Colonization and Assimilation – Nicole M. Garcia, M.Div., M.A. LPC

IMG_4512For the third post as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Nicole Garcia – candidate for word and sacrament ministry in the Rocky Mountain Synod – shares a painfully poignant reflection on her life as a Latina in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Her family tracing its roots to the southwest in the 16th century – she shares how the rich guidance of her family’s Roman Catholic roots gave her direction, but how this latinidad of her background can often be at odds with the ELCA. Please read and share lovely friends – stories like hers are common in our church, and we must respond.

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


At the churchwide assembly in 2016, the ELCA passed a resolution, “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery”[1] which calls for the church to “explicitly and clearly repudiate” the doctrine and “to acknowledge and repent of its complicity in the evils of colonialism in the Americas.”[2] The ELCA took responsibility for the part the Lutheran church played in taking lands from Native peoples in the northeastern part of the United States; far away from my ancestors who lived in the southwest.

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Detail of “The Conquest of America,” by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

The people of the southwest had been colonized centuries before the arrival of the Lutherans. My blood is the blood of Spaniards and the blood of the native women raped by the men who claimed our land for their own under the Doctrine of Discovery. Centuries later, my people were colonized once again after the relatively young government of the Untied States renamed the doctrine—Manifest Destiny—a concept that justified the invasion of Mexico by the United States in 1846. When the war was over in 1848, Mexico ceded more than half of its territory to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[3] Tracing my roots to the southwest all the way back to the late 1500s, this second land grab impacted my family directly and immediately.

So, Mexico abandoned my ancestors while the people of the United States cared only for the land we lived upon and what’s more we were told to assimilate and become “Americans.” We were part of North America already, but the people from the north coopted the name “American” and told us to speak English and adopt their values. Not paying much attention to the latest conquerors, my people created a culture separate from Mexico and the United States. We created our own food and music. We created our own spiritual beliefs and practices and so we lived in a world within a world.  

One of my earliest memories tied to my faith is that of my Grandma Celia, my father’s mother. I remember standing next to her as she prayed the Rosary. I don’t think I was yet five years of age when I stared at her lips as she prayed in Spanish to the Virgin Mary. When I left the family farm that day, grandma gave me the Rosary she had used. The beads were already well worn from use when grandma gave them to me and I still pray the Rosary on those beads from time to time. I now keep that Rosary on the altar by my bed, next to the other precious religious artifacts I treasure.

Why is the Rosary and the Virgin Mary so important to me? I must relate a story of La Virgen de Guadalupe; an intricate tale of the love and devotion of the Virgin Mary for the people colonized by the Spanish conquistadores and priests.

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Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego

In a nutshell, the Virgin Mary appeared to a native man, Juan Diego, on the hill called Tepeyac in December of 1531, ten years after the conquest of Mexico by Spain and the fall of the Aztec Empire. The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego three times. Each time, she told Juan Diego to go to the Bishop of Mexico and to tell the bishop to build a hermitage on the side of the hill so her people could come to her and be comforted by her. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego and ultimately the bishop demanded a sign to prove Juan Diego had actually seen the Virgin Mary.

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Contemporary photo of Juan Diego’s tilma in the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The last time Mary appeared, on December 12th, she told Juan Diego to collect the flowers that grew at the top of the hill. He gathered the flowers in his tilma, the piece of cloth he wore around his shoulders, and took the flowers back to Mary. She arranged the flowers in the tilma and told Juan Diego to take the sign to the bishop. When Juan Diego unfurled the tilma, the flowers fell at the bishop’s feet and the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe was etched into the fabric of the tilma. That piece of cloth hangs on the wall in the Cathedral of Guadalupe built at Tepayac.[4] Why is this story so important to me? I came to this earth on December 12th—the day of this final, holy apparition—making me a Guadalupana (a devotee of the La Virgin de Guadalupe) by virtue of my very birth.

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This cross-stitch depiction of la Virgen de Guadalupe was made for me by my cousin, Diane. She gave me this work of art as a thank-you gift for officiating at he daughter’s memorial service. Diane knew the gift would be special because of my devotion to Guadalupe.

I was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church and was fiercely Roman Catholic in my teens and 20s. In my 20s, however, I learned how my people became Roman Catholic due to colonization and not because of faith. I realized didn’t want to be colonized anymore. I left that denomination in my mid-20s and stayed away from any church until my early 40s when I had an awakening of my faith, but I had no desire to return to the church of my youth. I discovered Lutheranism and fell in love with the theology. I discovered a rogue, excommunicated German priest who read scripture the way I read scripture and I learned I was saved by grace through faith and not through my own merit and works.

