As a Latino – Abel Arroyo

Linda Thomas at CTS eventThis week I am teaching an intensive course called Identity and Difference: Theological Reflection on Race/Ethnicity; Gender/Sexuality; Class/Political Economy or Theological Reflection on Intersectionality. Our purpose is to critically investigate the concept of identity by reading primary sources on the categories of race, gender, sexuality and class, and our goal is to explore the ways that the scholars we read and we ourselves address contemporary challenges of racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism/homophobia. Part of the job of being a leader in a Public Church is to develop alternative models for the transformation of religious institutions for witness in the world, and by doing so push religious communities towards becoming spaces of greater inclusion and welcome.

As a compliment to this class, today we will be featuring a marvelous blog post by recent LSTC graduate Abel Arroyo Traverso. A reflection upon his life as a Latino, as well as his time in seminary, he gives us a good look at what it means to deal with intersectionality, whiteness, and what it means to self-affirm. 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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Street fair in Miami.

While at LSTC, as a Latino has been one of the phrases that I’ve learned to say almost compulsively. As a Latino has become a kind of mantra, a battle cry, as well as gospel and a grounding phrase. Living and serving in Chicago, I learned that the only things that are acknowledged by others are those that are said bluntly and loudly, and as a Latino is the start of my journey into that practice of self-affirmation.

Timely affirming one or more of my identities – such as man, cisgender, queer, Latino, and beloved child of God, to name a few – became a need for the first time in class, when I learned in an Old Testament class, that the professor wouldn’t grade one of my papers because “it was too culturally biased” to which I replied “well, yes, they all are.” I got a passing grade. That was good enough.

 

And this was when I learned, vividly, that as much as academia tries to break the elements of my identity down – my gender, my sexuality, my ethnic back-ground, immigration and economic status – in order to quantify and qualify who I am, they can’t. All of these over-lap, in classic intersectionality, creating a web of privilege and marginalization that will be a permanent part of my life (for example, I am an immigrant and suffer because of racism, but as an immigrant who is now a naturalized citizen of the United States I have unquestionable advantages over someone who was where I was one year ago, or who has no documents at all). But acknowledging was, sometimes, too hard for the people in school.

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From then on, I learned that in academia the default was white, the normal was US upper middle class. I wasn’t any of those things, so by reclaiming my own labels, I embarked in a journey of creation and reinvention.

As a Latino, I learned to claim my roots as not only welcomed in the ELCA, but to recognize them as necessary for its survival. This also means that as a Christian, I bring particular gifts to the body of Christ, and as a person looking to be ordained in the ELCA as a minister of Word and Sacrament, I bring into the conversation a gift of bridging cultures.

As a Latino, I learned that talking about how down one is with the idea of community doesn’t mean that a person is actually willing to be in community. I learned that it’s easier for people to interact with my multitude of identities through an academic filter rather than acknowledging that as a person, I have specific needs as real as my need for air and water, and just as necessary for my survival. 

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LSTC students and faculty traveling in India.

As a future pastor, and as someone who is expected to do competent theological reflection, I learned that I will always need to educate people about my cultural understanding of community, accompaniment, who Christ and Jesus are, and why those labels carry a deep significance for me and my community.

As a Latino, I learned that it is my responsibility to remind students, professors, pastors, and authorities that Latinx, Liberation, Mujerista and Queer, are no longer terms, theories, and theologies to be examined and approached as a distant other, but rather, they are just as valid and should be considered just as seriously in a classroom, parish, and synod as any – or could I perhaps dare to dream, over- exclusively white theology.

As a Latino I’m not only Latino, and as much as I AM Latino, I am any and all of my intersecting identities as well. Fully and unashamedly.

I learned that as a Latino the church needs my experience, my knowledge and my whole self to survive. I am willing to give it my all for my call, a call that is God given. What I won’t let happen is let myself become a vehicle for the dominant culture to perpetuate the discounting of the Latinx experience of God, and the multitude of gifts the Latinx community bring.

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Me and my beloved parents.

As a Latino, I learned that my theology is formed in community, that it’s multidisciplinary, that my theology is one grounded in liberation and the cross, and as a pastor my strength is the strength that comes from my community, and the Holy Spirit that works through it.

I learned that I can navigate spirituality not as a trend to shop for the spiritual practice of the month, but as a reality that connects me to my ancestors, a reality that allows me to access the wisdom of those who came before me, to know that listening to the songs of creation is not pagan but it’s recognizing God’s voice ringing through the fullness of the cosmos.

I learned that embracing ambiguity is not only good because Lutheranism and Luther embrace ambiguity, but also because that’s what the spirit inspires in me, to look for the ambiguities. I am called to be a witness where some people think that it’s a waste of time to witness. I learned to know God not only as creator and father but as God of many and all things, journeys, and times.

God of everything good and delicious.

God of every pain and indulgence.

God of every breath.

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I believe in the sacredness of my skin and my accent, in the holiness of my shortcomings, I believe that God prefers me, as one of the poor, and that I should never be ashamed of that.

