Not an ‘Isolated’ Incident – Emmanuel Noisette, MA student – Chicago Theological Seminary

Dr TFor our next reflection as part of Black History Month, Emmanuel Noisette – MA student at Chicago Theological Seminary – shares his personal story of how he come to understand the Movement for Black Lives, and how the murder of Michael Brown forever changed what he thought about himself and the realities of race in our country. I wonder if you might consider this piece a theological narrative about the life experience of a child of God, our neigbor, who we are called to love, and for whom we help seek justice. 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 want to make it very clear, that I am writing this article from the perspective of 33 year old, African American, cis male. Over the course of the past 2-3 years, I have to say that the racial tensions that have been continuously exposed in our society have only introduced a new level of anxiety I could never imagine.

I can remember this feeling begin to manifest when the story of Trayvon Martin starting making the national news. While I thought the story was indeed tragic, and the circumstances to be extremely suspect, I still isolated that situation in my mind. I didn’t think to myself “Well that could happen to me.”

Then the story of Mike Brown made headlines.

The story of this young man who allegedly fought with an officer causing him to lose his life. Again, the details seemed rather suspect, so despite feeling as though an injustice had occurred, I stored it away in my mind as another isolated incident. I even further tried to convince myself into thinking, “well that can’t happen to me…those were young boys probably acting immature or something.”.

Not too long after, the story of Eric Gardner started to trend with the hashtag #ICantBreathe. This story is where I started to pause for a moment and ask more questions. Why did 4 police officers have to be that aggressive with him? Why were they so forceful that they completely disregarded his plea to simply breathe? While I tried to compartmentalize this situation like the others, it became a bit more difficult to do.

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At this point, I almost started to feel bombarded with more cases of unharmed minorities being brutalized or killed by the police. I recall watching the news about Terrance Crutcher. It was at this point that the severity of these situations had hit me like a ton of bricks. Mr. Crutcher was pulled over by police officers who all pulled out their guns aiming at him. He had his hands up during the event to show he was unarmed. Police shot and killed Mr. Crutcher. Prior to shooting him, one of the police helicopter pilots was caught on the radio to say “He [Crutcher] looks like a bad dude.”

That’s when it hit me. From 3,000 feet high into the air, with nothing else to actually see except for the color of this man’s skin, Mr. Crutcher was perceived to be a “bad dude”.

As I said earlier, I’m a 33 year old African American male. More specifically, I’m 6’2, 250+ pounds. I probably look like a “bad dude” to other officers as well. That terrifies me. It scares the daylights out of me that I just so happen to fit some biased perception that officers may have that evoke fear within them. A fear that is so dangerous that it kills. A fear so diabolical that it also serves as a way to bypass actual justice for the slain, unarmed victims.

As probably any African American can recount, simply seeing a police officer in our rear view mirror would almost cause an anxiety attack. It doesn’t even matter if I know that I’m doing the speed limit, with my seat belt on, and classical music was playing in my car. If I even get pulled over by police office, I don’t even have the luxury to fear for my life. Instead, I’m fearing for the lives of my wife and children. I fear that if this officer is having a bad day, or if they’re on edge, then there’s a chance I won’t make it out alive. Given the example of Philando Castile, I don’t have as much confidence of living even if I were to fully comply! My fear is that my family won’t even get justice for my death. The police officer will get off, “fearing for their lives” and the case will be closed.

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My family will be left with pain and sorrow and injustice. Worst off, there would be nothing I could do about it because I’d be dead.

I suppose, the biggest issue I’ve had with this racial phenomena in our society is the reaction to all of this from White America. For almost every situation I’ve mentioned earlier, there was a large enough group of white Americans that were defending the unarmed killings, or ignoring them completely. This “white resistance” to racial equality was further compounded with the notion that minorities were keeping the nation divided by evoking racial issues. This sentiment was echoed even in the sports realm when Colin Kaepernick began to take a knee against police brutality.

Ultimately, if I have to be as open as can be, this has placed a major burden on my faith journey.

When I started my graduate seminary courses, I was gun-ho on Christian apologetics. I was excited to defend the faith at all costs from a philosophical perspective. I looked up to a number of popular [white] theology/philosophy professors who would defend Christianity against the toughest of opponents. Then reality struck when every single time a racial incident would occur, those professors would go MIA. I’m not discouraged per se, but more so disappointed. It’s disheartening when the object of your faith appears to not be interested in fighting in your corner. Nevertheless, I still continue to listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance and revelation.

Thus, I think as with any social issues of race, gender, or sexuality there is a pretty simple formula we can follow if we’re truly interested in bridging that social divide.

If you ever find yourself frustrated in a conversation or a topic, ask yourself if you’ve honestly followed these steps.

1)👂-Listen: Often times, we don’t take the time to even listen to what the other person or social group is saying because we’re just waiting to respond.

2) 🧠-Understand: If you don’t listen to what the person is saying, then you’ll never really understand what their issue or perspective may be.

3) ❤️-Empathize: If you don’t understand where they’re coming from, then you won’t be able to empathize with their position. Empathy is one of the most effective ways for us to break free of our own social privileges or ignorance.

4) 🗣️- Speak: Notice this step is close to the end. You don’t have to always agree with people. However, often times speaking before the previous steps may likely undermine the other person’s position, lead to misunderstandings, or keep you in a state of ignorance.