I was hooked, but the deeply held beliefs of my mother, aunts, and grandmothers are part of who I am as a Latina.

Yo soy una Guadalupana and I continue to pray the Rosary because the prayers remind me of my grandma Celia and reaffirm my devotion for La Virgen.

My faith is simple. My faith is strong, but I live in-between.

My face is brown, but I do not speak Spanish.

I love the work I do in the church, but I often feel I must prove I am “white enough” to be accepted in the ELCA—the denomination to which I’ve been called. I have occasionally felt the yoke of colonization upon my shoulders; a burden I have struggled to leave behind for more than half my life. I do feel loved and accepted in the church where I work as the Director of Congregational Care, but I often notice I have the only brown face in the sanctuary.

I do not want to believe the only place I truly fit in is with my family and God, but I know I live in-between two cultures. I have done as I have been told and assimilated, but at what cost? I fear the next generation will not remember from whence we came and the sacrifices made by our ancestors to live in our colonized land.


Nicole GarciaNicole M. Garcia (she/her/hers) is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith. Nicole has a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. Nicole is a Candidate Preparing for Word and Sacrament in the Rocky Mountain Synod and currently works as the Director of Congregational Care at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church – Boulder, Colorado. Nicole has a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.

 

[1] The resolution can be found at: http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/RepudiationDoctrineOfDiscoverySPR2016.pdf?_ga=1.157204155.1478422222.1471218167 (Accessed September 15, 2018)

[2] Vince Blackfox, “A Reflection on the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly’s Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics (March 2017, Vol. 17, Issue 2), https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/1202#_edn2 (Accessed September 15, 2018).

[3] See the National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/guadalupe-hidalgo

[4] My favorite rendition of the Nican Mopohua, the original title of the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe, translated from the original Nahuatl language, and a detailed explanation can be found in:

Vigil Elizondo, Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1997).

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ELCA Boundaries Workshops Are an Issue… A LatinX-Caribbean American Lutheran Priest’s experience – Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala

Boundaries – arguably one of the most important skills that many of my pastor-to-be-students have to learn. This week’s author – Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala – shares his culturally nuanced take on the matter as our second post celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. A Latinx ordained pastor in the whitest Christian denomination in the United States – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America – Pastor Ángel writes about how his denomination’s zeal for boundaries trainings are insufficiently nuanced to accommodate cultural and ethnic differences, and that this lack of nuance is yet another barrier for people of color within the denomination – both those who are simply members of its churches, as well as those who feel called to purse word and sacrament ministry. Read, comment, and share.thomas110_1027092

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


Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.  (Colossians 4:5-6, NET)

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On January 1st, 1988 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) came into existence creating the biggest, financially strongest, and most culturally diverse church within the bounds of the Lutheran tradition in North America. For many, it was a dream come true; after decades of conversation about a unified mega church body, the ELCA had become a covenantal enterprise full of promises for the future. The expectations were bold for a predominantly white middle class church: within the first 10 years, 10% of the denomination would be people of color and people with first languages other than English; the ELCA had a commitment to adopt an organizational philosophy providing for the representation of cultural diversity in every decision making body; and proactively work against racism.

Thirty years after envisioning these dreams, they lie shattered at the clay feet of a complex, bureaucratic, and largely culturally insensitive denominational behemoth.

One of the places within the ELCA in which this dynamic becomes more evident is in the practices surrounding professional ethics and boundaries workshops.  After the revelations about cover-up, corruption and sexual abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, many synods decided to enforce boundary trainings for everyone, with the ultimate hope of fostering a safe church culture. Seminaries have follow suit to the point that it is impossible to graduate or be ordained without going through the required educational contact hours of training.

Underlying these public intentions is also the silent recognition that most of these initiatives come out of a place of fear: a way to protect the institution against possible legal liabilities when there is sexual misconduct and the perpetrator is a member of our community. In the context of a church predominantly lead by white people, professional boundary workshops are an incarnation of this dread of financial loss. This becomes problematic due to the centering of white culture within these trainings.

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Since my entrance into the candidacy process for ordination into the Lutheran priesthood, I have participated in 4 boundary trainings: one as a seminarian and three since ordination. Throughout these conversations, many tips and tricks for a safer church were shared: background checks for church employees, orientations for the community, statements/policies against sexual violence, and the use of mental health professionals as communal resources.