As a Latino I believe in engaging my feelings. I administer my time in a different way and prioritize relationship to punctuality. I believe in ranking my priorities in a different way than my white colleagues, and that’s okay. I believe in standing up for myself, but I will always be more willing and ready to stand up for someone else, which is why I need to trust that my community has my back.

In my time at LSTC, as a Latino I’ve experienced a number of realities, a multitude of spaces, people, classes, services, parties, meals, hugs, tears, laughs, and tea. As I prepare to move on from this part of my education, I believe that the God who brought me here will never ever abandon me.

As a Latino, I believe this. I can do no other.


11218883_10207263354805841_6667861799582009906_n.jpgAbel Arroyo is a graduate from The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Originally from Perú, his journey has taken him to explore almost all of Central and North America (no love for Canada yet). He has spent parts of his journey in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico as well as living in Washington state, Arizona, and California. A bona fide wanderer who struggles with linear time as an absolute, he is currently in Phoenix, Arizona where he journeys with the Queer, Latino and Homeless communities of Central Phoenix – as well as the occasional suburbanite. All are welcome.

Jesus Sits With Us in Our Grief – River Needham, Clergy Candidate for the Metropolitan Community Churches

ThomasLindaLast fall, our first trans author, River Needham, presented “We Talk. We Listen.” with a marvelous tutorial on the foundational concepts and terms of trans identity. A little more than a year later, River now gives us a tripartite reflection – on the 2016 election, on Trans Day of Remembrance, and Jesus’ reliable embrace in our lives and our pain. As a seminarian and an academic, River lives and breathes and studies intersectionality and their current reflection is a tour de force of complex identity, compassion, and intellectual probity. 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.”


This past Sunday, we commemorated a special day in the church year: Next week, we start the year over again and can celebrate the anticipated coming of Christ with Advent again. We remembered the end of the church year; We celebrated the coming realm of God and the characteristics of God’s realm that Jesus taught us. We also commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The past few weeks have looked like and reminded me of the times of Jesus. Just about two weeks ago, our country went through an election, for president.  People on all sides of our national discourse had placed their hopes and their dreams in their ideal candidate.

When Jesus was born, the empire had just called a census. When the time came for the religious rituals of being born, a man at the temple prophesied over Jesus and said: “God has raised up a mighty savior for us, and that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”[1]

How similar it feels: Politicians had the hopes and dreams that people had for Jesus placed upon them. They would be a savior from the status quo or the ramp of progress into the future.

Today, we read the result of Jesus’ unannounced run for political office in the Judean province of the Empire of Rome.  “When they reached the place called The Skull, they crucified him.” Jesus resisted the political system, by preaching God’s realm is coming soon – and the people called out “Crucify Him,” the government honored their wishes, and today we remember that Jesus was crucified – and more than being crucified, Jesus showed us the realm of God brought to earth.

In the US election, there was hope for a Green new deal, a libertarian return to individual sovereignty. Others were hoping to find a way to make our country great or to celebrate the greatness we already have in the USA.  Once we got the vote counts, we realized that something was missing, and I dare say that no one was particularly happy – no matter where you stood coming into the election.   The supporters, voters, and citizens, were each terrified, heartbroken, and reeling, by the election results, the realization that the election cycle deeply divided our country, and that none of our political saviors could save our hopes and our dreams for our country and our future.

Transgender day of Remembrance also falls on the 20th of November, this year.  Some of us gathered to read and to hear the names of two hundred, forty transgender people, each one beloved by God, who were killed by clients, lovers, parents, cousins and strangers in the name of honor, fear, and emotions that are incomprehensible.

We gathered to remember the 55 beloveds of God, who in their violent deaths lost their name.

We remembered those killed by their own hands, because of this cruel world not yet ready for their gifts. Society sacrificed each of these transgender people to our god-like ideals of conformity and obedience.

Jesus shows us a different way.

A better way.

The realm of God.

In Luke’s crucifixion narrative, Jesus shows us that while being crucified, it is possible to reach out and show grace to those who act in ignorance.  Jesus shows us that people can change.

Jesus comes to us in our fear and grief and sits with us.

While Jesus was on the cross, the hopes and the dreams of so many people, that Judea would soon be free from Roman rule, died.  While Jesus was on the cross, the hope of so many people, that Jesus would make himself the sovereign of an earthly realm, died.

As we read the names of transgender people, a few stood out to me and helped a few of my dreams (Well, more likely fantasies) die.

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T. T. Saffore

One of these dreams that had to die was that Chicago was universally a safe place for people who, like me, defy the normative narratives of society.  On the 11th of September of this year, T. T. Saffore was killed just a few short miles from here.  She died after her attacker stabbed her over 100 times.

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Kayden Clarke

Another one of these dreams was that the demographic information for those killed doesn’t match up with mine all that well, and maybe I would be safe.  Then, this year 24-year-old Kayden Clarke was shot and killed by police responding to his call for help, because he was suicidal.

