As a Latino – Abel Arroyo

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

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

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


 

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Street fair in Miami.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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LSTC students and faculty traveling in India.

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

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

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

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

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Me and my beloved parents.

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

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

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

God of everything good and delicious.

God of every pain and indulgence.

God of every breath.

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

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

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

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


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

A Psalm to my Ancestors – Rev. Kwame Pitts; Pastor, Redeemer Lutheran Church, South Holland, IL

ThomasLinda sittingInvariably, in the lives of virtually every Christian of African descent, there comes a time where you have to reflect upon the ways that white supremacy have made their mark on you – all the more so if you are a pastor. In our second post celebrating African Descent History month, this week’s author, Rev. Kwame Pitts (LSTC, 2015), shares some of her own powerful journey in her inimitable poetic style – and how she mines the richness and vitality of her African spiritual roots in her work as a Christian and Lutheran pastor. 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.”


“By re-recognizing a pagan understanding of our origins and the dynamics of culture, cultivation and worship and by returning to a connection with our roots and origins, we might begin to reestablish a sacred immediacy as the foundation for an equitable, universal, and human global society, one with its feet on the ground and its head challengingly but no less compassionately in the heavens.” (York, 2003).

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Olofi – Creator-God

This, more or less is confessional,

This is not your typical,

“Let me share with you,

Why I am proud to be Black.”

This, is not your typical theological insightful blog post,

More confessional,

Because for the life of me,

Not sure why,

The Creator has me simultaneously

Dancing down dual pathways

Last January, as a part of African Descent Month, Chicago Theological Seminary hosted a lecture, film showing, and worship surrounding the Yoruba culture and religion. The highlight for me personally was the lecture given by Dr. Tracey Hucks on the subject of Yoruba Religion and its intersectionality with African American culture and experience. In her book Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism, she states “The religious nationalism of African American Yoruba would proclaim a new epistemology of the sacred and provide an important reflection upon the past.” (Hucks, 2012)

We,

As people of African Descent

Are willing

And eager

To claim

Who We Are

To claim

Africa

Her Culture

Her Resources

Her Resiliency

Her Power

But we shy away at how She connects

Welcomes in

The Divine!

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Yoruba women.

We,

As African Americans

Have had to be creative,

Fashioning from the unmalleable life we were handed

Something new here

Born from the ashes of violence,

Occupying our sacred bodies

From the erasure of our sacred tongue

From the silencing

Of our Rites,

Our rituals

Our communing in the midst

Of spiritual mysteries

We,

A maligned

Abused

Subjugated people

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Radically

Painstakingly

Began to transform

Our narrative

In hostile lands

To try to siphon off the poison of the status quo

The dominant white culture

The oppressor,

So we,

As African Americans

Could reclaim our humanity.

But,

The lies remained.

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“This has become a battle between good and evil; Satan has a question.” from “X” , directed by Spike Lee – click here to watch.

 

The questions that Malcolm X addresses in this scene is whether the original disciples were Black

Whether Jesus was Black.

How often have we,

As people of Color,

Been surrounded with portraits

Pictures

Paintings

Seeing God as white,

And coming to the conclusion

That is why God has not heard our cries

Our pain

And has abandoned us

Because God obviously did not look like us.

These are Lies.

Fed through the lens of Christianity,

Twisted

In the hands

Of the

Oppressor.

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Mama Dantor

But the Creator has not abandoned us,

Never has.

Because we are Children of Nature,

Children of the Light

The Creator of All

Has given us…

Now,

This is where many of you will disagree with me.

I am not asking you to abandon the faith of those beloved mothers and fathers

I am asking you to dig into your roots

Honor

Recognize

The Creator by Ancient Names

Olofi

Obatala

Oldumare

I am asking you to listen to the drums…

And when you hear them

Will you respond?

“The African understanding of the supreme deity as Creator and preserve of all that is implies divine order and harmony both in and among the realms of spirit, nature and history. In the realm of spirit that hierarchical relationship among the supreme deity, the subdivinities, and the ancestral spirits is the paramount exemplar order and harmony, and African peoples seek to emulate it in their familial and tribal communities.” (Douglas, 2005).

And yet, our ancient ways of celebrating and worshiping God have been demonized.

If we are to celebrate African Descent History month, we must lift up all

Because the institutionalization

Of white American Christianity

Has unfortunately

Stalled

The

Revolution

Attempting to snuff out the LIGHT

Of a People.

“The West’s progressive turning away from functioning spiritual values; its total disregard for the environment and the protection of natural resources; the violence of inner citites with their problems of poverty, drugs, and crime; spiraling unemployment and economic disarray; and growing intolerance towards people of color and the values of other cultures…will eventually bring about a terrible self-destruction.” (Somé , 1994).