Furthermore, it has become a topic of every seminar to discuss physical boundaries: when and how to hug, the no-no squares, eye contact, how to approach social media, personal space, and the ever present principles that parishioners are not friends and that if something feels “icky” it is “icky”.

If after reading the above paragraph you cannot see what is missing or what makes all of this culturally incompetent and incomplete, ¡felicidades! You are likely part of the majority white and Anglo-Saxon culture or have been deeply shaped by it.

As a Puerto Rican Lutheran priest in the ELCA, I experience these boundary trainings as a “how-to-behave-around-white- people-in-order-to-not-get-in-trouble” class, and I struggle with the absence of Latin American sources that can provide the nuance of latinx cultural experience.  

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The first problematic assumption of the ELCA approach to professional boundaries is the belief that there is a universal set of rules that are translatable among cultures. This is not the case: white people, black people, latinxs, Native Americans, Asians, they all have different notions of what is appropriate. Naturally, each sub-category is even less helpful, because they encompass a variety of nationalities with deeper nuances and customs. Take, for example, Latin Americans: a community in which there is no solid unified idealization of the latinx identity outside of the United States. We think of ourselves as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorians, Chileans, Uruguayans, Costa Ricans, Indigenous, etc.

I, for one, was not informed that I belonged to the latinx community until I arrived at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. Yet in spite of the variety of backgrounds, the experience of being a brown, Spanish/Portuguese speaking foreigner in the United States fosters a sense of an imposed super diaspora that shares, at times, an antagonistic view to the ethical boundaries in question.

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Let me get specific. My experience as a mission developer working with latinx people has given me some experience that I find valuable to share with you. Here are the problems I find every year in attempting to reconcile mandatory church boundary policies and the realities of the mission field:

1. Background checks are often a source of fear, because many undocumented latinxs see it as a way of giving personal information to law enforcement agencies that might one day come to deport them.  Why should they so willingly give information to agencies of the state that generally wish them harm? Many are also afraid because, as victims of racial profiling, their pasts can be peppered with arrests and minor criminal records (i.e. pot possession, an arrest after a speed ticket, shoplifting) which they have intentionally tried to leave behind and feel ashamed to share.

2. Orientations about safe-church that are not conducted in Spanish, or with English only resources, are unhelpful, because some latinx individuals cannot speak/read the language. When working among marginalized immigrant communities, one has to always consider that, as a result of economic inequalities, they might not be proficient in the mechanics of reading. Presenters who are unfamiliar with latinx ways of learning (specifically regarding the juxtaposition between paying attention and eye contact, time management, the use of pedagogical storytelling, etc.) are also not helpful.

3. Public statements about sexual violence are usually unavailable in Spanish, nor are they explained in simple terms. Also, its important to know that latinx culture is unapologetically patriarchal, and customs that might seem like harassment for white spectators are not necessarily interpreted the same way in a first-generation, immigrant, Spanish-speaking context. Although this paradigm is changing among second- and third-generation latinxs, it is still quite common for us to speak, even to strangers, using words that might seem to outsiders as inappropriately affectionate or sexually charged.

4. Many latinxs are uninsured, and it is still a taboo in many of our countries to seek out mental health professionals. It is also hard for us to trust strangers solely based on their expertise; relationships are key. Latinxs tend to prefer polite and friendly conversations before sharing a problem.

5. While informality is often a sign of trustworthiness in an Anglo context (i.e. “No need to call me pastor, I am Mike”), deference for older generations, manifested in the use of titles like Señor (Sir) and Señora (Ma’am), is a cherished value within the latinx community.

6. Boundaries around the comfort level of body contact are also different. It is not uncommon for latinxs to hug, kiss, touch and be in close personal proximity, including strangers. Even as a priest, people of all genders and ages come and touch me, hug me, kiss me, or physically pull me aside. When a white person is on the receiving end of these customs, it might seem like a boundary violation for them.

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A Latinx ELCA congregation in Racine, Wisconsin – Emmaus Lutheran Church -with their then-pastor, Rev. Jhon Freddy Correa.

The ELCA cannot become competent in fostering and welcoming latinxs until it becomes aware of cultural differences and how they play out in local churches. Bishops and the churchwide organization should avoid the sin of laziness; they must learn to approach education outside the bounds of white American perspectives. The percentage of people of color within us is small, but we are here and willing to help. We can do so not as a prop but as integral partners in the conversation.