As we gathered for Transgender Day of Remembrance, God came and sat with us in our grief.  As we read the names, lit candles, and shed tears, God was here, reminding us of their presence, grace, and love.

Later in Luke’s crucifixion narrative, we see Jesus interacting with criminals – who acknowledge that their crucifixions were legitimate while resisting the legitimacy of Jesus’ death sentence.  When they beg for mercy, Jesus reminds the man on the cross next to him, that the coming realm of God would include him.  Jesus, as he was in deep pain, responded to the cries of the fearful and hurting.

Jesus was a boundary breaker

Jesus was living in the realm of God, where we are all siblings together,

the realm of God where we are our kindred’s keeper,

the realm of God where we come together and sit with each other in our grief.

In our national and local political environment, our pain began to grow so apparent about two weeks ago, and that grief has only increased over that time. I believe that Jesus’ grieves too, over a country divided against itself. He grieves over those beloved children of God who feel the need to dehumanize and to kill other of God’s beloved.

She grieves over those treated differently because of the color of their skin, the gender of their heart, the people they love.

Here we see that just as Jesus came to earth and was born during a tumultuous political time, we can rest in the assurance that Jesus has been with every one of us as we have mourned the election results. Jesus was with us as we remembered Kayden, T.T., and the other 293 of our transgender siblings whom we remember this year.

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Mary Buttons’ Station of the Cross – Station 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross.

In the Icon on the screen, which uses dated language, the artist takes the violent, death of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1998, and compares it to the crucifixion of Jesus. The vigils and memorials following her death gave birth to what we call today Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Today, while Jesus sits with us in a cosmic, spiritual way, the realm of Christ reminds us that we can embody the values of Jesus by sitting with each other in our grief. We can gather around the things that cause our hurt, find and enact our solutions, and become a community that gathers together, grieves together, and then gets it done and fixed, together.
[1] Luke 1:69,71.


14695461_1768760416727583_664514677993063806_n.jpgRiver Needham  is a clergy candidate with the Metropolitan Community Churches, and studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. River focuses their time and studies on fostering trans/gender liberation and emotional wellness within local congregations. River uses pronouns like they/them/theirs/themselves.

What it’s All About – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingEvery so often the Church gets so stagnant, and human beings so ornery, that the Holy Spirit can’t help but step up and raise some mischief. Inspired by a series of internet memes and only six months old, the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is quickly becoming a national force in the efforts of countless Lutherans to make their churches truly accepting and loving of everyone. One of #decolonizeLutheranism’s early adopters, Francisco Herrera, shares not only a brief take on the theology of #decolonizeLutheranism, but even a simple overview of the movement’s first revival, ##decolonize16, completed this past Saturday. It is a simple, eloquent, and inspiring read. So take it in, comment, and share, friends.

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


“So what is this #decolonizeLutheranism thing about,  anyway?”

I get this a lot.

My first response is usually, “It’s about creating a Christian community where no one has to prove to anyone else that they’re a human being, let alone a child of God.” Because, really, at bottom, that is what this is about. So many of us are through with being “issues” or “problems” or “too much/too soon/too fast” and not Children of God.

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Because if you’re a seminarian of color who has heard things like…

 “You’re not a real Lutheran.” “You black people may clap in church, but not us!” “That wasn’t a Lutheran ordination. People were talking while the pastor was preaching!”

…When ethnocentric comments like these are made you are precisely being told that you’re not a human being, let alone a child of God.

Or if you’re a pastor or lay leader who is LGBTQ and you hear…

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 “How can a gay pastor marry a straight couple?” “They’re calling us ‘the gay church’!” “We didn’t have financial problems before our church accepted the gays.”

…at some point you start to believe the lies and the Devil rubs his hands with fiendish glee as cracks deepen and spread through your once-solid faith.

And women pastors and seminarians? Pshaw…

“All women pastors are just lesbians who want to be men.” “Your husband approves?!” “You can’t wear a dress like that – it’s too risque for a seminarian.” “What does your husband think?”

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@TrybalPastor, aka Rev. Kwame Pitts, welcoming in a capacity crowd of 203 people.

So in order to purge themselves of so much filth and ick, while all-the-same moved by the Holy Spirit and hopeful for the future of Lutheranism in the United Sates, 203 beautiful souls from all over the United States converged here in Chicago (on the campus of the Lutheran School for Theology at Chicago) for one glorious day of challenge and refreshment, sharing the theologies and melodies of Lutheran voices known by a precious few.

And they stayed in this familiar, but ever-modulating choir all day long.

All day long.

We had songs from Mexico and Pakistan and the United States and Germany. We had piñatas – decked in the fullest of Roy G. Bivs – to teach us that, though pleasant to the eye, that sin needs to be destroyed – and that sin’s destruction is sweet to the taste. There were drums – oh yes – there were lots of drums, and maracas, and a cajon – and a poet who mourned that her mocha-brown skin seemed only to be a magnet for bullets for many people.

Then there were stories.

