Remembering Dr. James H. Cone, Professor, Prophet, Pastor, Mentor, and Friend – Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas, editor’s special

Linda Thomas & Dr. Cone--Graduation June 1981_let
Me and Dr. Cone at my graduation from Union Theological Seminary.

It is hard to describe my relationship to the Rev. Dr. James H. Cone – it is hard for all of us who were marked by this great man. Yet, as someone who has carried his legacy, and who must carry this legacy even more boldly now that he has gone home, it is important for me to do what I can to share what this man has meant to me, and by extension, what he means to the Academy and the Church. May my offering be acceptable in your sights. 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.”

The Rev. Dr. James H. Cone in the late 60’s, early in his career.

On Saturday morning, 29 April 2018, I received a text from my BFF, Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas that our beloved mentor, Dr. James Hal Cone had died. Although I’d anticipated this communiqué, my mind could not fully grasp the feelings my body held. Like a dam that had burst, memories flooded my mind. My long-term memory bank released a tsunami of images flooding my entire being.

I was exhausted in just a few moments.

The grieving process had begun and moves to a new junction as the Life of Dr. James Hal Cone is celebrating at his “Home Going” Service today at 11 a.m. at the Riverside Church in New York City. I am attending that service with my daughter, Dora.

This week I dedicate this blog post to Dr. James H. Cone.

The announcement of his passing went around the world in a matter of seconds. My Facebook page showed messages in a variety of languages, some unrecognizable to me. Dr. James Cone did two basic things that reshaped theological discourse throughout the globe. First, he re-imagined the image of God, positing that God is Black. Second, his book Black Theology and Black Power published 1969 presented the first systematic presentation of Black Theology bringing to light God presence in the struggle for freedom by black Americans centered in the gospel message of salvation. Written in light of the commencement of the Civil Rights Movement this book thundered to the world a theological anthropology that Black Lives Matter.

There are so many ways to write this post.

I will take the path of simplicity so that as many people as possible, including children can know this iconic person..

jim crw

Early Life, Faith Formation, and White Supremacy

James Cone was born in Fordyce, Arkansas in 1939 and grew up in the small town, Bearden. He lived with a diunital reality: the love and affirmation of the historic Black church realized through African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) he attended with his family and a normative death-dealing anti-black racism.

AME red-black-green Sheild

White culture of the south and elsewhere in the United States at that time actively displayed social norms that devalued Black people. Cone and his brother always stayed up late until they heard their father’s truck drive up, signaling that he was home from his day of work.

Cone’s mother comforted her sons by teaching them the power of God in history and in every present moment. She taught them that Jesus’ power was with them and that Jesus knew about suffering so he understood the plight of black people. She also taught that the Holy Spirit was actively present, giving them a kind of protection and freedom that transcended the worries of this world.

Their church taught them the same. And even though they were surrounded by dangers of white supremacy, and therefore always in danger, they were in God’s hands.

Education, Vocation, the persistence of racism and Cone’s Response

Cone went to Shorter College and Philander Smith College in Little Rock receiving his B.A. in 1958. Acknowledging his call to ordained ministry he entered divinity studies at Garrett Theological Seminary and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1961. He received his M.A. from Northwestern University in 1963, and his Ph.D. from the same institution in 1965.

There, too, he experienced racism.

Upon finding out that James Cone was black, his initial scholarship was reneged and he had to take on janitorial duties to support himself. Despite everything, though, he persevered. He told his white student colleagues that he would eventually write about the God Human relationship for the perspective of black people and they retorted that black people were not worthy of being reflected upon theologically, but just as his classmates at Garrett discounted his scholarship so did the white theological academy. Even so, Cone’s critiqued white theologians and the white church because he believed that to be the task of the theologian. His writing radically criticized one of the US’s most beloved theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr – whose theological imagination thrilled white culture while telling Black folks who lives were mired by structural racism to “go slow” as they pushed for equality during the Civil Rights Movement.

angels rafters

Anyone who knew James Cone knew that he cared very little about what white folks thought of him or his theological commitments. He focused his entire life on the theological relationship between God and Black people. Moreover, his focus was not on “when we all get to heaven” but rather on “Thy Kingdom come on earth …” His entire vocation endlessly proclaimed that the “Kin-dom” of God – as evinced in the lives of Black people – was indeed an integral and powerful vision of what the Church needed to be – this was very different from the white theology espoused by most white theologians and the majority of white churches.

