Trump, Arpaio, and the God Who Sees – Joel Cruz, Ph.D.

thomas110_1027092Misery and pain. Arrogance and tragedy. Because of Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, Christians can never allow any who suffer to go without comfort and solidarity. So in the wake of both hurricane Harvey and the pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio, Prof. Joel Cruz shares his pointed but encouraging thoughts on both human suffering and how God stands with us, even when it seems that the pain will never end. Read, comment, and share!

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


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On Friday, August 25, while the nation watched as an increasingly more powerful hurricane barreled towards the Gulf Coast, Donald Trump released two controversial directives aimed at vulnerable communities in our country: the ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces and the pardon of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As a cisgender man, I cannot speak to the experience of my trans friends and colleagues but as a Latino I can imagine that some of their feelings were similar to mine at the pardon of Arpaio – the feeling of justice denied, of being rendered invisible and inconsequential by one’s own government, the sense of being targeted. I do not want to waste space reciting the long litany of Arpaio’s moral and legal offenses. A quick Google search can reveal how he mismanaged funds, tortured prisoners, ignored hundreds of reports of child sexual abuse, and targeted individuals who criticized him with bogus investigations.

What finally brought him before a federal court was the systemic racial profiling of the Latinx community for arrest and detention. He was found in contempt of court several times between 2015 and July of this year for failing to end his practice of detaining Latinx people without charge. It was at this point, before sentencing, that Trump stepped in to pardon Arpaio, effectively placing his stamp of approval on the sheriff’s misdeeds and giving the Latinx community and the judicial system a middle finger.

I could feel myself reeling at the news. Sadness, helplessness, and rage filled me. Another checkmark in a long list of blatant hatred from this man towards marginalized communities from Muslims, African-Americans, Jews, LGBTQ, and Native Americans. On the heels of his defiant defense of his comments after Charlottesville, it has become more obvious that Trump’s administration has sided with the forces of white supremacy and nationalism, supported by the conservative religious voices who have preferred the power of Empire to the service of the Gospel.

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As I scan the comments of my friends who come from Mexican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Peruvian, and other Latin American backgrounds I see that same sense of anger and sadness that I experience. Many are people of faith. Who will see us when our government renders our rights and dignity invisible?

In Exodus 3, Moses, having fled the Pharaoh into the desert, meets the God of the Hebrews. I know many people who like to focus on the burning bush or the great “I Am” statement. But for me, verse 7 stands out:

“Then the Lord said, “I have SEEN the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have HEARD their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I KNOW their sufferings…”

Imperial power commodifies the marginalized. Like the Hebrew people who were used as slaves to build Pharaoh’s monuments, marginalized people today are used for service — to pick crops, nanny children, or entertain the masses in sport and media. Yet the moment they stand up for their rights – or kneel down—they are, in one way or another, made invisible.

Yet God sees…

God hears…

…and God knows the suffering of God’s people.

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Protesting clergy in Ferguson in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown.

 

What’s more, this knowing is not simply the academic knowing of a fact – like 2+2=4. The verb used here is related to the “biblical” sense of knowing as readers of the King James Bible will understand. It is used of intimacy, of sexual relationship, a knowing through experience. God does not simply know the suffering of the people. God KNOWS it. As Christians, we see that in Jesus, a one-time refugee who was arrested and detained without charge, who was tortured by his jailers, who was executed by an indifferent State to make an example of those who would speak out for the voiceless.

Christian devotion in Latin America (and as the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the New World I include the US) has repeatedly resurrected this theme of the God who sees and knows and acts.

In a continent where indigenous, African, creole, and other people have been used and abused by imperial and nationalist powers, their faith in the God who sees butts up against the god of power and wealth with which the Churches have often sided alongside the government.

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In 1531, a decade after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor Indian on a hilltop outside the Mexican metropolis. Mary, with bronze skin and black hair, expectant on this Advent morn with the Christ Child, said to him, “I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows.”

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The Cuban devotion to Caridad del Cobre began in the seventeenth century, claiming that the Virgin Mary rescued two indigenous brothers and an African slave during a storm at sea. For Africans in Cuba, her yellow cloak and association with the waters echoed the Yoruba orisha, Oshún, who exemplifies beautify, sweetness, and life-giving.

And on and on we see it throughout the continent; the God who sees, and hears, and knows.

Many of these Marian apparitions are versions of the Woman Clothed with the Sun from Revelation 12, whose newborn Child is threatened by the dragon that symbolizes imperial might. Rather than a book of future events that Christian pop culture and bad theology imagines, Revelation is a coded anti-Roman tract and looks to the judgment of God on imperial power and the triumph of the non-violent Lamb. But it reminds us that in the meantime, the Empire will have its way:

“Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev 12:17)

Its victims cry out to God under from under the heavenly altar, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10). We echo that cry for justice when governments and churches conspire to maintain power over others and render invisible and silent those whom they decide are expendable or threats to their way of life.