5) 🤝 – Relationship: Building a relationship with someone is probably one of the best ways to edify yourself and truly learn more about a perspective outside of your own. Having relationships are what humans probably do best. Not only that, but it sustains everything else previously mentioned for a longer period of time. No, sorry. That random (insert social group) friend at work doesn’t count.

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I truly believe that if these simple 5 steps are followed, a lot of progress can be made in our society. The key is to really focus on each step individually. Furthermore, you must only progress to the next step until you’ve mastered the current one. When in doubt use this formula and pass it down to others.

I’m more than positive the internal positivity it creates will be contagious to all.


71fc5587ebb55dc8aa142c66d05794a9.0Emmanuel Noisette (he/him/his) is a multi-year student at Chicago Theological Seminary in the Master of Arts program. Emmanuel’s primary focus is in ethics, philosophy, and theology. He’s a proud father of three beautiful daughters and is a loving husband. He currently works at the University of Chicago in the IT department. When he’s not at his full time job, he’s also a film critic. He’s got a significant following of over 40K fans on his Facebook Fan Page, and regularly produces video content on his YouTube Channel, E-man’s Movie Reviews.

 

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Conversion, Ash Wednesday and #BlackHistoryMonth – Karl Anliker, Candidate for Ordination (ELCA)

lt-ny-eve-march-2016As we approach Lent, M.Div. student at LSTC – Karl Anliker – has a powerful reflection/confession to share with our readers. Grounded in a personal story of his theological development, Anliker shares a vulnerable and passionate self-critique, as well as the steps by which he came to his conclusions. And as the church gets ready for a 6 week season of repentance, Anliker’s thoughts will make good company. 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.”


I was recently working on a project for a class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). The project involved depicting a group of highly intersectional people as saints using traditional Eurocentric Mosaic depictions of saints. Samples below.

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I entitled the project For All the Saints in the hopes that my faith tradition would be able to see these beautiful people as saints, beloved by God. Furthermore, I hoped I could awaken the hearts and minds of folks who share my European Lutheran heritage to a new imagining of saints.

During this #BlackHistoryMonth in the rhythm of the repentance and renewal, I discovered a story I would like to share. The story has functioned as an eye opening, soul stimulating piece of reflection as well as a corrective for the prevailing narratives of my own white, cis, hetero, able, male world.

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Mosaic from St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral by Sirio Tonelli. Image of Matthew Shepard is from Huffpost

Matthew Shepard is pictured in the image above. All of the people incorporated in the For All the Saints project were killed by acts of violence, fear, and hate. His murder played a pivotal role in awakening white communities, in particular, to the evils of homophobia. I learned his story in school and the horrors he experienced.

Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009. A quick google search reveals that this act is also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.

However, that is not the full name of the legislation.

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President Barack Obama greets Louvon Harris, left, Betty Byrd Boatner, right, both sisters of James Byrd, Jr., and Judy Shepard, center, mother of Matthew Shepard, following his remarks at a reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 28, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The full name of the legislation is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

James Byrd Jr.?

Who was he and why did I not know his name?

Why did the legislation not commonly include his name?

James Byrd Jr. was murdered by white supremacists in 1998. He was lynched by being drug behind a vehicle for miles. The three men, whom court proceedings revealed had deep connections to white supremacist groups, offered him a ride and he, weary from work and without his own transportation, accepted the invitation.

Erasing James Byrd Jr. and his family who advocated for the legislation only furthers the atrocities committed.

The For All the Saints project was sure to honor both men and their loss of life, seeking to honor their personhood and not engage in the details of their horrific death.

James Byrd Jr.

This is his name.

This is his face.

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Byrd Photo from face to face Africa.
Mosaic from St. Eudoxia, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Now and forever a Saint.

Hate Crimes prevention must begin and end honoring him and his family. I have to sit with his picture and the words from his family.

Byrd’s sister Betty said, “He (President Obama) had told him that one day my name is going to be all over the world and if he was here today I would say James Junior, we called him son, your name is all over the world.”[1]

Knowing that the loss his family faced is unimaginable, I cannot help but remain committed to what James Byrd Jr.’s sister proclaimed. His name must be known all over the world. In my church. In my family.

LSTC is in the midst of a curriculum focused on “public church.” Although I continue to explore what this might mean for my own exploration of call, I have to tell a different story. I have to disrupt the corruption of the white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchy by finding the story that is not told, or is not received.

My role in public church is amplification and correction with a constant awareness that my own voice will dominate and must be minimized.

Public Church is being, standing, listening.

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My call must include exploring how our images and depictions of the saints and icons in worship is not inclusive. I must engage with the story of James Byrd Jr. alongside the parable of the Good Samaritan to make it clear where I have failed to recognize my neighbor.

I must be careful to not overemphasize or erase the tragedy of theft and destruction women into the story of the African diaspora. I must honor beauty, rich cultural heritage and black excellence. Holding tragedy and beauty together.

I must be ready to hear that I have messed up.

Knowing that the narrative illuminated by Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas in Stand Your Ground is my own. When I’m corrected or challenged I stand my ground. I refuse to acknowledge my own participation in systems of death dealing evil. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas speaks of how the Trump presidency is standing its ground and attempting to erase the reality of the Obama presidency. I know that in my heart I also stand my ground erasing people of color from places and spaces.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me writes to his son and describes my story this way:

“But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed in prisons and ghettos.”[2]

Knowing my complicity in creating the deathbed for us all, I find myself approaching Ash Wednesday. Acknowledging mortality and the reality of death. I find myself in need of repentance, conversion and the kind of transformation only God can bring to my heart and community to bring about a world where he is known all over the world. James Byrd Jr., in life and death, a saint.