My goodness were there stories! Each of the main presenters told their own stories – about how the church doesn’t really see them, how so many Lutherans revere the Augsburg Confession as if it is Scripture although they don’t do anything it really says or teaches. One of the presenters talked about the day he learned that he was black, another lead a conversation on the Doctrine of Justification accompanied by the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ There were over 30 small groups that shared their stories, talked about what Grace meant to them, what sins they wanted to smash upon the paper skin of that piñata, and an entire assembly sang songs in Urdu and Xhosa as they lamented the ways their own church, that each of them personally, were complicit in racism and violence.

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Because everyone has to pee.

And as I myself stood there – posing the self-same deceptively simple question “What is this?” – I began to realize something. As we came together to ask what this day was all about, with little surprise and boundless joy I realized that, as we were dreaming of what Lutheranism could be and could become, all of us assembled truly and surely became the very church for which we sought. We were a church where a queer woman of color had her call recognized by the community and wasn’t gas-lighted into oblivion. It was a place where a black man could talk about Black Lives Matter – accompanied by loud hoots of acclimation as his face streamed tears of relief. Gender Non-Conforming and Trans folkx had all the harassment-free bathrooms they needed and no one ever asked anyone if they were really Lutheran. No one. Not once. And in that wonderful, wonderful day a special clemency, a fresh conviction, and – yes – an amazing Grace – filled every space of the seminary.

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“I did not feel like preaching in an alb.” Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Because those of us that don’t fit the default white, cis-het, sexist, racist profile of greater Luther-dumb suffer much and suffer long – yes. But, too, we know about justification, Augsburg Confession Article IV, about Grace. Because many of us were forced to walk a different walk, to straighten our hair, our teeth, go on a diet, to swap-out Public Enemy for Vanilla Ice – to do the this, the that, and EVERYTHING in between – only to be reminded once again that being forced to change how and what we do – to believe that we must DO things before we can be loved – only makes us despise ourselves.

But God still loved us as we hated ourselves and strove to conform. God loved us when we loved our rolls, let our hair kink, smiled at the bounce in our step, and raised a black-gloved fist next to ours as we shouted “Fight the power!” because God loves us in our pain, in our us-ness, even when we don’t love us – and ESPECIALLY when others turn our self-love into self-hate. Because Jesus, well, his blood washed away the default settings that Satan is always so keen to sculpt and keep. And through this wond’rous love Christ lifted us all up to eternal life.

And lots of Lutherans seem to have forgotten that.

So the Holy Spirit called #decolonizeLutheranism to remind everyone of this love, yet again. And that’s what we did this past Saturday. All. Day. Long.

All day long.

And it was glorious.

And that’s what we’re all about.


red-fireBefore coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005. He completed his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012 and then began Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Fall of 2013 – his emphasis on World Christianity and Global Mission. A polymath and a scatterbrain, when he isn’t preparing for school stuff he blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.

 

Embracing My Unique Identity – Sofia Garfias-Yi

Picture 002Sofia Garfias-Yi, our repeat feature, was asked by a friend to write the following reflection on her life for the Asian Pacific American Coalition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As you might guess by her name, Sofia is both Chinese and Mexican – and in this reflection she shares what this means to her as well as how she has dealt with racial stereo-typing.  So as we both begin the new school year, as well as begin reflecting a bit on the complexity of Latinx identity as part of Hispanic History Month, Sofia’s piece is an excellent way to begin. 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.”


“Oh, you’re Mexican? Why don’t you just get back over the border? Or are you too busy mowing lawns?”

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Me.

It was an unexpected statement for two reasons. One, it was the first time any sort of racially offensive comment had been directed towards me. And two, the statement came from someone I’d considered a friend. Whereas I usually shot down any sassy jokes with a witty remark, I didn’t know what to say that day. My other friends were chuckling along, and eventually I gave in because… well, I didn’t want to seem up tight.

They were probably all thinking the same thing: it’s Sofia, she’s laid back, and she probably won’t care.

But over the next few years, these little instances would come up again and again. What people found absolutely fascinating was that not only was I Mexican, but I was also Chinese. Friends compassionately dubbed me as a ‘Chexican,’ which I thought was pretty clever. But along with this playfulness came other small remarks along the lines of, ‘Of course you’re good at that, you’re Asian!’ to fulfill any Asian stereotypes people had. And every single time, it never crossed my mind to say anything.

The fact was that I felt like I was in some sort of gray area with embracing my identity. As someone with a bi-racial identity, I didn’t really feel like I fit into any specific group. I never fully adopted into some of the American customs and traditions, so I was out of the loop on some aspects of the culture. When I was surrounded by Asian people, I never felt fully a part of them, though we shared a lot of similarities. And quite frankly, I never had too many friends from a Latino background. I was stuck in some sort of identity limbo.

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My family (from left to right): my dad, Hector Garfias-Toledo; my dad’s dad, Nelson Garfias; my dad’s mom, Guadalupe Toledo (front) and me; Snow Huang, my mom’s mom, and my mom Jade Yi.