Systematic Theological Response: Black Theology and Black Power (1969)


When the dreams and frustrations of Black People erupted in protest and resistance in the 1960’s, James Cone put pen to paper and wrote, Black Theology and Black Power, declaring that God was in the midst of these eruptions, making these protests and demonstrations “good.”

Moreover, since the God of Black people loved Black people as much as White people, and since that same God died on the Cross for Black people as God had for White People, then as baptized Christians Black people had no choice, but to love themselves as they loved their neighbors. This meant rising up to defend themselves when White Christians participated in the oppression of Black people.

For Cone, institutions entrapment of black citizens in cycles of poverty, poor education, discriminatory laws, and a church unrepentant for its open racism was the deep and insipid sin that the nation needed to confront.  

But though white society and the white church would shout “Peace! Peace!” as dogs attacked beautifully, Sunday-church clad black folks and KKK members bombed churches and killed beautifully Sunday-church clad black children, people of African Descent across the nation shouted “There is no peace!”


Systematic Theological Response: The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011)

In 2011, Cone’s final book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree was published. Hear his words:

“What is invisible to white Christians and their theologians is inescapable to black people. The Cross is a reminder that the world is fraught with many contradictions–many lynching trees. We cannot forget the terror of the lynching tree no matter how hard we try. It is buried deep in the living memory and psychology of the black experience in America. We can go to churches and celebrate our religious heritage, but the tragic memory of the black holocaust in America’s history is still waiting to find theological meaning. When black people sing about Jesus’ cross, they often think of black lives lost to the lynching tree …to the gun of white police” (Cone 2012: 159-160).

Cone resilience came from the teachings of his early faith community, his faith was matched by a deliberate Christian ethics grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity and as his scholarly record demonstrates he made consistent scholarly contributions throughout his life. These writing demonstrate his evolving self that adapted to  encounters with interfaith traditions, black women’s and women of color’s articulation of sexism and gender discrimination in their cultural context, ecological theology, and much, much more. 

His legacy includes nine books of which four have been translated into nine languages. He published  over 150 articles; was granted numerous awards distinguished awards and lectured at myriad universities and public societies and institutes throughout the United States, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

The power of Cone’s work is that calls the Church to connect the it collusion with if not direct participation in the oppression of black people in America to the cross and the lynching tree thereby linking the execution of Jesus by the Roman State with the murder of black people by lynching whether by mob or by gun.


Moreover, the resurrection represents God’s love for the marginalized to create movements like the Civil Rights movement, and Black Lives Matter, #MeToo – to mark resistance against “populist” thrusts to “Make America Great Again.” The Church must be the “head light rather then the tail light.” Cone’s work calls the entire church to that which non-black leaders who are part of the culturally dominant group to recall the marks of the church and to re-member the church.

Perhaps, in this time and place, the church for a public church is what is the church going to choose to be? Who is the church going to serve?

And that is what we must continue to do, friends.

That is what we must continue to do – to preach to the Church, to all people, to pay heed to the marginalized voices within it so that it might “re-member” or become whole flesh again. Cone pointed a way forward back in 1969 when he published “Black Theology and Black Power,” as a reminder for the church in the United States to get back into it’s body, to deal with it’s pain and injustices. And if there is one thing that he taught so many of us over the years – students, mentees, readers, all of us – was that it is only when we use our distinct theological voices can we be sure that we speak the most clearly.

So in memory of my teacher, mentor, and friend – keep on speaking!



black and white dr thomasDr. 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.


Reading Lists and White Supremacy – Marissa Becklin; MDiv student

Picture 002Reading – what a wonderful activity, yes? Reading is important to how we explore new ideas, deepen ideas we currently have, not to mention deepen our faith as Christians. But sadly, even here, what we read – and more specifically how we choose what we read – can just as easily be a tool of white supremacy, and the forces of this world that seek to keep us divided up and primed-up. Marissa Becklin, MDiv sudent at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, shares her personal epiphany of how even something so simple as her personal reading choices entrenched her biases and privilege, and what she is doing to address it. Read, comment, and share.