[1] http://www.ktre.com/story/15519578/james-byrd-jrs-family-speaks-out-as-his-killer-is-executed

[2] Coates, Ta-Nehisi Between the World and Me, 151.


head-shot1Karl Anliker (he/him/his) is a second-year student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the Master of Divinity program. Karl most recently served with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at All Peoples Church that Karl first proclaimed #BlackLivesMatter and his determination to resist white supremacy, more fully understand his privilege, and move white communities to real solidarity began. Karl lives with his wife Charlotte in Hyde Park, Chicago where they find joy in walking around the neighborhood and a sun room garden.

Eliminating Inhuman(e) Opponents – Rev. Dr. Zach Mills

Dr TTo start our journey into Black History Month, our first post is by race scholar and Forum for Theological Exploration Fellow, the Rev. Dr. Zach Mills. Both a reflection on Civil Rights hero Rev. Clay Evans and the current state of our country’s public discourse, Mills reminds us that the way to cease having inhuman(e) opponents is to stop treating opponents as if they are inhuman. Easier said than done? Maybe, but his thoughts are worth a peek – especially in times such as ours. 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.”


When our ways please the Almighty,
 YHWH brings even our enemies to the peace table.

Proverbs 16:7 (FET)

It’s strange, ironic really, that during this month devoted to celebrating justice, love, and peace many of us have been waking up thirsty to witness someone get “destroyed.”

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It’s not just me, right? It’s a real thing displayed daily in Facebook feeds and social media posts: “Watch this Republican destroy this Democrat’s view on gun reform” or “Watch this activist destroy this police department’s response to racial profiling” or “Watch this White House official destroy this liberal or conservative response to Trump’s tax bill.

It’s not just me, right? Social media has become a space of bullying and blugeoning, a cyber colosseum where desktop gladiators of different political leanings seek to eliminate their opponents weilding the most powerful weapon ever forged—words! I’m sure you’ve witnessed social media comment sections roar loudly as fanatical spectators cheered their heroes to victory and condemned villains to their doom. You might have even been one of the gladiators doing the destroying!

Tragically, ours is now a culture infected with a fanatical fascination with our opponents’ social media demise. We binge watch these virtual executions with little interest or empathy in veiwing the one being destroyed as human. On social media we see our opponents more like online avatars representing the values, worldviews, and inhumaneness we stand against. We see our opponents as liberal, or conservative, or Christian or non-Christian, or black or white, or rich or poor, Democrat or Republican—generalized abstractions, convenient stereotypes, inhuman symbols of the inhumane! But we fail spectacularly to see our opponents—those who share differnet beliefs or opinions—as flawed and fragile creations with insecurities, fears, and imperfections that resemble our own.

So during February when we remember black struggle and trumpet the beauty and possibility of black lives I can’t think of a more timely or appropriate message than this:

If we want to inspire the United States to be the best version of itself, then it’s time to start eliminating the inhuman(e) ways we’ve been engaging those with whom we disagree.

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Rev. Clay Evans (1925 – )

This was one of the most important lessons I learned from Chicago civil rights hero Rev. Clay Evans during the years I spent writing his biography, The Last Blues Preacher: Rev. Clay Evans, Black Lives, and the Faith that Woke the Nation.

Miraculous things can happen, Rev. Evans would often say, when opponents summon the humility to “rise above the isms” dividing them and find common ground.

If anyone can testify about the destructive isms dividing the United States it is Rev. Clay Evans. When Rev. Evans welcomed Martin Luther King, Jr. to Chicago in 1965 he faced striking opposition. Being held at gunpoint — by a minister! — and becoming a target for ward bosses and gangster politicians was just the beginning. There was the time when many black Baptist ministers turned on Rev. Evans after he licensed and ordained Rev. Consuella York, who is believed to be the first African American woman ordained in the Baptist tradition in Chicago.[1] During his time as senior pastor of Chicago’s Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, between 1950 and 2000, Rev. Clay Evans faced some of the most uncompromising, vicious, and racist opponents around.

However, through it all, Rev. Evans has sought diplomacy and respect with even his harshest opponents. As I listened to Rev. Evans’s story there were times when tales of his stubborn devotion to listen to his opponents actually frustrated me. How could he have been (and how can he still be!) so patient with such hostile adversaries?! Yet Rev. Evans persisted in his radical listening, counseling…

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“Reach up and above and across. There’s something I have to offer you. There’s something you have to offer me.”

Through the life and ministry of Rev. Clay Evans I have come to understand more clearly the power and possibility of radical listening. We can’t eliminate our opponents by engaging them in inhuman(e) ways. We don’t win allies by reciprocating toxic behavior. But we can begin to change a culture obsessed with destroying opponents through a stubborn devotion to more radical listening.

My experience interveiwing Rev. Evans for The Last Blues Preacher reminded me of my college days writing for Western Kentucky University’s school newspaper, The Herald. I wrote a weekly column called “What’s Your Story?” My job was to capture students’ unique talents, perspectives, and experiences. Each week I’d call a student from the campus phone book or I’d stop a student on campus and interview them for my column.

Usually, students were reluctant at first. “I don’t have a story,” they’d say. But after talking more they realized they did have a story to tell. As I listened, I realized how small my world was and how big it could and needed to become.

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Indeed, miraculous things can happen, especially among people with whom we disagree, when we listen to understand not to convert or evangelize. In a world where many of us are arguing, or just waiting for our turn to talk, we’re losing the ability, and the desire, to simply listen. I’ve never won an opponent to my side because I humiliated or outwitted them publicly. But a few have become allies after I listened to their stories and after they then listened to mine—after we had become more human to one another again.