Though I still struggle with this, I would say that coming to University of Illinois has opened my eyes and helped me embrace myself. Experiences from meeting people in similar situations as mine to taking classes like Gender & Women Studies has made me realize that our identities are unique and should be taken seriously. Offensive and demeaning comments don’t always come from a faceless Facebook user or someone on the street. They can also come from people you consider your friends or acquaintances. It can simply be because they haven’t taken the time to learn what your identity really means, and other times they may simply think they can get away with it because they’re your friend.

However, as I learned, brushing it off and laughing along with my friends didn’t solve anything. I was afraid of seeming uptight or killing the mood, but the very real fact is that the stereotyping and generalization of people of any culture is destructive. Sometimes what it takes isn’t some sort of witty remark or equally offensive comment, but a simple statement that the people of a culture are so much more than their stereotypes. They are each equally unique and have so much to offer to this world.

So go ahead. Next time someone makes a comment, don’t start a fight or brush it off. Start a conversation. You’d be surprised.


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My friend Tina, who inspired me to share my story.

My name is Sofia Garfias-Yi, and I am currently a student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying Sociology and Communication. Though I was born in Austin, Texas, I spent most of my childhood in three different places: Taiwan, Mexico, and the Chicago suburbs. It was only by fourth grade that I settled down in the suburbs, where I currently live now with my parents. As a double PK (pastor’s kid), I’ve had a lot of interesting and wonderful experiences in many different churches, and this has certainly shaped who I’ve become today. My passions include exploring the city of Chicago, making art, and discovering new music.

Reflecting on Where We’ve Come From, Thinking Where to Go* – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas, Blog Editor

Linda Thomas at CTS eventWe have only just begun our work at “We Talk. We Listen.” and there is no better time to talk about the work of inclusion than the first week of classes at my seminary – The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In the last year we heard a wonderful symphony of voices – white pastors and bishops talking about white privilege and anti-racism, three transfolx explaining and exploring the issues of gender and what they mean to the church, and many posts about what it means to be a woman in ministry. So as we re-publish last week’s post, see this as a forum for conversation. Add some comments about what you think this blog can do, what we should do, how we’ve done. Anytime is the perfect time to start asking, as the work of the Gospel never rests, and neither do the forces of evil against whom we so often struggle and strain and sing! So keep reading and keep praying and keep commenting and keep on going!

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


 

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8)

As “We Talk. We Listen.” crosses the threshold of its one-year anniversary I am in a space of celebration for the coalition of voices that have participated in an amazingly constructive, cathartic and transformative process.

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The past 12 months have been an intense journey. As editor, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the many talented and thoughtful authors, researchers and readers. Your support, involvement and enthusiasm have made this forum what it is today.

We Talk. We Listen.” was inspired by womanist public theologian and religion and media specialist the Rev. Dr. Joan Harrell.[1] It endeavors to present diverse voices from a rainbow of social locations and examines how their stories intersect with Christian theology and current events. For her creative contribution and vision to this forum, I am extremely grateful.

Additionally, my gratitude extends to LSTC’s Ph.D. student Francisco Herrera. From its inception Francisco approached the blog as an artist painting on a canvas. He matched graphic representations to each post so that images matched the expressions penned by the blogger. He also managed day-to-day operations for the blog.

Through “We Talk. We Listen.” we have weaved through some of the church and society’s most complex issues.   We’ve weighed in on topics like what it means to be human and be clothed in skin of color in our world; how it feels to experience cultural currents that run counter to biblical teaching; attitudes of entitlement by majority populations, and many other “hot button issues”.

We have examined the many faces of our humanity, our frailty, partiality and brutality. We’ve tried to frame these issues from a theological perspective—how does a public church centered faith drive us, make us different, and keep us hopeful that meaningful progress will be manifest in God’s work through our efforts.

I believe that a significant takeaway from this inaugural year is embracing the need for a more consistent effort among members and leaders of the faith community to speak up, become more active in the aforementioned areas, and redouble our efforts to strive toward the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this year of developing and discovering how to support crucial and dynamic discussions that need to occur.

As “We Talk. We Listen.” eagerly endeavors into its second year, I find that we are facing many familiar obstacles that recent posts have discussed and future posts will seek to examine.

In her August 22nd post, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin thoughtfully examines glaring racial disparities that have persisted since the inception of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. After 28 years, the ELCA continues to under-perform on its self-imposed goal of diversity and inclusion at a rate of at least 10%.

Rev. Paris-Austin provides a magnificent examination of systems, why they’re in place and the checks and balances that need to exist in the way of racial, cultural and ethnic inclusion for the purpose of “justice and peacemaking of our national church”.

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Pastors and activists Rev. Tuhina Rasche (L) and Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin (R) standing with Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton.

As expressed in this piece, Rev. Paris-Austin seeks to remain fully engaged in the conversation with the ultimate goal of reversing the trend of virtually homogenous religious communities. She has demonstrated commendable responsiveness and obedience to the Holy Spirit through her address of the assembly accompanied by action. Continuing to be discerning and attentive to the Spirit’s leanings, Rev. Paris-Austin has stepped out on faith with the foundational guidance that only God’s word can provide.