Everyone deserves respect for their cultural norms. Doing ministry in the ever-growing, multicultural communities of the United States requires that everyone learn about their neighbors’ cultures in order to better assess safe-church needs.  Change cannot happen until people of a variety of cultures are present and substantially represented (that is to say with power to caucus and veto) in every decision making body of the ELCA.

When considering boundary trainings, it would do us good to consider the ways in which boundaries differ amongst the various cultural groups located in our communities.  Approaching boundaries, and having experts from those communities as partners in these conversations, is vital. Perhaps it is time for all of us to dig deeply into cultural competency educational programs as conversation starters towards a more egalitarian beloved community.

Then we can truly begin to speak about a church that one day might be safe for all.

 

 

 

 


17884061_10154507112768225_8871700682864564831_nThe Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala (Padre Ángel) is a young adult, first generation Puerto Rican immigrant and a priest in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Padre Ángel is the mission developer for Santuario Luterano, the progressive latinx church of Waltham, Massachusetts. He also works as coordinator for latinx ministries in the New England Synod. Padre Ángel is the first openly gay latinx ordained after 2009. He has worked as secretary to the ELCA Latino Association and board member of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Padre Ángel lives with his husband Zachary and their spoiled dog-son Pepe Thor.

Closing Thoughts – Inez Torres Davis

lt-ny-eve-march-2016Inez Torres Davis has been involved with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America more than 20 years, working as an anti-racism trainer in the whitest Christian denomination in the United States. She retired just a couple of months ago, ending her two decades of service as a core leader with The Women of the ELCA. She shares some parting thoughts with us this week, along with the firm reminder that we have a long way to go before our churches are anti-racist, and that we must continue the struggle. 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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Prologue: My first day of service (call) with Women of the ELCA (WELCA) was January 27, 1997; my last day of service was March 31, 2017. Over those two decades my job title was changed, but anti-racism education remained my one programmatic constant. In the two months since my retirement, I have been healing. This is the first time I have been moved by Spirit to say something about the ELCA, anti-racism education, and me.

I first got the impression the ELCA cared about racial justice at its forming. That is when the ELCA (then, a 98’% white denomination) publicly stated that they wanted to grow in the number of persons of color in their church. To my mind, to have such growth, required relationship and a passion for racial justice.

I concluded that with such aspired growth, the ELCA definitely wanted to relate to many, many more people of color. It even had a percentage for that growth! The ELCA wanted to reach a representational presence of persons of color of 10%, a significant goal that more than tripled their existing number. I was impressed by such faith.

When my life partner and I joined a Lutheran church, it was the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that we joined and it was at its forming. We are both people of color and the ELCA said they wanted us. We had recently escaped the clutches of fundamentalism, and wanted our young family (two young daughters) to have a church presence.

It sounds perfect, even now.

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As the last decade of the last century began, the people of color leadership of the churchwide ELCA’s Multicultural Ministries Commission drafted me to become a facilitator of the ELCA’s needed anti-racism work. Their actions and the language used by the ELCA communicated to me that this church had serious intent. I believed there was real work to do.

Unlike many of the current churchwide leadership of color, that leadership had both great expectations and the resources to have a role in facilitating a transformation of a Northern European church into a 1-in-10 person of color representational church in the United States. The ELCA spoke and looked like it meant business. This was heady stuff!

At the time, we lived in Flint, Michigan. I was welcomed by the Southeast Michigan ELCA Synod by everyone BUT the white leaders of the congregation where I worked as lay associate. That congregation’s leadership did not know how to receive me. I came neither with hat in hand nor with a wide disarming grin. I frustrated them and in their frustration they concluded there was no reason to learn how to relate to me, particularly when judging me at secret meetings was easier and more satisfying.

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I believe that had I been a sharp, young white woman with a white husband and two daughters, the white people of that congregational leadership would have welcomed me; hell, they might have thrown a party at our arrival!

Instead, they made it clear: the idea of relating to more persons of color for the sake of church growth was a Chicago notion.

Most white ELCA people resist and resent the prophetic utterance central to anti-racism education. Anti-racism education within the church lays the historical and current shedding of the blood of the oppressed by a white-privileged, patriarchal system at the feet of the church. Most of the Christian church took the papal bulls of the 15th century to heart and have used them these past (going on) six centuries to center whiteness throughout the world.