On Facebook, between February and April, I’ll be posting short videos featuring people from all walks of life talking about their stories of struggle, faith, pain, healing, defeat, and success. I hope these stories challenge us to admit how our worlds can and should become bigger. And I hope they inspire us to find the courage and humility to actually listen to others—yes, especially to those whose beliefs differ from the ones we hold dear.

That’s the best way to eliminate inhuman(e) opponents: treating them with dignity, even as we voice why we disagree with and resist the beliefs they hold that we find destructive.

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Knowing our opponents more personally not as inhuman(e) cyber soundbites or computer-generated pixels. That’s the liberating way forward. I believe that way pleases God—radical listening through inconvenient and, at times, uncomfortable communion with diverse others!

[1] Paul Galloway, “Rev. Consuella York, 72: Jail Minister,” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1995, http://tinyurl.com/y7c6fzjq.


zachRev. Dr. Zach W. Mills studies race, religion, and rhetoric, and is the author of The Last Blues Preacher, a biography about Chicago civil rights hero Rev. Clay Evans scheduled for publication with Fortress Press May 1, 2018. An ordained Baptist minister, Mills earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Arts in Homiletics from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D in Rhetoric and Public Culture from Northwestern University. In 2017, Mills founded JabbrJaw, a consulting business that prepares clients to be effective communicators behind and beyond church pulpits. A primary issue his scholarship and ministry seeks to address is how to help people cultivate authentic and influential voices within unfamiliar – and even hostile – cultural landscapes. His work emphasizes the power of communication to help people find common ground amid social, cultural, and political differences. You can also follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To pre-order The Last Blues Preacher visit his website zmills.com.

 

 

 

From All Saints to All People and All Life – Rev. Jim Galuhn and Rev. Dr. Kadi Billman

thomas110_1027092Rev. Jim Galuhn, pastor of East Side United Methodist Church, teamed up with his wife, the Rev. Dr. Kadi Billman of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago – to pen this moving reflection. Pastor Jim has been bravely and publicly struggling with cancer for almost 15 monthsand in this reflection – written together with his wife Prof. Kadi – he stresses the importance the beauty and fragility of life, the love of Jesus, and the fact that God is ever with us, even more so when we are getting ready to go home to them. We at “We Talk. We Listen.” are very happy to have this wonderful post, and we commend it lovingly to everyone. So 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.”


 

To the saints at East Side United Methodist Church from Jim Galuhn, your brother in Christ:

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The members of East Side Methodist Church walking in a Labor Day Parade. The East Side community was devastated by the departure of the steel mills in the late 20th century – taking jobs, livelihoods, and employee pensions with them.

First, I want to thank you for your tremendous love and support you continue to show Kadi and all my family. Your faith and love inspire my desire to be with you all—strong and rejoicing in the wonderful gift of the life of faith, lived together as members of the body of Christ.

As some of you have learned already, some things have changed with me. Due to a blockage in my intestines, I’m not getting enough nutrition by normal eating to keep me going. So I’m being fed through an I.V. tube at night to give me strength.

This blockage could be due to my chemotherapy working to pull the cancer away from my intestines, leaving behind some scar tissue. That’s a good sign that chemo is working but it comes at a cost. The other possibility is that the cancer is folding around my intestines causing them to close off. If the intestines close to the bursting point, this would be a fatal event.  No one knows exactly what is occurring because the scans cannot reveal everything. I am having chemo now, in hopes that this will lessen the grip of the cancer. We continue to hope for this—please keep praying for this outcome with all the fervor and strength with which you have been praying for me all along.

I promised you at the beginning of my illness honesty about my condition and that’s all the news I can give you today.

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But I want to focus not on medical news, which is constantly changing, but on something that is not changing: the beauty and strength of our life of faith together.

I pray for healing of my physical body every day and encourage you to continue your prayers for healing—for me, for others, and for the world. Jesus bids us to ask for what we desire—to be completely honest with God about what we hope for, what we sometimes beg for, and to hold nothing back in our lives of prayer.

At the same, we recognize, especially on All Saints Day, that we are mortal.  We are vulnerable creatures.  We are vulnerable to illness, vulnerable to germs and toxins in the air and water, vulnerable to acts of cruelty and irresponsibility that may be committed by others, and vulnerable to grief. When we experience in our own flesh the vulnerability of our bodies and truly grasp the vulnerability of our planet and all living things, we may also be blessed to see how precious the gifts of our bodies are; how precious and fragile the gift of the earth is—of lakes and oceans, the air we breathe—we may be moved to turn away from all we do to hurt our own bodies, the way we do not protest loudly enough the damage being done to the earth, the way we hurt one another.

When we truly experience mortality and vulnerability we may turn toward what is truly life-giving: living lives of grateful thanks for our bodies, our loved ones, our beautiful and fragile earth, and seeking to care for all, especially the most vulnerable, with fierce and tender love.

We live in a world that tells us every day that whoever has the most toys wins. We live in a world that tells us that if we buy the best products and do the right things that we will not age.  We live in a world that tells us that those who are poor, are refugees, or who have no homes, have somehow brought this all upon themselves, and that we should protect ourselves by shutting them out of our nation and communities.