That same week, then, her colleague, Rev. Tuhina Rasche, spoke about her side of the same issue – the flesh. When life doesn’t have flesh – when it can’t feel, can’t weep, can’t bleed you start to have problems. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus left us a physical reminder of our bond to him – the eucharist. So she then wrote about her part in writing a constitutional resolution so that the ELCA would have accountability, solidarity, and resources to accomplish its announced goal of making the church more inclusive of ethnic differences.

Her experience and subsequent contribution to the blog demonstrates how essential this forum “We Talk. We Listen.” really is to the larger tasks at hand.

As a nation, we are on the precipice of electing our next President and Commander-in-Chief. This cycle, however, has brought to the fore a previously overlooked and very tiny segment of our population (about 1 percent of the total U.S. population[2]). The confluence of Muslim voices and the upcoming presidential election stands to be a showdown of epic proportions.

Amidst this polarized and heated 2016 election, there has also been an upsurge in anti-Muslim rhetoric, leaving many in the Islamic community feeling in danger.

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What to do when you see Islamophobia.

In her December 2015 post, Sara Trumm, the Program Coordinator for LSTC at the Center for Christian Muslim Engagement (CCME), penned “Responding to Anti-Muslim Rhetoric: How to Be a Muslim Ally.” Through the piece, Trumm goes far in linking valuable community resources and suggestions on how non-Muslims can and should access them. To be certain, “We Talk. We Listen.” will continue to be a voice for positive change in this area.

LSTC student authors have contributed foundational articles to the national conversation about gender diversity. Last fall, River Needham proved instrumental in helping us to better understand transgender identity and issues in “Trans/forming our World, our Words and our Selves”.

As a result of contributions by members of the community like Needham, our society is experiencing a growing level of discussion and exposure of many issues impacting the transgender community.

This past spring, “We Talk. We Listen.” also featured the personal account of a beloved graduate of LSTC’s experience as transgender. Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson provoked reflection on the topic he shared with us through “My Gender, So Far…” His piece was so well received; The Huffington Post ultimately picked it up.

Andrew’s recounting of his experience causes readers to pause and resolve to extend understanding and compassion to those facing questions or issues surrounding identification as transgender. The reader is left with a profound sense of necessity for inclusiveness of this community — emphasizing Christian love, the general valuing of diversity and recognizing that they too are image-bearers of Almighty God.

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Andrew Tobias Nelson presiding at the Proclaim retreat for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).

Not only are some of the more profound ideological issues of our humanity being discussed within our forum, but the more pragmatic ones rotate to center stage as well. High on that list includes the long-standing issue of the gender pay gap. First Lady Michelle Obama and at least two dozen American companies took the occasion of Women’s Equality Day this past June to refocus the spotlight on this issue. We know that this discussion on eliminating the pay gap needs to be a regular one in order to bring about positive concrete results. “We Talk. We Listen.” encourages the community to be attuned to this issue. Let us know where and how you see the tide turning towards a narrowing in the pay gap.

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These and many more invigorating discussions can and likely will be found within “We Talk. We Listen.” in this our second year.

To our new and returning students, I wish you well in this upcoming season of study and look forward to seeing you today! Your educational undertaking is crucial and will provide an invaluable contribution to the knowledge, wisdom and depth of spirit required for our society to flourish.

Your ability to keep an open mind and a warm heart will imbue you with the necessary strength to affect change and our Public Church curriculum will help you to do so.  Our faculty takes seriously our charge to cultivate mature, wise Christian leaders to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world. That charge includes developing this blog — creating a powerful resource for students who will become colleagues and leaders in ministry.

To those preparing for the momentous challenge of preparing to be pastors and those preparing for service to the church in some other purposeful capacity, I lift you up and genuinely hope that this blog provides you with a way to remain abreast of issues that directly impact those you interact with daily.

To readers and contributors who are alumni or function as board and trustee members, I additionally challenge you to read, enjoy, engage, question and pray.

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LSTC students, faculty, and staff laughing on a March afternoon.

At our core as humans, we possess different views on a plethora of subjects. For most of humanity our core also dictates, however that we care about the well-being of each other and our world. The bible teaches us that “we are the light of the world” and are called to be light in the time that we are living. So I hope that as you read and consider contributing to the blog that you also respond to your environment in faithful and transformative ways.

Going forward, I passionately encourage readers and contributors alike to share the existence of this forum with fellow members of the community of faith as well as the community at large.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

*This is a re-post of the blog entry from August 30, 2016


[1] Dr. Joan Harrell is the Associate Director, Community Engagement and Visiting Scholar at the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Healthcare. She is also the founder of RacismContradictsChristianity.com and Senior Associate Editor, Journal of Healthcare, Science and the Humanities.

[2] Pew Research Center, A new estimate of the U.S. Muslim population
 (www.pewresearch.org 2016)


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.