Over the last nearly three decades, however, rather than seeing the ELCA grow in its understanding of its role in combating racial oppression, I have watched the almost all-white ELCA come to accept itself. It has come to accept that it is white and for the most part, that is just fine. For some, I suspect, it is close to heaven on earth – as the 270 electoral college votes necessary to elect our current president went through the ELCA.

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Many states that propelled Donald J. Trump to the presidency – North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – have significant numbers of congregations in the ELCA.

For many if not most ELCA Whites, any person who raises the issue of race is doing so for suspicious reasons and, therefore, cannot be trusted. This distrust is true for aspiring white anti-racists as well as aspiring anti-racists of color. The treatment for both is alarming if not always similar.

Those theologically and spiritually immersed in the white, patriarchal culture of the ELCA see little that needs fixing or worse–they see those of us doing anti-racism as a bigger problem. Put enough people into the Conference of Bishops, the Church Council, and other key leadership positions who lack the humility to see anti-racism education as a core necessity for growth in grace or faith and racial justice efforts will crumble.

The first letter of complaint about me received by the corner office came in early 1998. It came from a white woman emotionally devastated by the idea that she and her husband acted in racist ways. The idea that they acted in racist ways came to her after she attended an anti-racism education training weekend that I had led.

What was WELCA thinking,

she asked,

sending out such a person as myself to stir up such trouble? 

When the executive director called me into her office to answer the charges in that letter, I told her that if she was going to need me to respond to every white woman who found the ministry WELCA had hired me to do upsetting, she should have a desk added to her corner office so we could have our many conversations discreetly.

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I told her there would always be those willing to kill the messenger. But, I asked, was she willing to mid-wife death?

At first, I was surprised some ELCA people of color resented the work. Then I realized that many had thought the only ones that needed changing were white. However, when anti-racism education hits home, people of color learn about internalization and, thereby, learn that we must also change if we are to be a part of ending the cycles of oppression. Change is no less a bitter pill for us, and it can feel doubly damning to be asked to change when we are the ones oppressed!

It takes bold faith to steward the demolition of the structures created neither by love or grace but by sanction of the Doctrine of Discovery. It was and continues to be within the authority of the Doctrine of Discovery that principalities and powers created systems and laws that beat, torture, and strangle those created in God’s image. Within such a canon, the least of these had best simply, and quickly, die.

Becoming a practicing anti-racist takes living by faith, not in some esoteric color-blinding, once-and-for-all final solution kind of way, but in a living by faith, a breath to breath, from relationship to relationship across and within the racial divides kind of way. Anti-racism from the heart infuses not just our good days but also our bad days and will always carry us back again to God’s impossible grace.

It takes radical faith and actions to facilitate God’s will on this earth. Such radical faith births a sweeping, bold human spirit with the capacity to partner with God’s Spirit in replacing what Empire has given us with the beloved community.

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It also takes a great deal of life and soul energy to engage in such a battle against principalities and powers in high places. To seek justice within the house of God and with the people of God, takes strong fruit of the Spirit.

At this point in my life, I pray that more and more of us baptized will place their hand to God’s wheel. I pray this because, without more folks carrying on this kind of work as me and my friends retire, we will only continue to grow  irrelevant. That can’t happen.


InezInez Torres Davis is an indigenous Latina worked within and for the whitest religious affiliation in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently having retired as the  core racial justice/anti-racism trainer  of Women of the ELCA after 20 years. She is also rostered Word & Service lay professional of the ELCA and currently serves on the World Day of Prayer USA Board, is an Illinois State Commissioner for Guardianship & Advocacy, and she sits on the ELCA’s Theological Discernment table. If this wasn’t enough, she’s also a blog writer (for WELCA and her own blog page), a spiritual director, a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, writer, and painter, a Reiki master, and creator of sacred spaces.

God’s Work? Our Hands? – Rev. Tom Gaulke

Linda Thomas at CTS eventGoogle dictionary defines solidarity as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” It is something we talk about quite a bit at my seminary, with our Public Church curriculum. But it isn’t such an easy thing to teach – as what most folks consider solidarity is, in sad truth, nothing but activist tourism, and as such is not educational, let alone transformational. Weighing in on this is Rev. Tom Gaulke – the pastor of a scrappy Lutheran parish in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago – and some trenchant observations on the subject. It’s a good bit of reading for the first week in Easter, and we’re sure you’ll agree. 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.”


51d17yMqhVL.jpgPhilosopher Slavoj Žižek once made a very interesting observation about the 90’s block-buster, Titanic.