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We live in a world where we are told that, for the sake of economic gain, businesses can keep pouring carbon dioxide into the air without endangering the lives of all living creatures. And, God help us, we live in a world where some preach that people who experience illness and are not physically healed haven’t prayed or believed hard enough.  In short, we live with the constant message that we are not mortal.  And if we buy into that message we can do immeasurable harm to ourselves and others.

Today we say, “Blessed are those who hunger, who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who experience persecution when they stand up for righteousness and justice” not because we want to suffer but because Jesus is saying that God is to be found among the poor, the hungry, those who grieve and sorrow, working to bring hope and newness and strength precisely in the midst of our mortal lives.  Blessedness is to be found in recognizing and honoring our mortality and vulnerability, not in denying it.

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The Last Supper – part of a series depicting the life of Jesus from the perspective of the Mafa people in Cameroun.

We gather around the table today to remember that on the night in which he was betrayed and began his ordeal of physical suffering, Jesus initiated actions that continue to shape our life together.  In some Gospel accounts, Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering would pass from him, reminding us all again that we share with God in prayer what we most hope for—to hold nothing back.  He also said, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

There are a lot of ways to understand what Jesus was saying about God’s will.  Here’s how I think about it today.  If my intestines burst, I do not believe that God is willing me to die in this particular way.  I believe, rather, that it is God’s will is that I understand that I am mortal, and that my mortal life is held in God’s grace and mercy and in the ongoing story of what God is doing at East Side United Methodist Church and all the other places I have sought to live a life of faith, with all my gifts and limitations, my contributions and mistakes.  I understand that God’s will is that we embrace our precious, mortal lives—the moments that are miracles of grace and healing and the moments of limitation and even dying—as part of the larger story of God’s purposes in the world, and in the imperfect ways we all do this, to take part in what God is doing in the world; to be, as the apostle Paul put it, stewards of the mysteries of God’s grace.

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Pastor Galuhn celebrating his birthday with the community of East Side United Methodist Church. Over 150 people attended the celebration.

What I want you to most remember today, as you come to the table, is that in the hour before his suffering began, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and shared it, binding his disciples to him and one another. “This is my body, given for you.” And in that moment he knit together a body—the body of Christ—that continues to this day and includes all who have gone before.

We gather in the presence of Christ, remembering the light and influence of those we love who have died, giving thanks for their lives and affirming that we are all part of one body that has gone on before us and will continue when we have completed our mortal lives and offered them, in faith, to God’s eternal care.  I am so thankful that such a significant part of my life has been lived with the body of Christ at East Side United Methodist Church.

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The members of the East Side UMC praise band, Illumination, at a special showing of an all African American Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, along with members of the production’s cast. Pastor Jim’s wife, the Rev. Dr. Kadi Billman, and their son Adam are standing to the far right of the picture. Galuhn is behind everyone, right of center.

When [my wife] Kadi brings me a taste of consecrated bread and I dip it in the cup, I will receive it with thanks for you, and for the love that holds us, in life and death, and remember the promise that God promises to guide us to springs of living water and wipe every tear from our eyes. 

Amen.

ct-pastor-jim-cancer-huppke-20170728Pastor Jim Galuhn first came to the Chicago-land area in the early 90’s, taking his first call at Grace UMC in Blue Island. He eventually became pastor at Trinity UMC in Lindenhurst – where he was even the coach for the Lake’s Eagles footbal team from Lakes Community High School. His last call has been at East Side UMC in the East Side neighborhood of Chicago, close to the Illinois-Indiana border.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed on Martin Luther King, Jr. – Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Trinity United Church of Christ

Dr TAs we leave January, going from the month where we celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into Black History Month, we have a special reflection on Dr. King’s legacy penned by one of Chicago’s own. The Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, closes out this month’s series of blog posts, he leaves us with a crystal clear reminder: Do not de-radicalize King. This message has special significance today, the day of President Donald Trumps first State of the Union Address. The impact that Dr. King had on this country as a justice seeker and a Christian are undeniable, but if we today merely raise hossanahs to King’s name without the same courageous commitment to fighting all social ills, we are merely loud gongs and clanging symbols – especially if we do so despite the obvious presence of evil in our midst. 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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Once   again,   as   a   nation,   we   stand   on   the   precipice   of   contradiction   and   conflict.      

This month, across the   nation,   in   various   communities,   and   across   the   City   of   Chicago,  organizations   attempted   to   celebrate   the   legacy   of   Dr.   Martin   Luther   King, Jr.,   and    the   freedom   struggle,   called   by   some,   the   Civil   Rights   Movement.     I use   the   term    “attempted”   because   most   celebrations   will   deradicalize   Dr.   King, into   a   feel-­good    rhetorical   eunuch   who   offers   no   challenge   to   America’s  open   wound   of   racial    animus   and   the   brutality   of poverty.  Dr.   King’s name   will   flow   from   the   lips   of   infantile   political   pundits,   who   offer   horrific myths  about   “manure-­‐holes”   and   ethnicity   while   simultaneously   uttering    the   name  of   a   genuine   prophet   and   morally   courageous   revolutionary   named,  Martin   Luther,   Jr.,   who   was   birthed   into   a nation   that   negated   his personhood.

In   this   moment   where   civic   and political   decency   have   been   recaptured   by  Confederate   ghosts   who   haunt   the words   of   the   president   of   the   United States, we    need   to   salvage   the   true legacy   of   Dr.   Martin   Luther   King,   Jr.,   the power  of   Fannie    Lou   Hamer   and the   brilliance   of   Bayard   Rustin.     The   truth   of   the  legacy,   and   the    impact   of the   above   individuals,   is   the   fact   that King,   Hamer,  and   Rustin   sought   to  disrupt   the   political   and   economic   structure   of   America,  based   on   a   moral vision    drawn   from   the   Abrahamic   tradition,   and   connected  to   the   spiritual work   of   the    anti-­‐colonialism   movement   of   India,   led   by   Mohandas   K. Gandhi.  