 

Almost Latina – Elyssa Salinas, M.Div.

Linda Thomas at CTS eventI had the pleasure of having our next author, Elyssa Salinas, as a student last year. She never ceased to excite and inspire – for as much as her academic writing as her marvelous poetry. You get a taste of both of those things here, in this understated, vulnerably lyrical reflection on coming to understand herself as a latina. Read, comment, and share – and relish in this woman’s powerful story!

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


I was twenty-three years old when I realized I was Mexican.

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Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954).

I always knew that my Dad was from Mexico and that I could attribute my curly hair and Frida Kahlo eyebrows to him. But I didn’t feel Mexican. Growing up I would snuggle into a multicolored blanket with white fringe, and I knew it smelled familiar, but far away. My mother would remind me that I was Mexican, especially when we would take those dreaded trips to visit the family. My dad’s side of the family was either still in Mexico or in various parts of Chicago. When we would walk into the homes of my aunts and uncles, it seemed as though the walls expanded because there was no way that many people fit into such a small house.

The whole family would gather, and I never felt so alone. Spanish would fly through the air, and in the midst of a sentence one of my aunts would cackle, showing her gold-capped molar. My jean-clad bottom would make contact with the plastic-coated cushion of a stiff chair, while a thin flowery plate would be pushed in front of me. Piles of refried beans and some rosy colored rice were always accompanied by either a tamale or enchilada that seemed to come from a never-ending supply. Instead of silverware, tortillas were the way to eat, but I always seemed awkward with them, so I would grab for a fork from the plastic cup that sat in the middle of the table. The tablecloth was encased with another covering that was easy to clean, and in the heat my small forearms would stick to it because it was, of course, plastic.

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From the film “Real Women Have Curves,” starring America Ferrara.

My dad would be sitting across the table from me, and like someone worried about being poisoned, I would watch him eat first. Spicy foods were foreign to my white-washed tongue, and I was afraid everything was spicy: the food and my family. Questioning eyes studied me, so I ate when I wasn’t hungry for fear of being found out. Someone would realize I didn’t belong there and tell me to leave in a language I heard but never understood. To this day, people assume that I can understand some Spanish because my father is from Mexico. I lie and say, ‘a little’, when in reality there is almost nothing I can understand outside of my middle school vocabulary. Since no one ever talked to me about a ‘biblioteca’ or wondered where it was, I was out of luck.

 

After we ate, we would venture to the living room where Telemundo raved and the couches would stick to the back of my thighs because—you guessed it—plastic. Around the television was a shrine of McDonald’s toys standing erect, Barbies still in their boxes, and lots of lace doilies. I made a mental note never to bring a Barbie for one of my cousin’s birthdays because it would end up in the shrine. There was always a copy of Leonardo’s The Last Supper and at least one painting of a painfully white Jesus with blond hair. We would sit in silence until my dad would ask something to one of his brothers.

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I would look around the room like I was in some sort of museum, but I wasn’t sure if I should stare. My eyes would flicker back to the TV where some game show or telenovela would be playing, both containing scantily clad women and boisterous men getting emotional about…everything. I would try to catch my dad’s eye with a face that was begging to get out of there.

I never wanted to be Mexican and I tried for a long time to only use it when I had to. As I got older, my world widened and throughout high school and college there were Latina/o circles that I came into contact with. I would walk past silently, like a spy, unnoticed. Everyone was better at being Mexican and I thought if I tried, I would be a fraud.

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Latino identity is a major issue among US-born Latinos – click here to read more.

When I went to seminary I was closer to coming into contact with my Mexican-ness, but I was still resistant. Yet in one class where I was asked to talk about worship from the perspective of a Latina, all I could think to do was talk about my abuela. She was a devout Catholic, and we couldn’t share a word, but we shared a name.

images.jpgDiscussing my identity in seminary made me recall a memory of her. I remember meeting her when I was seven. It was a dewy and cold morning in my Dad’s hometown. A cow woke me up before it was light out. I walked out of the bedroom shivering and my abuela wrapped a sweater around me that went past my knees. We walked into the kitchen from the courtyard and she gestured for me to sit while she made breakfast. She was blind in one eye from undiagnosed diabetes and always wore her gray hair in one long braid down her back. The kitchen was a safe place for us. There was no talking, but her hands spoke to me. She showed me how to make tortillas, how to roll them, and presented me with a mini press for my tiny tortillas. At dinner they sat beside hers on the table. Memories like this caused me to dive deeper into my Mexican identity with the help of other Latinas/os and a professor who handed me Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldúa, the most important book of this journey.

Since then I have been searching for what that Mexican-ness means to me. I’ve let my hair flow where it wants instead of straightening it into submission, my relationship with Frida Kahlo has graduated way beyond eyebrows, and I own a few books in Spanish that I’ve vowed to read.

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I feel almost Latina. Almost part of that world, but never quite there. I don’t know if it is the language or being raised in a home that was both white and Mexican.