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There is the confession

Of fear.

I fear for us,

The Children of Light,

Children of Nature

Whom they

Are trying to erase our presence

And therefore I am at this crossroads,

Where

I am dancing along two paths.

There are t-shirts being sold on the internet that say-

“I am my Ancestor’s dream”

Let’s not allow these dreams to fade,

And die.

Ase.


13938421_10208977974099545_5282319197550592525_n.jpgThe Rev. Kwame Pitts, a LSTC alum (M.Div, 2015) dances with the both/and: Serving her Call to be a prophetic Witness of the Gospel as a Rostered and Ordained Pastor in the ELCA; causing chaos whether it is through voting rights (#ELCAVOTES) or contemplating how everyone should be visible in the institution of the Church, especially as the status quo attempts to quell the presence of many voices (#decolonizeLutheranism). When not challenging the institution of Christianity, she has entered the fray of theology/academica once more (S.T.M) in the fertile ground of Chicago Theological Seminary as well as deepening her ties to her Ancestors and exploring the empowering life found in Ifa and Vodoun as resource and a source of liberation theology for the here and now.

Which Way Forward? Confession. Reverend Dr. Linda E. Thomas

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Whatever the outcome of today’s historic election, the crucial question to consider is how we move forward as people of faith. After all, we call ourselves Christians after our early ancestors—who by choosing to follow Jesus, the risen Christ— suffered persecution along the way. We who are the descendants of those called to live by the example of Jesus who was resurrected as the Risen Christ through whom we are baptized and to whom we are called to confess.
I’ve heard two sermons in the past 36 hours and viewed a Facebook video that has greatly influenced my perspective about how we move forward. On Sunday, Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III  Preaching from Nehemiah 9 – where Israel recognized a call to confess because there was likewise a need to confess to God – Dr. Moss’ call for our nation to confess sounded much like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said this from his pulpit this past Sunday:

“There is a need for our nation standing on the precipice of an election to confess.”

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Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III – Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen

Then at Monday’s Interfaith Service of Remembrance and Commitment in Observance of Kristallnacht at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen reflected on the story of Noah found in Genesis. Noting that since the ark only had one window, Noah could not see the devastation of the earth. Similarly, for us today, the promise of the Jewish faith, particularly on the Observance of Kristallnacht, is to consider what Noah needs to see and give witness to especially after the return of the dove with a little sprig of grass—showing that the ark could now proceed with a landing. She asked a question that might follow our own confession—What do we need to see? To what do we need to bear witness?

Likewise, a video clip is circulating around Facebook with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalia Lama, with great joy, bearing witness to the idea that “people are fundamentally good.” Is this wondrous statement of nearly two years of challenging discourse a joyful one to have two spiritual leaders share with the world? It seemed to me that they were talking directly to the American people. After all, is said and done, no matter the outcome of today’s election, the Creator fashioned humanity who, through flawed, is none-the-less made in the image of God.

Whatever the outcome of today’s election, Christians are called to remember our baptism and to confess. Following our confession perhaps we will discern what we need to see, what we need to bear witness to. Perhaps our individual and collective confession can help us more effectively lean into tomorrow and henceforth. As Martin Luther King, Jr. asked “Which Way Forward?” I believe we are called to rebuild civility in our public discourse. Since we are imperfect earthen vessels, let today be a day of confession, even as it is Election Day in the United States. Let’s position ourselves to know that like our ancestors, we ultimately are only accountable to the Triune God, no matter the outcome.

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In that spirit, let us consider these excerpts from Dr. Moss’ sermon:

Nehemiah 9 that lifts up four elements of confession.

First, confession must be communal. It is a collective act where we are interconnected in recognizing our culpability.

Second, confession must also be truthful. It is where we speak the truth of where injury has been caused.

Third, confession must be spiritual. We recognize the imago dei. All humans are made in God’s image and as such we are all interconnected as creations of the Divine and people have the imprint of the Divine upon themselves.

Fourth, confession should be continual. It should happen daily. We do not confess weekly, but rather daily knowing that when we wake up from last night’s slumber we must confess and pray unto God, “Forgive us for our dreams last night.”

Having these four-part understanding of confession on this Election Day, let this nation collectively confess on behalf of the following:

Our country must confess the creation of the Trail of Tears; for running a pipeline through and poisoning the water on the sacred land of the Stand Rock Sioux and, once again, breaking a treaty with a sovereign nation.

Our country must confess and take responsibility for the genocide, rape, lynching, and deaths of over sixty million people of African descent. We must confess for writing into the founding documents of the United States of America the lie that people of African descent are only three/fifths of a human being and treating them as inhuman.

Our Church  must confess that upon Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 324, the nature, doctrine and theology of the church changed its focus on Jesus toward the focus and support of political edicts perspective of the emperor.