Dr.   King,   a   Baptist   preacher,   raised   in   the   Black   theological   tradition   of   resistance,    service,   and   commitment,   set   the   tone   —   nationally   —   for   Black   Southern   resistance    to   disable   vulgar   forms   of   blatant   acts   of   White supremacy.

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Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)

Fannie   Lou   Hamer,   a    former   sharecropper-­‐turned-­‐activist,   and non-­‐traditional   teacher,   came   from   the    same   theological   tradition   as   Martin Luther   King,   Jr.,   but   was   raised   in   the   web   of    poverty   and   sexism;   plus the  frigid   actions   of   racism   in   Mississippi.     Hamer   became    the   guiding   light   for merging   faith,   gender,   and   class   as   an   intersection.

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Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Bayard   Rustin,   who   was   Quaker,   gay,   and   a   believer   in   the   power   of   people organizing   for   change,   became   the   organizing   mentor   and   teacher   for   Dr. King   and    Fannie   Lou   Hamer   throughout   the   movement.     Each   person,   Black and   faithful,   yet    raised   in   different   circumstances   dared   to   offer   a   vision,  not   of   “making   this   country    great   again,”   but   stating,   without   equivocation:

“America   cannot   be   a   city   on   the   hill    without   treating   those   who   have been scarred   by   this   nation’s   racial   glaucoma   with    dignity   and   offering   a   new economic   and   social   vision   for   the   democratic   experiment    we   call America.”

The   rhetoric   of   Donald   Trump   demonstrates   a   deep   moral   fracture   and   flaw   in   our    nation.     The   language   of   privilege   and   undergirding   tone   of   dismissal floats   in   the   air    of   civic   conversation.     In   times   such   as   this,   we   need   not celebration   and    commemoration   of   men   and   women   who   lived   valiantly,   but we   need   to   be    disturbed   and   re-­‐energized;   not   by   the   “safe”   King,   created by   certain   persons   to    tone   down   his   radical   legacy,   but   we   need   the   radical King,   the   radical,   Hamer,   and    the   radical   Rustin.     We   do   not   need   simple slogans,   but   we   must   arm   ourselves    moral   courage,   outrage,   and   a   vision for a   nation   where   the   debilitating   effects   of    poverty,   racial   hierarchy,   and gender   marginalization   are   actively   banished   from    public   policy   and   political discourse.

I   am   not   interested   in   singing   songs   or   stating   what   “we   used   to   do.”

I   am   interested    in   fighting   and   drawing   strength   and   lessons   from   the   ancestors   of   our   struggle   and    planning   a   better   future   for   my   children.

As we celebrate King this month,   I   hope   you   will   do   more   than   remember, but join   the   fight   to   resist   policies   that   dehumanize   those   who   are   incarcerated, and    incarcerate   families   of   the   incarcerated.          Resist   words   dipped   in   fear, designed   to   demonize   “dreamers;”   brilliant   children raised in this country brought to America by parents looking for a better life.

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Resist   economic   policies   designed   to   cripple   the   poor   and   further   enrich   the  wealthy.

Resist   alleged   “bar   stool   talk,”   that   is   nothing   more   than   vile speech,   anointed by   the    racist   demons   of   this   world.        

We   need   the   legacy of   King,   the   power   of   Hamer,   the   brilliance   of   Rustin,   and   most   of  all, in the city of Chicago, we need you.

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100-Most-Powerful-029-Otis-Moss-IIIA native of Cleveland, Ohio, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is an honors graduate of Morehouse College who earned a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary. A product of being invited to give Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale in 2014, his very popular book, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair, has become a staple among many Christian preachers in recent years – demonstrating a homiletic blueprint for prophetic preaching in the 21st century. Currently, he is the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, and he is happily married to his college sweetheart, the former Monica Brown of Orlando, Florida, a Spelman College and Columbia University graduate. They are the proud parents of two creative and humorous children, Elijah Wynton and Makayla Elon.

The Joy of Diversity – Rev. Dr. William C. Nelsen

Though it is known by all that intolerance has violently blossomed in the US in the last year, the increase of powerful, new and inspiring movements for solidarity has provided a potent tonic against it, with new community arising as a result. Emphasizing this progress is just as important as pushing-back against bigotry, says today’s author – ELCA pastor and interim president of Episcopal Divinity School Rev. Dr. WIlliam C. Nelsen – a powerful reminder as we prepare for what may come in the next year. 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.”

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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As most of our family gathered around the Christmas dinner table to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our conversation at one point turned to the sense of both diversity and oneness evident in our group.  Our family includes Caucasians with DNA roots stretching from Scandinavia to Southern Europe, African American and multi-racial grandchildren, and a Jewish daughter-in-law.  And yet we are one family.  And we rejoice in our diversity, not out of a sense of pride, but out of a deep feeling that this is the way the world should be.

I can recall other times when diversity produced a special sense of inner joy.  In the spring of 1965 in the Civil Rights Battles in Alabama, I had the great privilege of serving side by side with people of other races and religions.  We faced danger together, but we also found great joy in holding hands and singing together the lively songs of the movement.  Several years ago, my wife, Margie, and I went with other members of the two rural ELCA churches we were serving in Southern Minnesota on a special trip to visit designated partner churches in our companion synod in South Africa.  We found great joy in joining together with Black South African Zulu Lutherans in their lively, song-filled, spirit-led worship services.