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

I love reading.

books.jpgI have loved reading for as long as I can remember—as a child I used to stay up late (long past when my parents had thought I had gone to bed) in order to finish the book I was currently immersed in. At that young age I read to hear the stories of others, to learn about their experiences, their joys, their challenges—to feel connected to others in a way that felt somehow more vulnerable and real than the interactions that I watched adults around me engage in with one another. Reading was a way for me to seek understanding—it was a way for me to practice listening.

Today, as an adult, I still love to read. I enjoy all sorts of genres, and benefit greatly from hearing about the world through the eyes of another. Reading has become a spiritual practice for me during seminary—when I am overwhelmed, exhausted, bored, and am about to turn to my phone, computer, or TV, I turn instead to a book. When people I am friends with find out how much time I spend reading, they are often astonished—they wonder how I find the time, and sometimes imply that my time spent reading must equate to a habit of laziness. In fact, reading is not a silly habit that I need to actively make time for in my life—it is a practice of quiet time and reflection that I depend on in order to function holistically. Through hearing the stories of others, I feel closer to God.


But as a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman, born in the United States, who grew up middle-class, if reading is my spiritual practice and my reading list only privileges the voices of those who have been historically privileged, I am worshiping the false idol of white supremacy instead of God.

I have been guilty of this on so many occasions—of reading books primarily by white authors, by male authors, by US authors, by straight authors, by cis-authors. Of, as a student, buying into the narrative handed to me in a public high school in Iowa that the “literary canon” is made up of white men because they “write the best stories.” Of tending only to see or perceive as esteemed and worthy those authors who the narrative of white supremacy names as esteemed and worthy. Of letting the voice of white supremacy ring in my ear in the stories that I chose to read.

As summer begins in the northern hemisphere, this is the season of blog posts about summer reading list recommendations.


Though it is not shocking, many of the posts that I see pop up on my Facebook page are lists of white authors, or are fluffy stories deemed appropriate for ‘reading on the beach.’ These are lists of books to help privileged folks deny the pain of the world, avoid the reality of oppression that they participate in, and ‘escape from it all.’ The ability to ‘escape from it all’ in books is a sign of privilege. The ability to, in one’s free time, choose not to think about the hardships that others face (and the ways in which many benefit from that hardship), is a sign of privilege. It reminds me of what a white congregant once told me when we were talking about Islamophobia in the United States during an adult education session—“Do we really need to talk about this? I don’t come to church on my day off to get bummed out.”

This existence in a literary vestige to privilege brings me no joy. As I continually reevaluate my reading habits and watch for sinful patterns in my choice of books, I ask myself the question—why do I read?

Do I read to feel good about myself?

To ‘get away from it all’?

To deny reality?

The answer is no.

I read to hear the stories of others.

collage books.jpg
Links: Farewell to Manzanar, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Borderlands/La Frontera, Midnight’s Children, Between the World and Me, Our Lives Matter.

I read to listen—to hear what another person sees in this world, to seek understanding. I read to hear in someone’s own words about their history, their experiences, their life. I read to feel closer to others, and subsequently to feel closer to God, and when I read only or primarily the voices of those historically privileged, I grant power to the idol of white supremacy. I sinfully ignore the voices of so many who have stories to tell, truth to speak.

In this sinfulness, I feel separate from God.

Hearing the stories of others, in all of their intricacies and complexities, makes me a more whole person. In the insidious world of white supremacy, the propagation of oppression and violent narratives about the ‘normativity’ of white culture depend upon all of us—all of God’s beautiful, unique, intricate people—not hearing one another’s stories. When we don’t hear one another’s stories, it becomes so easy to buy into false narratives of scarcity—to believe that we are in competition with one another, that our liberation is not interrelated and interdependent. The onus is on those who have privilege—on me, as a white, cisgender, heterosexual, married, Christian, U.S. citizen—to do the work of listening for the voices of those we have wrongfully and sinfully deemed unimportant or lacking in esteem.


The onus is on people with privilege to seek out the stories of those whose oppression they have wrongfully benefited from, and to amplify their voices.

So, during this season of book lists, why do you read?

Who do you read?

ATT00001..jpgMarissa Becklin is a final year semianry student pursuing her Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of The at Chicago, and is currently as an intern at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Waukesha, WI. Her passion for gospel-centered justice was ignited at Luther College in Decorah, IA, and further fostered during her summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Sinai Health System in Chicago. Marissa lives with her husband Hans, who is also a seminarian completing his internship year in Chicago. She loves reading, playing the saxophone, and traveling.