As a Church we must confess to holding misogynistic views. We have made claims that women are not fit to preach, teach, serve or be called by God to do God’s work. We must confess for creating unsafe spaces for women and making it possible for men to claim that the way women dress, look, or wear make-up provide provocation for assault.

As a Church we must confess to hurting  the LGBTQAI community. We confess that we have refused to accept their humanity and gifts. We want them to tithe and share their gifts in service, but we simultaneously condemn them to hell.

We must confess loving to preach Jesus but, we not preaching what Jesus preached. This is the reason many millennials are running from the church. They love Jesus but cannot stand the church.

We must confess as a city to tolerating Chicago’s checkered past of race and racism and the intentional creation of economic apartheid. We confess that these acts are not accidental, but rather intentional.

We must confess that the political system of our city is broken and we have not demonstrated the political will to stop the violence. We must confess that we can spend money, time, resources, and strategy organizing a Cub’s parade, but we cannot spend the same amount of time nor energy to figure out how to save our children in the City of Chicago.

Finally, we confess stumbling as children of God. We have fallen and tripped up as parents, spouses, and children.  We confess that we hold grudges and have not forgiven. We must confess that although called by God to confess, we do not always do so and that we must learn how to forgive ourselves because God has already forgiven us. Amen!


ThomasLinda sittingThe Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, academics and communities as a scholar for almost twenty 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.

I’m an Evangelical, but It’s Complicated… – Troy Medlin, LSTC Middler

Linda Thomas at CTS eventTheological education engages students in the a process that involves head, heart, and gut. This method is often considered to be solely linked to the “life of the mind,” and also includes deep diving to assess the largest part of our iceberg. Thus, the method of inquiry/review, assessment/analysis, change/reform, and reconstruction/transformation usually involves the heart and the gut. Since becoming a student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago last year, M.Div. middler Troy Medlin has leaned into having a personal revolution of a sort; certainly a re-ordering-not just as someone seeking to acquire a more critical eye of his faith, but  as someone who is specifically wrestling with what it means to be evangelical – especially in light of recent conservative politics in the United States. Take a peek friends, and 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.”


They say confession is good for the soul. So… let me start with a confession.

I am an evangelical.

Seriously, I am an evangelical Christian. For better or for worse, these are my people.

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This is how I grew up. It is how I first learned to articulate my faith, it is where I first fell in love with Jesus, it’s where I was first caught up in this radical message that there was a God who loved me. It is where I found peace and comfort throughout my childhood, it is in the evangelical church where I first felt my call to ministry and where I preached my first sermons. It is where I was formed and shaped as a Jesus follower. I even went to undergrad at a well-known evangelical Bible college. And, still it is the Christian sub-culture I feel most comfortable in. I am an evangelical.

I must admit though, sometimes my relationship with evangelicalism is, shall I say:  it’s complicated.

In some ways, I should have abandoned the evangelical label a long time ago. After all I am a proud Democrat, I have been active and outspoken on some fairly progressive politics. I believe Black Lives Matter. I believe climate change is a grave threat to our world. I made phone calls and went door to door for Bernie Sanders. I am a seminarian at a progressive mainline Lutheran seminary and I am a gay man, just to name some of the ways I move through the world. Yet, despite this feeling deep in my bones to claim my identity as an evangelical, it is also in some ways more complicated than ever; as life happens to get when we are in the throes of a presidential election. It is complicated because when I hear people like Donald Trump, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Franklin Graham use the word “evangelical” I just can’t stop thinking, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means…”

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See article here.

At this point it is important to ask, “what exactly makes someone or something evangelical in the first place?”

Well, it’s complicated.

It may be helpful to do a quick survey of how evangelicalism has become so polarizing in popular culture. How we have gone from being this jubilant people of good news to, well, anything but. Especially in the United States the term “evangelical” has slowly been co-opted by people who see an opportunity for political power and cultural influence around issues like abortion and so-called “religious liberty.” So, now in popular culture “evangelical” has become synonymous with conservative politics. As a friend of mine brilliantly quipped, “We have gone from people of good news to people of Fox news.”

Like I said, It’s complicated.

It has not always been this way, though: even in the United States. In the 1960’s and 1970’s evangelicalism was a middle way in between mainline protestant liberalism and fundamentalism. This was clearly seen in people like Billy Graham and places like Fuller Seminary. They embodied this middle way that stayed out of politics and was focused on the good news of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. These were the evangelicals. People worried more about proclaiming John 3:16 for sinners in need of redemption then campaigning for candidates who used the term evangelical to gain wealth and prestige.

But, it gets (even more) complicated.

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Jerry Falwell outside a political rally in Trenton, New Jersey in 1980 (William E. Sauro/New York Times).