In Titanic, the main character, Rose, is seated in the upper deck, wining and dining, but yawning in her boredom. She is missing something. Is it romance? Is it adventure? Is it a spiritual experience? She’s not sure. But she thinks the answer, for her, might be found in the exploration of another realm.

In her search for some kind of resurrection, Rose descends. She moves down through the floors of the ship. She finds, at bottom, the proletariat – the working people far removed from her life among the gilded elite. There they dance. There is joy. There is a movement of bodies and loudness of voices that would be deemed crass and transgressive in the upper echelons of the ship. She gives in, is swallowed up by the joy of the ecstasy. She finds a lover in a character named Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

To her the world of the poor is a Paradise, and for some moments, she escapes the restrictive confines of her privilege and finds unbound pleasure and ecstasy.

But then something larger than the ship appears. An iceberg. Suddenly that which was covered by the walls of the ship is exposed: not only were there floors on the ship, but the floors were obvious markers. Classes were divided by them. First class… Second Class… Bottom… And there was more than division. Those passengers’ privilege (or lack thereof) would now determine their fate or their salvation. Aware, Rose returns to her caste, and thereby saves herself from a poor person’s fate, from death by being defined and confined in poverty. Though she was temporarily positioned with the poor, her geography, unlike theirs, was not confined by her economics—she was free to move.

As the movie concludes, Rose recalls the good times she had.  In her recollection, something again is exposed. It seems in her travels that she saw not people, but rather romanticized caricatures of The Poor. There was no real community or solidarity. She had really only used them – for dancing, for pleasure, for ecstasy. They were chattel to her, goods manipulated as means to her end, merely 3/5 human.

tumblr-mlle87hghf1soiv6eo1-500-jpg.jpg They were her triumphant articulation of a “meaningful experience,” pleasure, “good times,” recalled from a stage or a fireside room. And instead of seeing more family, more of God’s beloved, she saw only more possibilities for “use.” Žižek calls this “Hollywood Marxism.”

And we see this everywhere.

Think about mission trips in which, for example, churches from the tops of ships will come to churches in the city, often described as urban or poor (For the record, these are not always fun names to be called). Paint a wall! Plant some flowers! Take selfies! For these tasks, grandparents and football coaches and godparents give money—to make sure their youth have a “meaningful experience” among The Poor. A similar phenomenon happens at protests. Radical-minded church people and seminarians show up. This is fine, but what if we do not engage any of those we claim to love? What does it mean when we stay in a cluster and seem to avoid those who are different from our young, moisturized, [white] skin? Are we in the struggle or are we at a fun event like any other fun event, like going to see a comedian or a rock show?

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Hollywood Marxism emerges also in the classroom, as well. “I’ve got it!” students often exclaim after an afternoon of reading. That is, “I understand this,” or “I have got a hold on this.” “I possess this.” I own it. If our academic work, our reading, is only a project of reading so that we might “master” or “contain,” in order “to have a handle on it,” then our academic project ceases to be in line with the vision of the conspiring, companion-ing church.

But if our intent is only to master, we are Rose.

By ‘mastering’ we perpetuate a legacy of slavery and colonialism, whereby we use the writings of the poor and people of color as means for our own purposes. We appropriate. We steal. We hijack the weapons of the weak and melt them into glorious sparkling idols of the status quo.

Vitor Westhelle, in The Church Event, suggests that church happens in those spaces where and when we are at ease in the presence of the radically Other, where the truth is told in a revealing way, and captives are set free. Here we are transformed by one another, and shaped into companions and conspirators. Where is that space?

Is it possible to foster such a space? Can we help Church to take place? To happen? Or do we remain a bunch of Roses, without the salvation of metanoia?

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I very much love Westhelle’s image of our ministry—a tree. We can try! We can prepare—like Advent, like the women at the tomb. We can plant and nurture a tree. We can place it in the sunlight. And we can pray and hope that once our tree grows tall that maybe in it an orchid (the Church) will take root and bloom. Still, who knows what shape the blooming will take?

But we plant, we grow. We hope.

As we groom new trees for a new time, in the church and in the classroom, transforming Rose means intentionally exposing students, youth, and parishioners to the radically o/Other. In classrooms, this means even the non-academic other. This means song, poetry, stories of pain and struggle, putting voices in dialogue, and most importantly, real people, real flesh and blood, real experiences of pain—perhaps beginning with those in the room—with the aim of the student being transformed from the distant observer into the one who stands in solidarity, from understanding to standing with, moved to create spaces and communities for the sake of speaking the truth and setting captives free.