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International students at Episcopal Divinity School.

For the past two years I have served as the Interim President of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA (that recently formed a unique affiliation agreement with Union Theological Seminary in New York City).  My wife and I recently hosted a number of our students in our home on the campus.  The group included students from Japan, India, Malaysia, and China, along with African Americans and others.

We shared a variety of life experiences out of our different cultural settings, but we also experienced our “oneness in the Lord.”

The Bible often speaks of joy as an outcome of God’s purposes for us on this earth.  In the midst of Jesus’ final Last Supper instructions to his disciples, with his new commandment to love one another and his wish that his people might “all be one,” Jesus states that he is giving all these instructions so that our “joy might be complete.” (John 15:11) The Apostle Paul in Romans 14:17 proclaims that the kingdom of God is “righteousness and peace and joy.”

I believe that too often we use ineffective approaches to seek to bring about greater oneness in our nation and our world.  Yes, we must continue to speak about the wrongness of discrimination and hateful actions and words.  But when we encounter people who are less welcoming of those who differ from themselves, we must also point to the positive visions of living amongst diversity.

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Many people fear diversity, because they haven’t experienced it, and they generate narrow, false impressions of people different from themselves.  Many people also begin with negative feelings about themselves and then seek to build themselves up by putting others down.

Just a few months ago we celebrated 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Some critical reminders of theological understandings from Martin Luther and others can point the way to new approaches for us today.  We can start by reminding each person of the promises and fruits of baptism. Each human being is a special child of God, and there is consequently  no need to debase someone else to build up one’s self-image.  And as Luther described the “Joyous Exchange,” Jesus has replaced our sins and guilt with the gift of righteousness.   This new freedom allows us to love and serve others, including those who are strangers to us or differ from us in a variety of ways, with a profound sense of joy.

The Reformation also brought outreach and new thinking to millions of people.  Too often we preach and teach mainly to ourselves instead to those who need to hear about God’s hopes for oneness.  And the Reformation calls for churches to keep reforming themselves, including finding ways for all their members to experience diversity and to overcome their fears. I shall never forget how the lives of our church members from rural Minnesota were impacted by worshipping with our Zulu brothers and sisters in South Africa.  Their outlook and attitudes toward other “neighbors” near and far will never be the same.

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Clergy marching against white supremecists in Charlotesville, VA in August.

Indeed, in our conversations about diversity, let us not neglect to point to the joyful outcome that God wants us all to experience.


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Rev. Dr. William C. Nelsen is an ELCA pastor, former academic dean of St. Olaf College, president of Augustana University (SD), University Minister of Midland University, his alma mater, and currently serves as Interim President of Episcopal Divinity School.

I Will Not Be Silent – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas

fontThe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is being remembered today – on this, the national holiday that bears his name – and among his many gifts that I hope to lift up today, that of ‘truth-teller’ is one of the big ones. In a day when thirty-year-old men stalking teenage girls isn’t sexual abuse, where racism isn’t racism, and where a sitting president of the United States makes an average of 5.6 “false statements” a day, it would do us well to remember the power of telling the truth – of standing up when others want to silence you. These are the thoughts I share with you, our readers, this week – and I hope they give you some comfort and fire in these days of ours. 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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Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven gives a dramatic description of a dreamer—

Deep into the darkness peering, long

I stood there, wondering, fearing

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal

Dared to dream before.

         Mortals we are, and dreamers we are encouraged to be; but to what end?  Hear a story about a dreamer from Genesis 37:

Now Joseph had a dream…. [He said to his brothers] behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”  His brothers said t him, “Are you indeed to reign over us?  Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?  So they hated him yet more for his dreams and his words….

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.  And his father said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them…Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring me word again…So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them…They saw him afar off, …They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us him.

The writer of Genesis beautifully describes the relationship between Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph is destined to play a special role in God’s history.  When he shares his dream with his brothers, they are outraged and he is condemned.  Mortals we are, and dreamers we are encouraged to be, but to what end?

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The prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures were sometimes dreamers. Indeed, they were also proclaimers of God’s word and truth.  It is a rare moment when forces in history press together causing a person who is both dreamer of diving dreams and proclaimer of divine truth to emerge as leader. Such persons are of a holy substance; we call them “persons of all seasons.” I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was such a person—He was a “person of his time” who spoke to the immediate issues of the 1960s and a “person for all seasons” who spoke in such a way that his words ring true today and will continue to ring true in the future because he taught us about human relationships, and God’s love. He taught us about humanity’s death wish and our desire to pursue war-making instead of peace-making.

Both of today’s scripture lessons provide a launching pad for reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In Isaiah 62 the prophet proclaims boldly the coming day of Zion, which will be signaled by Zion receiving a new name.  The prophet declares, “I will not keep silent; I will not rest” until that day comes.  “I will not keep silent,” the prophet cries out “until Zion is given a new name—a name that will reveal that a transformation has taken place between god and the people of Zion. Until a spirit of wholeness—shalom is with the people.” Zion will no longer be called Forsaken and the land no longer called Desolate.  The prophet declares God shall name you, and you will be called: “My delight is in her”; you, O Zion shall be called, “the Lord delights in you.”  God shall rejoice over you.  “I will not be silent,” says the prophet “until the salvation of Zion is at hand.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. like Isaiah of long ago cried out, “I will not be silent.”  Born the grandson of a sharecropper and the son of a pastor who lived in America’s south, Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up under the Jim Crow system (the separation of races).  He thought that he would like to be a lawyer when he grew up in order to help change the south’s unjust laws.  However, he changed his mind when he went away to Morehouse College, and met two ministers who showed him that ministry could and should address things like segregation, hunger, and social sickness.