This all began to change with the cultural, political, and theological winds of the 1970’s and 1980’s with the rise of people like Jerry Falwell and the forming of the religious right and the election of Ronald Reagan. All of the sudden, with a taste of political power and cultural influence, evangelicalism and fundamentalism slowly morphed into the same thing. This newfound place in the public square mixed with passion for doctrinal purity as seen most notably in the “conservative resurgence” in the largest protestant denomination in the United States (the Southern Baptist Convention) was somewhat of a perfect storm. This helped lead the total co-opting of evangelicalism from a moderate, third way, Jesus-centered movement to one of the largest conservative voting blocs who helped to elect candidates from Ronald Reagan all the way to George W. Bush.

In popular consciousness evangelicalism is an angry demographic to campaign for not a joyful community of people spreading good news. It is in this awkward place that I am filled with hope. I see this particular historical moment as a grand opportunity to reclaim and liberate Evangelicalism and once again be known as people of unbridled good news. With the nomination of Donald Trump it is as if the cloaking of evangelicalism in the guise of political opportunity is being seen for what it is. For a growing number of people it has become clear that evangelicalism has become obsessed not with the good news, but with gaining political power at the very expense of our true vocation as baptized proclaimers of the gospel. At this particular moment, I cannot help but be filled with hope because we are at a tipping point of sorts. Evangelicals from the Southern Baptist Convention to Wheaton, the ELCA, an even Liberty University are feeling the call of the Spirit to once again be defined not by a narrow political agenda but the counter-intuitive announcement of the crucified and risen Christ who calls all of us to be a part of the reconciliation of all things.

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Since endorsing Donald J. Trump, President of Liberty University – Jerry Falwell, Jr. – has come under heavy criticism by students for supporting a candidate whose “flagrant dishonesty, consistent misogyny and boastful unrepentance” make him unfit to be supported by Christians.

Especially now. I think we should all claim to be people of good news, I think we should boldly reclaim it, and reclaim it with pride. After all, that is what the earliest Jesus followers did. I think we should stand in the public square and proclaim, “We are evangelicals because we believe that the message of Jesus has the power to change the world, and it’s changed us and we cannot help but share it.”

People of God, we were made for this, we were called for this particular historical moment, and the world needs us to stand up and proclaim good news for everyone. The world needs us to be evangelicals. This is my complicated relationship with evangelicalism.

For better or for worse, I’m an evangelical. I want to be one.

I want to be a person of good news, and I think we all should be.


troyTroy Medlin has a bachelors degree from Moody Bible Institute and is an ecumenical seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He is a progressive evangelical who is passionate about helping people ask new questions and creating space for transformation. He believes that encounters with people who are different have the power to change us and set us free. Troy currently lives in Hyde Park and enjoys politics, liturgy, and 80’s classic rock.

Caught in the Words – Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Picture 002The flesh is messy. It needs food, love, caresses and correction. When it doesn’t have flesh – when it can’t feel, can’t weep, can’t bleed you start to have problems. It is the, of no wonder that Jesus left us a physical reminder of our bond to him – the eucharist. From this point, then, Rev. Tuhina Rasche (ELCA) shares with us why something even so simple as a constitutional resolution for the ELCA absolutely must have flesh – accountability, solidarity, and money – if it is to accomplish it’s goal. Read, comment, and share, friends!

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


“My name is Tuhina Verma Rasche. I am the Associate Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland… and I offer myself as tribute from District C.”

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Rev. Tuhina Rasche speaking at the 2016  Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly.

I used words from the recent Hunger Games trilogy in my 30-second Churchwide voting member nomination speech at the 2015 Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly. There is no irony whatsoever that I was voted to be the Person of Color/ First Language other than English voting member from my synod. The words I selected in my nomination speech were partially in jest, but they were also a critique of particular words that have been used to define my place within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I was offering myself as a token, a sacrifice within a broken system.

It was at Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans earlier this month that I got caught up in words. It is safe to say that I am obsessed with how words are used in the world. I am fascinated how words are put together to construct ideas and used to communicate between people. And there were no shortage of words at Churchwide. I believe words to be important, but I have come to realize that sometimes, words are not the entirety of the world. There are times where words are simply not enough.

And there are times where words seem meaningful, but upon closer inspection, they lack power.

Words need accompanying actions.

Words need flesh.

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http://www.decolonizelutheranism.org / #decolonizeLutheranism

Before Churchwide Assembly, I was informed by co-conspirators in the #decolonizeLutheranism movement that the Assembly would be voting to amend the denomination’s constitutional provision that the ELCA would reach ten percent minority membership within ten years of its inception, and that this particular voting would take place en bloc with additional amendments. The specific amendment on diversity shifted from a concrete number to words speaking of a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in relation to the demographic data of a community.

The words shifted.