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Can my denomination make this motto a reality?

Hence if my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), is to be such a place there should be no room for snobbery. Insisting on only MDiv preachers or only academic authors in our pulpits and classrooms reinforces class divide.

Any serious conversation about liberation needs to include the non-sanitized, political bluntness of real communities who struggle. If the church, if the academy, does not allow the poor to speak, it is only pretending to be Christian.

If the ELCA continues only to reinforce the class divide that exists in the United States within our own churches – gaining “inspiration” from visits to poor communities, then returning to the suburbs, gaining joy from the struggle of the disadvantaged, putting the poor to “use,” then jumping ship, watching them try to swim – then the church is only pretending.

After Jesus was killed by the Powers who found him to be a threat, his disciples gathered together in fear. Jesus invited them out of their locked rooms into the presence of Others to tell their stories of pain, to break bread, and to testify: to dream out loud of a different world, a new Reign, God’s Banquet where all are beloved and free, where crucifixion is no more. Jesus sent them the Spirit so they would never stop dreaming together.

Let’s strive for such companionship and such conspiracy. Let’s keep one another afloat so that no one sinks.

Alleluia.


10313960_10156582589050532_5840765783004842230_n.jpgRev. Tom Gaulke is pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. He is a leader in The People’s Lobby and Moral Mondays Illinois. Tom enjoys scootering and is engaged to a wonderfully amazing human being named Daisy. Tom also studies Theology in the Ph.D. program at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. 

The Road to 270 Was Through the ELCA – Vicar Lenny Duncan, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church; Conshohoken, PA

Picture 002To fulfill its duty as a way-station for theological discussion of current events, all this week “We Talk. We Listen” will be playing host to multiple perspectives of the recent election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States. Our first is from a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelpia, Vicar Lenny Duncan – and he doesn’t pull punches. For presenting itself as a denomination that is welcome to all, many of the ELCA’s churches are thick in states that ultimately catapulted Trump to the presidency, harking to his campaigns use of misogyny, racism, Islamaphonbia, and ableism. As a black man who is formerly incarcerated, he writes unflinchingly of what this new political reality means to him, and many marginalized communities that now worry for their survival after last week’s tidal shift. Read, post, 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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Secretary Hillary Clinton making her concession speech on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – after losing the Electoral College vote to Donald Trump 228 – 290.

I know many of you are still reeling from the results of Tuesdays election. Many of you reading this are still trying to deal with the seismic shift that you believed happened. You are trying to find a new north for your moral compass. A way forward.

I am not. I stand before you unafraid, unsurprised and unbowed. Not because I’m made of better stuff than you. But because I know white America. I have traveled all over this country as a homeless teen. I have hung with “friends” for months or years only to hear them say “nigger.” Then explain how they didn’t mean me, because I’m different.

I have been hungry. I’m talking real hunger, when you haven’t eaten for at least 3 days. You start out full of emotion, anger and desperation. But by day 3 your emotions deaden. They become flat. You start to shuffle through the day and your body starts to eat itself.

Spiritual hunger is no different, and the body of Christ reacts the same way.

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I have seen empire clearly since I was a child. Since the police dropped a firebomb in my neighborhood in West Philly to stamp out the M.O.V.E organization. As the flames rose and I asked my Dad what the smoke was from he looked me in the eye and said “That’s what happens when you call the police for help.”

I have worn leg and wrist shackles with the long chain dangling in between. Unable to take a step longer than 6 inches without it pulling on my ankles. Blood filling my county issued shoes. Sat in a room with 40 other people. Anger confusion and rage floating around like an unwelcome shadow. Sat and listened to a harried public defender get my name wrong three times as he explains the deal I must take. Or I could to stay in jail for a year while the courts figure it out. What’s another felony weighed against being stuck on the modern-day plantation?

I’m not surprised because as a Black man I have lived in Donald Trump’s America since I was a child. I have been preparing for Tuesday since I taught myself to read.

A mantra I often use in regards to my work with the #decolonizelutheranism movement is that “the problem is not sociological, it is theological.” I stand by that now.

Here is your wake-up call.

The area’s that won this demagogue the day were overwhelmingly ELCA Lutheran strongholds. The path to 270 and beyond marched right through the heart of the Augsburg Confessions and wore the red cover of an ELW as it marched up to the voting booth. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the crumbled “blue firewall.”