King went to Crozer Seminary and after graduation became the pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955 something happened in Montgomery that changed King’s entire life. An African American woman, Rosa Parks, taking a bus home from work was seated just behind the “white section” on a bus.  By law, whites sat up front, blacks in the back.  Several white people go on the bus.  There were no more seats for them in the “white” section. So the bus driver ordered Mrs. Parks, and three other blacks to give up their seats.  The three other blacks obeyed the driver.  Mrs. Parks said, “No.”  Simply put Rosa Parks’ demonstrated “outrageous, audacious, bodacious and courageous behavior for a Black woman of her day.

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She spoke truth to power; she gave voice to the voiceless.

Rosa Parks was arrested immediately and the news of her arrest spread quickly.  A meeting was quickly called to organize a protest and Martin Luther King was chosen as the leader.  He did not want the job but he said, “History has thrust something on me which I cannot turn away.” Like the Old Testament prophet Isaiah proclaimed that Zion would have new name in recognition of its transformation, King likewise proclaimed that America would reveal a transformation within the people and within the infrastructure of our society.  The new name for America came to him in a dream.  He said, “I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal.”

The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. still have tremendous impact on us even today, but as the Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers illustrates dreamers and proclaimers of God’s truth suffer.

We all know that Jesus lived the life of a servant. He suffered and God was glorified. It was as though Jesus proclaimed through is life and ministry, the same words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “I will not be silent. I will bring glory to my God.”  The New Testament lesson tells of Jesus’ first miracle—turning water into wine at a wedding celebration in the city of Cana. Since this is the first miracle where Jesus reveals himself as having power over nature, his act rings out: “I will not be silent. I am the son of the Most Holy God.”

This act is not a miracle to amaze; instead it is a sign where God is revealed to a few people.  In fact, Jesus manifests his glory to those who already believe—his disciples.  This miracle of Jesus turning water into wine is such a simple act—an act where god is revealed and honored.

As I reflect upon the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. there must have been so many events that seemed like miracles to him.  Events that gave assurance that God was present; assurance that made him continue to proclaim, “I will not be silent.”

King’s commitment to non-violence began when he read a composition by Henry David Thoreau.  Thoreau believed that a person had the right to disobey any law that was evil or unjust. Once Thoreau would not pay his taxes as a protest against slavery and he was put in jail.  A friend came to visit him and asked, “Why are you in jail?”  Thoreau responded, “Why are your out of jail?’

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Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

King was also greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.  In the effort to win freedom from British rule, Gandhi told his followers to meet hate with love; to win freedom there must be suffering, “Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom” Gandhi told his followers, “But it must be our blood.”

King’s use of Gandhi’s technique also meant that he was following the way of Jesus Christ.  King told the people: “love rather than hate.”  Be ready to suffer violence but do not react in violence.”  When King took his movement to Birmingham, Alabama, where Bull Connor and the toughest code of segregation existed—nonviolent resistance as a strategy got tested.  The police used clubs and police dogs.

I heard Andrew Young tell about the march in Birmingham at the Riverside Church in New York City.  He said: “Then Connor ordered his men to turn on the powerful fire hoses.  But the marchers were not afraid.  Slowly we began to move forward.  The police couldn’t believe it.  They fell back without turning on the hoses.  The marchers passed them unharmed.  It was as though God had once again parted the Red Sea.”

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The Wedding at Cana

As the sign of Cana was performed without very many people’s knowledge, so this event took place without very many people acknowledging it as God’s work.  The first miracle at Cana caused the disciples to have faith in Jesus; likewise, the miracle at Birmingham caused the marchers to have faith that with God on their side, and with King’s leadership grounded in God’s love, their lives would be transformed.  Many people heard King but did not recognize that God was working through him.  It was God who gave King the dreams and the courage to declare that his dreams could become reality.  King would not keep silent as long as injustice afflicted the human family. He taught us that equality is essential to all members of the human family and that peace is the harmony of our dreams and our reality, which is the essence of shalom, or wholeness.

Mortals we are and dreamers we are encouraged to be; but to what end?  Here comes the dreamer. Come now let us kill him.  The assassin’s bullet that killed King in 1968 stilled the voice of truth but not the truth itself.  Like any prophet sent by God, King said things that many did not, and still do not, want to hear.  As Christians we are called to live the fullness of the gospel for the entire world.  The following words from King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam” challenge us as a people of faith to live the fullness of the gospel.  As we hear these words let us reflect upon those places in the world where people are suffering, suffering especially because of war:

Now let us begin. Now let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world.  This is the calling of the children of God, and our brothers and sisters wait eagerly for our response.  Shall we say the odds are too great?  Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard?  Will our message be that the focus of American life militates against their arrival as full women and men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost?  The choice is our, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

(Beyond Vietnam – April 4, 1967 – click here for full audio and here for a transcript).

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King Memorial in Washington D. C.

The proclamation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday as a national holiday is a challenge to us all as we reflect on our contemporary Christian journey.

King had a dream. 

Will you share it? 

He had a dream. 

Will you live it? 

Amen.


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