Not just in the constitution, but in my heart.

The ELCA had high hopes for who we were supposed to be, but we never achieved those aspirations. We had words and a number that never truly became a part of our identity. After 28 years of hope, we remain on of the whitest mainline Protestant denominations in the United States. The amended language, moving from ten percent to a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity, felt like the ELCA presented words that expressed a vague notion without much accountability.

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Results of a 2015 study by Pew Research showing that the ELCA is the whitest church in the United States.

And that hurt.

Even though the history of the denomination in which I serve did not achieve a goal and did not have an ideal history with racial and ethnic and racial diversity, I did not want these words to be written from the church’s history. I could not sit well with a revisionist history. While the history was far from ideal, these words were a part of my history. These words were a part of my experience as an ordained woman of color within our church. We can learn from what we do not erase. We can also take time to grieve what never came to pass.

I got caught up in the words…

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Presiding during the eucharistic worship service at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

There are particular words that pierce my being. I grieved during Thursday worship at Churchwide Assembly. The Words of Institution are powerful and terrifying. They are words that profess a broken Christ for each and every one of us. These powerful words of our crucified Lord call us not just to ponder, but also to act. During the Eucharist, my mind went to siblings of color who are crucified daily, whether that crucifixion be the traumatic metaphorical or the horrific physical. It was in the Words of Institution that I was reminded that those who partake of such a holy meal are called to act in response to God’s love. That action could be great or small.

It was time to act.

I was on the search for accountability. I yearned for words to state accountability with this amendment to our constitution; I wanted to know just how congregations would work with synods and Churchwide to become more reflective of their communities? How would we be accountable to one another to serve as the body of the crucified and risen God in the world? In searching between the words and letters of this proposed amendment and being moved by the Eucharist, I was desperately searching for something… and I was not the only one.

The work of Churchwide Assembly cannot be done in isolation. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it is that there are so many within our church that work incredibly hard to profess the Gospel. Sometimes that work comes through church polity and agendas. Sometimes that work comes through extensive planning and coordinating worship services. Sometimes that work comes in writing memorials and amendments to continuing resolutions. It is with this collective body, amazing siblings in Christ, some who have served the ELCA since its birth, some who are a couple of years within their first call, that Christ was present. Christ came in our voices as we sat across from tables working on language, in the furious typing of notes and recommendations, in sitting with people hearing their experiences and hopes and dreams, in fervent prayer. Christ was present in all of it.

All of this led to one sentence. A string of words linked together to communicate an idea. This led to an amendment of the continuing resolution, which stated…

“Each synod shall submit their goals and strategies to the appropriate Churchwide unit office and shall annually submit a report on progress toward their goals to the Church Council.”

There is hope in this sentence. Through the hard work of Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin, a memorial was created to speak of accountability. The words that can lead to our action.

My words to speak to amending the continuing resolution were:

“This revision speaks of assessment yet does not have an overt statement of accountability. What are the metrics outside of US Census Data and congregational parochial reports that will be used to maintain accountability, especially if each synod is to develop their own goals and strategies to monitor progress?

There needs to be an intertwined relationship of accountability and empowerment to be a diverse church. How will Churchwide, synods, and congregations work together? What tools will be used to empower, and not simply monitor, congregations to become more reflective of the communities in which they reside, and what will the assessment be? What are the words and numbers that will be a part of our flesh?

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Discussing the amendment before the Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, LA.

The ELCA has been stepping up on conversations about diversity and who we are as a church body. We have evidence of Bishop Eaton’s work with the not only one, but three webcasts on racism, diversity, and being a welcoming church. But we need to do more. We did not make the commitment of 10% people of color/ primary language other than English. But this was a misguided goal at the onset, as a people of the good news of Jesus Christ, the only acceptable number is 100%. This is more than just numbers.

People of color, we’re here. Our ministries matter. Our lives matter. Our place in this church matters. We are not just something to be handled and we are more than photo opportunities.

We are a church of a crucified Lord, and there is a need to mourn and lament that we did not meet our intentions. And we must ponder why.

As an ordained person of color in our church, I do not want to be written out of the church’s history, even if it did not meet our ideals. We profess death AND resurrection. We saw that in this place, voting to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and approving AMMPARO. Let us continue such work in our own neighborhoods and on our own streets.

The conversation must continue on accountability.”

We must live with and acknowledge that we did not meet our desired goals.

But let us face the future with good courage, as there is much work to do.


Resources

Robert P. Jones’ powerful book on the changing landscape of Christianity in the United States and beyond, The End of White Christian America.

George “Tink” Tinker’s article, a central reading for the #decolonizeLutheran movement, “Decolonizing the Language of Lutheran Theology.”

The central website for #decolonizeLutheranismwell as their bio-video.