Yet God sees, and God hears, and God knows.

It brings us to the present moment.

What are the organs of seeing, hearing, or knowing but eyes, ears, mind, and heart?

Amid injustice, racism, transphobia, misogyny, and militaristic nationalism, the Body of Christ is the instrument through which God will act in the world. Until Christ returns we must be the fulfillment of the Burning Bush, of Guadalupe, or Oshún. Make no mistake that God still sees and hears. A few years ago, a life size statue of the crucified Christ was discovered on a sandbar by Border Patrol on the Río Grande. Unable to find the original owner (who would carry a life-sized statue across the border?), the Border Patrol donated it to a local church where the Christ of the Undocumented continues to attract the prayers and hopes of the faithful who know full well on whose side God is acting.

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As we take comfort that the Trumps and Arpaios of the world will not have the last word, we must not let the despair of the times paralyze us. We practice self-care and then we act. In the words of Teresa of Ávila:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.”

To that end we – and especially those who benefit from gender, sexual, religious, or racial privilege– must be willing to see the injustices of world, to hear the cries of the oppressed, and to enter into intimacy with our neighbors to know the pain they feel.

Yet this will only be the beginning, for the call to confront evil and act towards the liberation of all peoples is the greater task that lies before us.


Ponce 2016.jpgJoel Cruz is an adjunct professor of theology and history at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  He earned a PhD and ThM from LSTC in World Christianity and Mission as well as a Masters in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Cruz is a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago and is the author of several articles and books, including The Histories of the Latin American Church: a Handbook (Fortress Press, 2014). He is currently working on his next book, a theology of the 17th-century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.
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Hospitality: A Burden and Disruption – River Needham, MDiv Student LSTC

ThomasLindaPresident Trump’s recent transgender military ban has once again catapulted trans identity and issues to the forefront of the national discussion – and it is a complicated discussion at that. To help us sort through this, blog regular River Needham has composed a rather thoughtful explication of the complications around the trans community, health services, and the United States military – as well as the lesson this has for the nation and the way that we take care of each other. 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.”


One of my first memories of my faith journey becoming my own was when I was turning 18, and the time came for me to register with Selective Service. One of the few gifts of having an ‘M’ as my assigned gender marker. Soon after registering, I remember having conversations about becoming a conscientious objector, because I found war abhorrent, as much as I found poverty and homelessness repugnant. Unfortunately, my faith tradition of origin was not a peace tradition. So I began claiming the words of Scripture as my own and creating my theological basis for resisting war – for resisting the systems that incentivize nationalism economically and seek out disadvantaged people to “voluntarily” enlist for military service.

I share this to emphasize that while I have deep respect for people who serve in the armed forces, it is not something I could do, nor have I ever done. What I write here should not be understood as a critique of individuals in the armed forces, but rather an analysis of the systems that comprise the military and the military adjacent industries.

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People who receive a vocational and voluntary calling to the military – they are a gift. This past week we found out through a social media posting that our President finds some approximately 15,500[1] current service members a burden, incurring high medical costs and disrupting military readiness.

In a volunteer Military, we must interrogate who serves, why they serve, and if we are truly a volunteer force. In the book Soul Repair, Brock and Lettini prove that recruiters often target the poorest and most vulnerable U.S. citizens, providing attractive offers of free college education, “three hots and a cot,” or engaging assignments to help develop a career.[2]  The hope of access to gender confirmation surgeries – which civilian health insurance does not cover, with few exceptions – attracts transgender people to serve at a higher rate than the general population: nearly 15% of trans people have served in the military, compared with 8% of the general population.[3] 

 

These statistics and analysis point to the reality that trans people are frequently in positions to make not entirely free decisions to keep themselves safe, fed, and housed with their needs met. When looking at the brutal realities of underground economies, familial relationships and the general devaluing of transgender people, feminine people, and particularly trans feminine people of color, we can ask more probing questions about the freedom people might have to say ‘no’ to a military recruiter.

Sadly, the U.S. Military consumes trans people, particularly trans women, beyond those who serve among its ranks. Regardless of how much thinly-veiled transphobia might show up in tweets from the commander in chief, these transgender women are a resource that is harder to cut off from use: trans women killed by members of the military.