Listening and Change – Michael Markwell

Linda Thomas at CTS eventDespite even our sincerest efforts to the contrary, bias easily bleeds into and warps our best intentions and actions. This is certainly true in today’s post, where Michael Markwell reflects on the difference between earlier efforts at Muslim/Christian dialogue that he’s done as opposed to a recent experience. Part of my class, “Identity and Difference: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class and Sexuality,”  makes another wonderful addition to our recent conversations on intersectionality on the blog, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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


A few weeks ago I got the privilege of accompanying a group from my church to an Islamic Mosque. The visit to the mosque followed a multi-week study based on the book My Neighbor is Muslim. The first part of the study was a look in on what we as Lutherans believe, How can we understand our neighbors faith if we do not remind ourselves and make sure we are firm in what we believe.

This look at our own faith then allowed for us to look at the beliefs and teachings of Islam. The journey through this study was an important opportunity for our congregation. Mainly white middle-class in a south suburb of Chicago, the majority of the middle aged participants in the study have had little interaction with Muslims. The study was capped off with a trip to a local mosque. This was my first time to a mosque, we attended mid-day prayers, then following the prayers leaders of the mosque meet with us. They provided us with a space to ask questions, about them or about their faith.

Because how can we love our neighbors without knowing what they believe?

Every couple of weeks I see very similar posts on social media. The post typically involves a snapshot of a homework assignment and a letter that a parent wrote to the teacher/principal/school board. There is always a question on the homework assignment that ask something along the lines of “What are the five pillars of Islam.” The response from the parent is usually rage and anger:

“How dare you teach my kid about Islam and Jihad, stop trying to brainwash our kids, there are no assignments on Christianity?!”

How are we to love our neighbors if we refuse to even understand their beliefs? How can we serve our neighbors if we don’t know their needs?


I can remember back to times when I was in school and studied world religion, including Islam. I was a junior in high school taking world history and we studied the basic principles and practices of all major religions. When I was in college, as part of my history degree, I took a class in the history of Christian and Muslim relations. Again we started the class by learning the basic beliefs and practices of each religion. Refusal to learn about the practices of another religion is not wanting to protect children from influences of other religions, it is a refusal to sit at the same table.

Yet it surprises me that at least on the two occasions I remember studying Islam neither time did we have a Muslim speaker or visit a mosque. Both previous times I learned about Islam the information was presented in a very informative matter, but it seems odd to me to not have had the opportunity to learn firsthand.

I got a serious lesson in hospitality when we visited the mosque. Before we left for the mosque we made sure our group had eaten. We visited the Mosque during Ramadan, and we were not expecting any refreshments as they were observing the fast. The last thing I would have expected was to be served a full meal during the day during a fasting holiday. But our gracious hosts did just this, serving us pizza, there in the mosque they served us pizza. The children of one of the leaders stood there no more than 10 years old and served us, despite them not being able to eat.

Boy preparing evening meals during Ramadan.

We were thanked for our approach and our willingness to listen to their stories. The leader of the mosque was grateful that we were going beyond what we hear about through the news. I had the opportunity to talk to a leader in a private conversation.

He said his prayer every day when he wakes up is that he won’t turn on the TV and see another terrorist attack. Each time there is an attack in the news he worries for his family, especially his children.

What I took away from the whole experience is the importance in our congregations and communities to encourage opportunities to learn in ways that challenge and break down our pre-conceived notions. I had some concern when we first went to the mosque, concern that members of our congregation who may have come in with preconceived notions, even following our study would be rude or insensitive. But to my relief the experience of having the opportunity to meet a Muslim and hear their story, separated what they have been feed from Fox News. The power of stories continues to amaze me in the work that it does to educate and to break down walls.

We have the power to listen to stories. Unfortunately only one story of Muslims gets told in the news. That is the story of ‘radical Islamic terrorists.’ However if we took the time to listen to the stories of Muslims we would learn that they are professionals like us, they are parents like us, they go about life in similar ways. There are tons of ways to access stories of individuals from other religions, cultures, economic backgrounds, races, and genders.