A link to the Facebook page on #decolonizeLutheranism‘s first gathering/revival, #decolonize16. To register click here.


12829211_10102460194482458_3928793812784612436_o.jpgRev. Tuhina Verma Rasche (PLTS, M.Div. 2012) is the Associate Pastor of Adult Faith Formation and Social Ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, CA. She also served as a young adult mentor with The Forum for Theological Exploration, blogs at thislutheranlife.blogspot.com, and is the unofficial liturgist for and co-conspirator with #decolonizeLutheranism.

Critical Lutheran Spirituality and the Bodies of Privilege – Prof. Robert Saler

Picture 002As we enter the last month of summer before classes resume at my school, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, we begin this month with a reflection on a reflection. In the wake of the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and attacks upon police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, my seminary’s President – the Rev. Dr. James Nieman – asked how a white institution such as our school could effectively address white privilege and racism. Rob Saler, Lutheran Heritage Researcher for the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, then expounds on this letter – warning that if we don’t make our faith practice more embodied and visceral, we are at risk of continuing to play into systems of oppression and violence against black and brown bodies. 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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LSTC President James Nieman.

As an alum and former visiting faculty at LSTC, I was pleased to see President Jim Nieman’s July 9th letter to the LSTC community in which he denounces the lethal effects of white supremacy with admirable candor. My former professor and colleague Dr. Linda Thomas has asked me to expand upon the letter in light of President Nieman’s call to think theologically about white privilege, white supremacy, and leveraging white privilege.

I want to be clear about the position from which I would seek to honor that request. While I have become aware that genetic factors (known and unknown) have occasionally led people to experience me as racially ambiguous, for the most part I have been identified (and have always self-identified) as white; thus, I am intimately familiar with the benefits conferred by white privilege. There are multiple ways to “know” about white privilege and white supremacy, and following the adage of liberation theology that those oppressed by a given systemic evil have a kind of epistemological advantage over the oppressors, it seems clear that the first mandate is to prioritize the insights of people of color into the workings of such evil.

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Martin Luther preaching and teaching.

However, my training in Lutheran theology has, among other things, been an exercise in seeking to understand what aspects of our theological heritage can facilitate the dismantling of structures of oppression, and which aspects conversely serve as barriers to this work. It’s in this light, and in hopes of making a small contribution to what we might call a “critical Lutheran spirituality” against white supremacy, that I seek to meditate on one specific question posed by President Nieman:

“Can thinking and confessing ever be potent practices that make a difference?”

The answer to this question is, I believe, yes, but with a massive caveat.

The caveat is that, as with a number of potentially powerful Lutheran themes, the move to remove an ancient Christian practice (in this case, confession) from the realm of ecclesiastical control and into the existential life of the individual believer during the Reformation has often had the (perhaps unintended) effect of dis-embodying the practice.

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Kiev monk hearing confession during the protests in Ukraine on January 25, 2014.

While the medieval sacramental economy of sin, confession, penance, absolution, etc. was indeed tied in with some of the worst excesses of corruption and superstition that plagued medieval Christendom, we should at least notice that the system tended to be fairly visceral in expression: bodies humbling themselves, ascetic pangs, actual exchange of currency, direct communication between priest and penitent, etc. When confession moved to a mode of prayer without a human intermediary and “stripped” (Eamon Duffy) of its penitential economy, then it was easy for the practice itself to become more disembodied – a kind of spiritual/mental transaction between God and the believer.

The existential disembodiment of confessional practices thus fueled the broader Lutheran tendency to render salvation as a kind of private possession of the individual believer, an assumption that produced both a hermeneutic and a praxis of self-containment. This tendency represents, I believe, a degeneration of Luther’s own best insights about justification; indeed, the entire ethical thrust of Luther’s Freedom of a Christian is that justification is a gift that frees us, not to be curved inward, but to be shaped entirely by the horizon of the neighbor’s need. This shaping, to the extent that is has any purchase at all in the realities of suffering people, necessarily needs to be embodied in risky and vulnerable fashion; justification by grace through faith and not works is, for Luther, precisely the condition that makes such vulnerability to the horizon of the neighbor’s need possible.

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A procession of penitents in Fatima, Portugal.

When this insight is lost in the fog of privatized Protestant disembodiment, though, then the sort of self-enclosure for which white supremacy (and white theology more generally) is an almost exact analog is the result. Bonhoeffer already saw the dangers of this when he pointed out that the Protestant need to bring back private confession and forgiveness was due to the fact that it is so much easier to delude ourselves about our openness to repentance when we are conducting an interior existential contract with God rather than speaking actual words to a fellow embodied human being.