I’ve asked my father why he came to this country and why he didn’t teach me Spanish. He came here to make a better life for his children (or child in this case), and that he was constantly annoyed explaining what he was saying to my maternal grandmother. He also confided that he was worried that Spanish would inhibit my opportunities. Sometimes I wonder what conversations would be like if my Dad and I had a common first language and there wasn’t always a translation barrier. This wall has kept us apart, but since seminary, cooking has become our language. He is a chef who teaches me recipes he cooked in his childhood kitchen, and it has brought us closer together.

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The bread of life.

I feel almost Latina. Every day like I’m almost there, like I’ve almost got it. Then I’m in a group of Latinas/os and I feel like I’m at the kitchen table in my aunt’s house waiting for someone to eat first.

I want to make sure it won’t be too spicy, but I promise I will try whatever is in front of me.

RESOURCES

Two undocumented valedictorians speak out at their graduation ceremonies.


ElE.jpgyssa Salinas believes that her theology must touch her body; therefore, her scholarship encompasses her experience as a Mexican American and as a woman. Utilizing her own body as a crux, her research embraces sex and body-positive theology in order to combat a culture of disgrace. She is currently the Program Assistant for Hunger Education at the ELCA and starting her first semester at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary this Fall. Elyssa continues to write for www.boldcafe.org and on her own blog http://coffeetalkwithe.blogspot.com/, and she performs poetry throughout the city of Chicago.

 

Embracing My Unique Identity: Sofia Garfias-Yi

Picture 002Sofia Garfias-Yi, our next feature, was asked by a friend to write the following reflection on her life for the Asian Pacific American Coalition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As you might guess by her name, Sofia is both Chinese and Mexican – and in this reflection she shares what this means to her as well as how she has dealt with racial stereo-typing.  So as we both begin the new school year, as well as begin reflecting a bit on the complexity of Latinx identity, Sofia’s piece is an excellent way to begin. 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.”


“Oh, you’re Mexican? Why don’t you just get back over the border? Or are you too busy mowing lawns?”

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Me.

It was an unexpected statement for two reasons. One, it was the first time any sort of racially offensive comment had been directed towards me. And two, the statement came from someone I’d considered a friend. Whereas I usually shot down any sassy jokes with a witty remark, I didn’t know what to say that day. My other friends were chuckling along, and eventually I gave in because… well, I didn’t want to seem up tight.

They were probably all thinking the same thing: it’s Sofia, she’s laid back, and she probably won’t care.

But over the next few years, these little instances would come up again and again. What people found absolutely fascinating was that not only was I Mexican, but I was also Chinese. Friends compassionately dubbed me as a ‘Chexican,’ which I thought was pretty clever. But along with this playfulness came other small remarks along the lines of, ‘Of course you’re good at that, you’re Asian!’ to fulfill any Asian stereotypes people had. And every single time, it never crossed my mind to say anything.

The fact was that I felt like I was in some sort of gray area with embracing my identity. As someone with a bi-racial identity, I didn’t really feel like I fit into any specific group. I never fully adopted into some of the American customs and traditions, so I was out of the loop on some aspects of the culture. When I was surrounded by Asian people, I never felt fully a part of them, though we shared a lot of similarities. And quite frankly, I never had too many friends from a Latino background. I was stuck in some sort of identity limbo.

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My family (from left to right): my dad, Hector Garfias-Toledo; my dad’s dad, Nelson Garfias; my dad’s mom, Guadalupe Toledo (front) and me; Snow Huang, my mom’s mom, and my mom Jade Yi.

Though I still struggle with this, I would say that coming to University of Illinois has opened my eyes and helped me embrace myself. Experiences from meeting people in similar situations as mine to taking classes like Gender & Women Studies has made me realize that our identities are unique and should be taken seriously. Offensive and demeaning comments don’t always come from a faceless Facebook user or someone on the street. They can also come from people you consider your friends or acquaintances. It can simply be because they haven’t taken the time to learn what your identity really means, and other times they may simply think they can get away with it because they’re your friend.

However, as I learned, brushing it off and laughing along with my friends didn’t solve anything. I was afraid of seeming uptight or killing the mood, but the very real fact is that the stereotyping and generalization of people of any culture is destructive. Sometimes what it takes isn’t some sort of witty remark or equally offensive comment, but a simple statement that the people of a culture are so much more than their stereotypes. They are each equally unique and have so much to offer to this world.

So go ahead. Next time someone makes a comment, don’t start a fight or brush it off. Start a conversation. You’d be surprised.


 

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My friend Tina, who inspired me to share my story.

My name is Sofia Garfias-Yi, and I am currently a student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying Sociology and Communication. Though I was born in Austin, Texas, I spent most of my childhood in three different places: Taiwan, Mexico, and the Chicago suburbs. It was only by fourth grade that I settled down in the suburbs, where I currently live now with my parents. As a double PK (pastor’s kid), I’ve had a lot of interesting and wonderful experiences in many different churches, and this has certainly shaped who I’ve become today. My passions include exploring the city of Chicago, making art, and discovering new music.