As a white, cis-gender, anglo-saxon, protestant, married, heterosexual, male of middle-class upbringing, I feel that it is my responsibility to allow others to tell their stories, and when I cannot, to do the best I can to tell them on their behalf.

We cannot allow single narratives to continue to dominate our society and shape the way we view other cultures.

pic.jpgIn addition to being the Youth Ministry Coordinator at Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church in  Lockport, IL, Michael Markwell has just completed the first year of his M.Div. studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Prior to beginning his studies he was a school teacher, camp counselor, and dorm resident assistant.

What I Learned about Racism and White Guilt – Karen Katamy

thomas110_1027092In the coming weeks We Talk. We Listen. will be hosting a series of blog posts on intersectionality, defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Our first post is by LSTC student Karen Katamy, and the insights that she gained upon reading lesbian black scholar Audre Lorde in my class “Identity and Difference: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class and Sexuality.”  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.”

Recently I took a class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on “Intersectionality” by Dr. Linda Thomas.  This was hands down the most powerful and emotional class I have ever taken. But at the end of the one week intensive class, I was struggling with the emotions that I felt and wondering, where do I go from here?  How do I, an older white, middle class, heterosexual female, make a difference in a world where I am privileged and many are marginalized? Are my emotions from guilt for being complicit in the suffering of others, or because God is calling me to make a difference and I don’t know where to begin?


I felt I needed to explore these emotions a little bit more and went to the library and found a book published in 1997 on racism titled Race: An Anthology in the First Person, edited by Bart Schneider, and began reading some of the stories and lectures by various authors.  I finally found one that addressed what I was feeling and helped me to understand.

The entry was a speech given by Audre Lorde as a keynote presentation at a Women’s Studies Conference at the University of Connecticut in 1981.  Yet this speech could easily still apply today.  The anthology gives this background on her: “Audre Lorde was born in New York City in 1934 and died of cancer in Saint Croix, the Virgin Islands, in 1992. She was a poet and essayist who worked as a librarian and creative writing professor. Her books include Zani: A New Spelling of My Name, Use of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, The Cancer Journals, Sister Outsider, and The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. A powerful writer and speaker, Lorde articulated with a passionate anger, the reality of being a woman of color in America, and made clear the relationship between racism and sexism. She was an inspirational individual and social leader who wrote important essays on lesbian mothering, the erotic, and surviving cancer.”

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde’s speech is titled “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.”  In her speech, she says this:

“My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of anger will teach you nothing, also.

Women responding to racism means women responding to anger – the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and cooptation.

My anger is a response to racists’ attitudes and to the actions and presumptions that arise out of those attitudes. If your dealings with other women reflect those attitudes, then my anger and your attendant fears are spotlights that can be used for growth in the same way I have used learning to express anger for my growth. But for corrective surgery, not guilt. Guilt and defensiveness are bricks in a wall against which we all flounder; they serve none of our futures.”

Ms. Lorde than lays out some examples of encounters that she has had with white women, which shows how clueless and insensitive white women can be sometimes (myself included – trigger the guilt and shame).  Then she pointed out another factor, which can still be true today:

“Mainstream communication does not want women, particularly white women, responding to racism. It wants racism to be accepted as an immutable given in the fabric of your existence like evening time or the common cold.

So we are working in a context of opposition and threat, the cause of which is certainly not the angers which lie between us, but rather that virulent hatred leveled against all women, people of Color, lesbians and gay men, poor people – against all of us who are seeking to examine the particulars of our lives as we resist our oppressions, moving toward coalition and effective action.”


So, getting now back to that guilt and shame that I am feeling, where do I go with that?  Do I pull back into my white privilege bubble and ignore what I see happening around me?  Or can I use that constructively?  Here is Ms. Lorde’s response:

Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness … Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees …

But the strength of women lies in recognizing differences between us as creative, and in standing to those distortions which we inherited without blame but which are now ours to alter. The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal but a sign of growth.”

Guilt then can be the beginning of knowledge.  And so my journey begins!

3696194Karen Katamay is a Master of Arts in Ministry student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, studying to be a deacon in the ELCA.

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.”


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.


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. 

LSTC tea 3
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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

trans image.png
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.

Juan Diego.jpg

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…


 “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?”

@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.

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.

“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.


Before 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, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor, both at LSTC and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.