If Lutheran practices of confession, then, are going to be tools in a critical spirituality dismantling white supremacy, it is imperative that we first recognize the dangers of the drift into disembodiment. For those of us who “think we are white,” (Coates), such recognition should be followed by the courage to allow the horizons of our own conceptions of what forgiveness means to be disrupted by risky and vulnerability-producing confession to and with people of color, those whose broken bodies cry out with a need for which non-chastened white theology is simply inadequate.

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Moreover, given that those of us possessed with white bodies possess a concomitant level of privilege to be leveraged, that privilege must also be leveraged bodily – placed in the path of billy clubs less likely to damage white skin than brown skin, placed in courtrooms where white mouths are heard more clearly, placed in all the spaces where reparations for the ill-gotten treasure of white privilege merits that we have accrued might begin to be disbursed through reparations (material and otherwise).

If – and the “if” is genuine – Lutheran thinking and confessing in our various contexts can move our bodies to this sort of action, then it is needed more than ever.


RobTalking.jpgAn alum of the M.Div. and Ph.D. programs at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Robert Saler is Research Professor of Lutheran Studies at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Choosing Love and Justice in a Nation of Despair and Pain – the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey, Professor of Religion at Drake University

Picture 002“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).” And so does The Teacher, Prof. Jennifer Harvey from Drake University, remind us that – contrary to common belief and popular media – that the violence that so saturates our discourse and our Facebook feeds is no new thing, that there was never a “better time” in “days of old.” The question is, then, how do we respond as these incarnate, systemic evils become harder and harder to ignore? Read, comment, and share, friends.

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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“Lamentation” – choreographed and performed by Martha Graham.

The stories we tell about trauma and horror matter. We use them to explain and make sense out of the inexplicable and nonsensical. Stories are interpretations that make claims about why things are the way they are. In turn, they give directives about what responses are required of us. Stories have intense moral and spiritual power.

So, if you are still reeling from Orlando, as I am, I want to invite you into a story. It’s less a story about Orlando than it is a story for Orlando. It’s also a story for Charleston and for Tamir Rice, for Sandra Bland, for Jamar Clark, for the people of Flint and for so very many others.

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Anthea Butler – Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, Anthea Butler wrote about American Exceptionalism. This is the notion, of course, that the United States is innately good and is characterized by a commitment to equality. It permeates the U.S.-American psyche with a deep-seated belief that “liberty and justice for all” is core to “who we really are.”

One result of American Exceptionalism is the baptism of virtually anything the U.S. does as, by definition, good and just. But Butler revealed others that have to do with exceptionalism’s racial and religious core.

 

Historically, American Exceptionalism was built on the belief that the U.S. was called into existence and given its mandates by God; who is always with “us.” And the “us” has always meant white/Euro-descended people, for exceptionalism has especially been generative fuel for projects that are deeply racialized. These projects include everything from the work to create a nation-state out of an “uncivilized” and “empty” land-mass (both adjectives deadly lies), to articulate an expansionist rationale for pushing beyond borders and across oceans (the war with Mexico, occupation in the Philippines, overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii and on).

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The superiority of “the Anglo-Saxon race” is not invoked explicitly and with the regularity with which it was in the first hundred or so years that Manifest Destiny wed American Exceptionalism with white supremacy (although Donald Trump’s rhetoric comes very close to doing so). But, the presumption of white dominance and the assumption that a religiously-inflected whiteness is the heart of U.S.-American identity remain powerful to this day.

It’s in this context we need to pay attention to a prevalent story being told about Orlando. The story goes something like this: “Dear god! What has this nation become? How could things have gotten this bad?”

This story interprets the present as erupting with violence at levels we’ve never before experienced. It infers the existence of a past, therefore, that was better.

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This story emerges from real grief and I confess that I am tempted mightily by it. I share a sense that somehow things have gotten worse. And, yes, I think I may be more personally frightened now than I have ever been.

But while I empathize for the reasons this story is compelling, I remain clear it must be resisted.

First of all, by looking backwards and presuming there exists for us a less violent, less scary past from which we can draw in our grief this story falls far too easily into the following call-and-response pattern. Question: “what have we become?” Response: we must return to something that existed before and “. . . make America great again!”

Of course, the version of reality and aspirations for this nation endorsed by Trump and his supporters are radically different than are those held by folks grieving Orlando in the terms I’m describing here. Still, it’s critical to recognize how similar and dangerous is any logic rooted in backward yearning for a mythical past; especially when we do so as a way to summon the moral courage to face the present and change the future.

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The Rev. Dr. Emily Townes – Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society, Dean of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University.

emilie m. townes insists that the only way we tell the truth and can arrive to a place of genuine hope is by first lamenting well. We must lament with specificity, clarity, and authenticity all that is wrong, she says. If we do not, we languish in our search for “paradise in a world of theme parks.”