Almost three years ago, Jennifer Laude, a Filipina trans woman, was engaged to a German National, but instead was found dead in a hotel room after U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton violently murdered her. He had been stationed in the Philippines, and numerous military colleagues testified against him – that the techniques he used to kill Laude were techniques learned in his military training, and that he admitted to using them as part of his trans panic defense.[4]

Similarly, about a year ago, Dee Whigham was murdered by a Navy Sailor, who in just over 20 minutes stabbed her 190 times. Dwayna Hickerson, who recently pled guilty to Whigham’s murder, was training to be a weather forecaster at Kessler Air Force Base. His defense as to why he killed Whigham was primarily the same as Pemberton’s. In this situation, the trans panic defense looks like this: after Hickerson found out Whigham’s transgender status, he experienced rage or fear compelling him to kill Ms. Whigham as a means of protecting himself or his reputation. In addition to being a particularly dehumanizing defense, the trans panic defense remains valid in 48 of 50 U.S. states.

That’s not something I want in the world-as-it-could-be.

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In the wisdom of the Prophets, we read: “[…]this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50, NRSV). Similarly, we read Jesus’ statement that towns rejecting his disciples would be less bearable than for the inhospitable Sodom.[5]

In the United States, we have a problem in that we hate transgender people, particularly transgender women of color. Transgender individuals often engage in underground economies. Nearly 50% of those participating in a street economy[6] experienced housing instability, or experienced extreme poverty (living on <$10,000 a year).  These are the facts that burden me.  Perhaps trans healthcare is expensive, but estimates place the actual cost of gender affirming hormones and [potentially] surgeries at 0.14% of the total military health care expense. 

The 2015 Trans Survey breaks down many aspects of transgender experiences. One typical response from our families when and after we disclose our gender journey is to end the relationship. According to the survey, 26% of people report having relationships end within a year of coming out; ten years after coming out the number has increased to 43%.

The reality of ended relationships disrupts my life, and even more disrupting is the realization that trans people whose families have ended relationships with them, or whose loved ones have unsupportive relationships with them, have a 57% lifetime rate of attempting suicide. Having affirming relationships – hospitality – turns that 57% lifetime rate of attempting suicide into a 33% chance of attempting suicide.

In the example of inhospitality, of preying on the stranger in the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah became an example of how not to act in the world. Time after time the scripture reminds us that their sin of inhospitality is what brought about their end.

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Certainly, transgender people are not about to cause the collapse of society. Perhaps other deeper views about us point to other ways the world as we might like it to be is collapsing. Some organizations use the statistics around transgender existence in the world without advocating for needed changes.  Others count our health care a burden while considering the analogous treatment for a hypoactive thyroid to be a reasonable accommodation.   The world-as-it-is is becoming the world-as-it-could-be, and I’m eagerly anticipating a world filled with hospitality for all the people God has created. Where hospitality neither disrupts nor is a burden. Where medication and health care are available in abundance to all who need; and where all are treated with dignity and live until we die of old age and not because of some system exploited us until we die.


PressPhoto.jpgRiver Needham  is a clergy candidate with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC/MCC), and studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. River focuses their time and studies on fostering trans/formation and emotional wellness within local congregations. River uses pronouns like they/them/theirs/themselves.

[1] http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2017/jul/26/mark-pocan/how-many-people-military-are-transgender/

[2] Brock, Rita Nakashima and Gabriella Lettini, SOUL REPAIR Recovering from Moral Injury after War Brock, Rita Nakashima. Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War . Beacon Press. Kindle Edition., Kindle (Boston MA USA: Beacon Press, 2012), 2–4.

[3] James S. E. et al., “The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey” (National Center for Transgender Equality, December 7, 2016), 166, http://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/USTS-Full-Report-FINAL.PDF.

[4] In April 2017, the appeal was resolved, with Ms. Laude’s family receiving P150,000 as Civil Indemnity and Moral Damages.

[5] Matthew 10:14-15

[6] Street Economy is a collective term referring to economies which are not regulated and do not exist in formal ways, but are employed to help people meet their needs. It includes such things as drug dealing, the sex trade, and other economies like trading other services for places to sleep or food.

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.


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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 www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.

 

My Gender, So Far… – Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson

ThomasLinda sittingAs our conversation on gender continues, we’re going to make a marvelous twist in the road with our next author, Andrew Nelson. From the halls of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to Holden Village to his call in New York state, Andrew is extravagant with his energy, sincerity, and enormous heart. Since coming out as trans a little over one year ago – barely one year into his first call – Andrew has spoken openly and playfully about everything that he’s been going through. Thankfully, Rev. Nelson is now, generously and joyously,  sharing some of those thoughts with us. Gender is a thing, people, so take a peek at what Pastor Andrew has to say about it and – of course – read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

