom in what I taught and when I taught courses, I decided to offer only one course in ethics along with the urban ministry courses I taught.  And, I offered the Cone class during the day.  Attendance rose to where it was averaging between 15 and 20 mostly white Lutheran students.  I was determined that white students, whether they were Lutheran or members of other denominations, would be exposed and challenged by the thinking of Cone.

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I was committed to students wrestling with what Cone meant when he said white people had to become black.  I wanted students to struggle with the concept of Jesus Christ being black.

Over the last twenty plus years Cone’s central question, “What has the Gospel to do with oppressed Black people?” has remained as the foundation of all of the courses I have taught.  Cone, albeit at a distance, has served as a theological mentor for me.  His declarations that God is Black, Jesus is Black, and that white people have to become Black have become central declarations of mine.  Cone’s Black Theology of Liberation provided me with the language, concepts, and analysis of the sources of Black Theology contributed to my resisting white racism.  Cone’s thought challenged me to look for those who are oppressed in any way in all communities because I believe that is where the liberating action of God is taking place.

The most important contribution of Cone’s Black Theology of Liberation was the courage to resist white supremacy within the institutions I am placed.

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the Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone (2017)

Saturday, April 28, 2018, my colleague Dr. Linda Thomas, texted me that the Rev. Dr. James H. Cone had joined the ancestors.  I was shocked and saddened.  The theological world had just lost its most ardent voice of Black Liberation Theology.  I wanted to hear his voice so I searched for a lecture he may have recently given.  I found a lecture he gave at Yale Divinity School, “Black Theology and Black Power.”  In that lecture, Cone surveyed his works.  What caught my attention was his description of his theological works.  It was the first time I heard him describe them and the symbolism of the covers of the books.  But what really caught my attention was his passion and fire.  It was still there in that 2017 lecture!

He still had that central question which drove him to write his first book, Black Theology and Black Power.

Cone wrote in A Black Theology of Liberation, “The importance of the concept of the Black Christ is that it expresses the concreteness of Christ’s continued presence today” (219).  The concreteness of the Black Christ is evident wherever Black people are struggling for justice and human dignity.  Black people include African American women, men, our youth, and oppressed people in all cultures.  That is the legacy of Cone’s Black Liberation Theology I feel called to teach and to be taught by oppressed Black people today.  I am ever thankful for Cone’s courage and thinking about God from a Black Liberation perspective!

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Darkness and Sin – Solomon Raj

It is a legacy worthy of passing on with the assurance that the God of the Exodus is actively liberating the oppressed around the world.


perryThe Rev. Dr. Richard Perry received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Carthage College and his Master’s of Divinity degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. After his ordination in 1977, Perry served Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gary, Ind., for three years. His experience in urban and multi-cultural ministries was honed as director of inclusive ministries for the North Carolina Synod of the Lutheran Church in America, and as director for Black ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

He eventually returned to LSTC to pursue his PhD studies, eventually being made a professor in 1993.

In 1999, he co-chaired the International Planning Committee for the Conference of International Black Lutherans held in Wittenberg, Germany, where he presented the paper “Justification and Racial Justice.” He was also a presenter at the first consultation between African and African-American Lutheran Theologians in Harare, Zimbabwe; and chaired the working group on racism in the church and society at the Lutheran World Federation’s Seventh Assembly in Budapest, Hungary.

A published author, Perry contributed the chapter, “African American Lutheran Ethical Action,” to the book “The Promise of Lutheran Ethics” (Fortress Press 1998). His essay, “Justification by Grace and Its Social Implications,” was included in “Theology and the Black Experience” (Fortress 1988), and he co-authored with Albert Pero and Cheryl Stewart “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters…,” a Black cultural awareness resource published by Augsburg Fortress.