The backward-looking story about Orlando simply erases too much. Just how much was captured in a tweet someone shared the day after the massacre. It went something like this: “Orlando, the worst shooting massacre in U.S. history . . . that is, since Wounded Knee.”

A similar story took hold last year. When nine Black Christians were massacred at Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston I heard many white U.S.-Americans—people who, after Michael Brown was killed and Ferguson erupted in resistance, were suddenly becoming more aware than we had ever been of the epidemic of killing of African Americans by police—express grief and horror in this way: How have things gotten this bad for Blacks in America? What have we become?

Forgotten? Endless anti-black killing—from massacres in Wilmington, North Carolina and Rosewood, Florida to the 41-bullet assasination of Amadou Diallo by the NYPD. Erased from white collective national memory? Foundational stories about from whence the power and wealth that built this nation actually came and the epidemic violence (never redressed) through which it was, and is, secured.

As Butler put it “Sure, America is exceptional. Exceptionally racist, and exceptionally violent.” I doubt she would object to an expanding the lament to clarify the intersectionality of U.S. violence: “Sure America is exceptional. Exceptionally racist, homophobic, misogynist.”

Orlando and Charleston—worse than before? Exceptional? Unique from who we actually are and an aberration from our core character as nation?

I don’t think so. I reject this story and the partial, truth-less lament on which it stands.

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Instead, I invite you into a different story for Orlando. This story begins like this: “Dear god! This present is our past. We have been living with this racial-religious violence for such a very, very long time.”

It continues with a lament that names the connections among the horrors of 49 people killed and hundreds injured and terrorized this June, the nine people massacred last June, and the so much that has come before and between:

  • Orlando and Charleston were atrocities committed in spaces of sacred, sanctuary for these respective groups (club and church)—there is no refuge;
  • the ever, always deep entanglements of white supremacy and christianity in this land persist (let the white queer folk not forget that the queer folk killed at Pulse were Latinx and Black!; let the Christian folk not forget that genocidal violence against African-descended peoples, indigenous peoples and Latinx peoples both U.S.-born and immigrant have always been as religiously driven/defended/justified as has been the hatred of lgbt folks that same tradition has spawned and sustained);
  • the murderous violence of lone gunmen (whether in police uniform or not) against black and brown bodies—queer, heterosexual, old, young, religious and not—is the same murderous violence committed by governmental officials who pour poison into the drinking water of these same of black, brown and indigenous bodies in a myriad of places on this land-base (as we recoil at the body counts, we must see all the bodies and the diverse, relentless ways atrocities against them continue);
  • that Orlando and Charleston and the so very many others are of the same cloth.

None of this violence is exceptional to who “we” are as a nation. It lies directly at the at the heart of who we really are and have always been.

This remains a story for Orlando, however, because, it is not a story of despair. A specific, clear, authentic, and truth-full wailing lament, that names all that is wrong and the ways these wrongs are connected is necessary. But it is not the end point. Truthful lament becomes a source of genuine hope.

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For if and as we confess that we have recourse to a better past, then perhaps we may be liberated in the realization that we have no choice but to seek out and to create, radically different ground from which to summon moral vision and courage to commit to a radically different future.

This is a story of deep pain, yes. But it is not a story of despair.

So, if you are determined to continue to search for paradise, as I am, I invite you to root in the deep connections and intersections between Orlando, Charleston and the so very many more.

As Vincent Harding put it: “It is easy for us to forget that you cannot be an empire and a compassionate community at the same moment. You have to make a choice. We are now in a time when we must choose. It takes courage and wisdom and insight to ask ourselves: ‘Who do we want to be?”

It’s time to choose. Fierce love wards off despair, because fierce love removes despair as an option (ask any parent). Meanwhile we know, because Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, that the public and political expression of love is work for justice. Action.

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image courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/JerusalemPrayerTeam

So, it’s time to choose. Again.

It’s time to choose love and justice. Again.

And the good news is that in so many places and among so many peoples these choices are already—have never ceased to be—being made. And so, a story for Orlando means it’s time, again, to continue to walk.


Harvey.jpegJennifer Harvey is Professor of Religion at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Her teaching, writing and public speaking focus on encounters of religion and ethics with race, gender, activism, politics, spirituality, justice and any other aspect of social life in which religion decides to “show up.” Her greatest passion and longtime work, however, continually return to racial justice and white anti-racism.

Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation (Wm. B. Eerdmans) is Dr. Harvey’s most recent book. She publishes widely in academic contexts as well as in a variety of public venues including the Huffington Post, Feminist Studies in Religion Blog and at her own blog formations. living at the intersections of self, social, spirit.  

Dr. Harvey is ordained in the American Baptist Churches (U.S.A.) and travels the country speaking with faith communities, educators as well as activist groups about the challenges to be faced and frameworks needed to create robust multi-racial solidarity for justice.