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Many states that propelled Donald J. Trump to the presidency – North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – have significant numbers of congregations in the ELCA.

Many failed to see it coming. Why? Because they thought they were having a political discourse, when they were actually facing systemic evil and its consequences. A theological battle was raging across our pews and we depended on polite society to win the day. They underestimated the power of white supremacy and evil. White supremacy doesn’t need its unwitting participants to be consciously racist.  In fact it relies on you not believing you are. The pundits refuse to call it what it is. The conversation has already shifted.

“We need a reset”

“We need to give him a chance”

“Unity should be our main focus”

This call rings hollow to me because it is always what the oppressor always says to the oppressed. It tells you that the boot on your neck is actually a deep massage. That your dying children are actually your own fault. That the continued state of poverty and emptiness you find yourself is your fault. It relies on the deeply embedded mythology of the American dream.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”

People talk about gas lighting, but Black peoples have been getting gas-lighted in America since the first whip beat us close to death, and we were told it was our behavior that caused it.  

They will tell us in the next coming weeks it was a DNC collapse that caused this. They will point out that neo liberalism is a failed experiment. They will talk about the lack of dialogue between urban society and middle America. Someone will write a New York Times bestseller about this like Nero playing violin as Rome burns.

But the problem isn’t political. It isn’t sociological.

It is theological.

The path to 270 was through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We failed. The magic number was 107,000. That was how many votes decided the Trump Presidency.

We only had to point out to 107,000 people that the Gospel is good news to the oppressed, never to the oppressor. That the Gospel is liberation here and now. But we as leaders of this church refused to because we were concerned about portico benefits. The next council meeting. Someone said my sermon was too political. To treat Jesus as someone who was incarnate in time and space, and then to believe he was unaware of the political ramifications of his ministry is heresy. Period.  

Resurrection has political ramifications because the structures we have as government are imbued with deep evil that runs down to its DNA.

This happened because many of us quiver with fear at the prospect of declaring from the pulpit that Jesus was a brown man, in a colonized land, railroaded in court, and killed by state sanctioned execution. Because we are heretical. We have taken Jesus from time and space and reduced him to an intellectual exercise that has far less impact than the hymns we choose every week.

We are all guilty.

We have entered a 2nd Reconstruction.

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A a post-election protest rally in downtown Chicago, one of many such protests around the country.

Black codes will become Muslim codes. Or LGBTQ codes. The prison industrial complex is going to have an orgy of pain and merciless hunting in the coming weeks and days. Law and Order the new twin gods that we will sacrifice our children too. The economy the new golden calf that we will make love too. My life is on the line, but you never mentioned that. You sat in pastoral care meetings and let your parishioners talk about health care. Meanwhile on Tuesday I became an endangered species.

The hope. Where is the hope for us than?

The church has always flourished when it was counter cultural. When it was in resistance to the empire.

The hope is that you are seeing America clearly for the first time in a long time. The hope is that same brown man who was executed stood up three days later and shifted the entire universe.

The hope is you were anointed, called to a time such as this. Republics have fallen. Kings pass away.

Empires crumble. The church has stood throughout it all. The first step is we need to challenge what it means to be a Christian and a Christian leader. The next is we organize, we resist. Lastly we need each other so desperately right now. People gather in community because when we gather in the name of God something deep down inside each and every one of us gets fixed. Set right and renewed.

I leave you with this as we contemplate what we each will be doing in response to all this last week.

—–

“All people need power, whether black or white. We regard it sheer hypocrisy or as blind and dangerous illusion the view that opposes love to power. Love must be the controlling element in power, not power itself. So long as white church men continue to moralize and misinterpret Christian love, so long will justice continue to be subverted in this land.” 

National Committee of Negro Churchmen, “Black Power Statement” July 31st, 1966


 

14718881_10206240696451273_7297790714910039448_n.jpgLenny the vicar at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshoshoken, PA and Candidate for Ordination to the office of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. He is also the Evangelist for the #decolonizelutheranism movement, as well as a frequent voice on the intersection of the Church and the cries of the oppressed. He pays special attention to the #blacklivesmovement in his work, but lifts up the frequent intersection with other marginalized peoples.  He believes that the reason the ELCA has remained so white, is a theological problem, not sociological one. He is currently an M.Div Coop student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and holds a Bachelors of Biblical Studies from Lancaster Bible College, with an emphasis in New Testament Theology and Ministry.