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A transmasculine person writing on why gender matters…
There’s a sentence, isn’t it?
Are we ready for a conversation about genders outside the binary, genders along the spectrum, genders that are fluid, genders for which we don’t have words in English?
To put myself in a gender category is easier some days than others. Growing up with a female body (that’s called my sex, different from my gender) there were expectations for my behavior which were only partially enforced. Grandma called me ‘young lady’ when I needed to calm down, my father adjusted my posture at the piano, and of course I had to go to prom in a dress. But when it came to climbing trees and playing music or sports, I was just a kid, and being a boy or girl didn’t come into it.
When I came out as Transgender about a year and a half ago, some of my friends who have known me awhile responded by nodding and telling me I make more sense male than I do female. While this was a great affirmation to hear, it does make me wonder what in the world we mean when we perceive people as either male or female, how we behave when we meet somebody who is androgynous, and why it matters so much.
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Everyone inhabits a multitude of spaces: age, gender, sexuality, class, race, mental health, physical ability, education, politics, family systems, culture, Star Trek or Star Wars… We are none of us only one thing, yet male/female seems to be one of the first things we give as primary identity. It’s already been noted that when a baby is born or expected one of the first ways we decide what gifts to get and what dreams to start dreaming is to unveil the birth sex (which we call gender, but these are not actually the same thing).
Gender plays into our power structures, culturally who is allowed to get how angry about what, who is allowed to grieve in what way, who is expected to take care of the household or be the breadwinner. Even when a heterosexual couple tries to live in an equal partnership, the pay gap and surrounding culture don’t support equality within marriage as much as reinforce unhealthy pressures for culturally gendered roles. We’re getting a little better, changing tables are gradually showing up in men’s restrooms so dad can change a diaper, Target recently stopped specific gender marketing toys for kids (though toy guns have an aisle that’s blue and dolls have an aisle that’s pink – and don’t even get me started on “Lego Friends”), and more hopeful stories are being told about folks who don’t buy into to the binary – but it’s slow going since so much of our expectations are internalized past the point of noticing them.
Gender is the water we swim in.
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So why do we still hold to gender? What does it matter that ‘real women have curves’ or ‘real men love Jesus’? What are ‘real’ men and women, and why do we perpetuate that conversation as though we need to prove our own validity as human people?
Can’t a ‘real’ person just be a person?
I remember an old movie I used to watch as a kid included the song “I enjoy being a girl,” which, coming from a family where sexuality was taboo and gender got all conflated with attractions and purity, was not something we ever really talked about. But then came the Disney movie Mulan and the song “I’ll make a man out of you” was both exciting because I connected with it, and problematic because it reinforced a very particular kind of masculinity. I mean, my father darns his socks and speaks quietly, but he’s no less a man for his gentle behavior.
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So how do I know how to behave to convince the people around me of who I am as a transmasculine person?
Does it even matter that they see my gender?
How do I have to hold myself in public to hear ‘sir’ instead of ‘ma’am’ (neither of which seems like I’m old enough for those labels, which speaks to cultural ageism)? (How) do I need to adjust my interactions with women and other men so as not to make anybody uncomfortable by my loud humor and big hugs, which could be received differently depending on if I’m wearing a suit or a dress? Navigating gendered space, like public bathrooms, is not something we should have to be afraid of. Yet because our brains learn categories as a way to make sense of the world around us, we need to know some basics, some boundaries, some common sense for keeping one another safe and providing for community flourishing the best we can.
Gender matters, in that we can fall back on it for generalities, for stories, for illustrations of ways of being, but it also doesn’t matter, in that there are so many ways to be male or female or both or neither, and every situation and relationship calls out different nuances, different varieties of strengths and weaknesses, as we support and connect with one another. Gender can be a game instead of a power play, it can be fun instead of rigid, but far too often machismo and homophobia relegate masculinity and femininity to small, tight spaces where there is no room to breathe or figure out who we actually are. We do not need to prove ourselves as ‘real’ men or women to celebrate and discover who we are individually and as part of God’s Beloved Community.
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I am a transmasculine person who looks forward to playing with gender expectations, to make the space around me safer for those who don’t fit the binary, to open up conversations about getting to know one another beyond the ‘types’ of our male/female expectations.
I am a transgender man because it is the most honest way I have to present myself to the world around me.
That’s what gender is about, how we relate to and through our presentation of self and our interactions with others, how we explore and share the selves God has created us to be, how we reflect the Image of a God who is so much bigger than our labels.

1234069_10100529137486034_1394595583769889368_n.jpgAndrew Tobias Joy Nelson is a 2012 graduate of LSTC, serving his first half-time call in Chatham, NY. He’s trying to be as visible as possible about being Trans for the sake of those for whom visibility is impossible because it would put their lives and livelihoods at risk. Andrew plays french horn and is always reading four or five books at a time, though he can’t pick a favorite between Star Wars and Star Trek because the musical scores are too good. He writes in tribute to his mother, who responded to his public gender transition with the assurance that she “always knew [she] was carrying a boy.”