Bear the Dream – Rev. Dr. Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of the Church of Sweden

ThomasLindaOne year ago today Stockholm, Sweden suffered a terrifying terror attack (not unlike the attack in Germany this past Saturday) – as a rejected-asylum seeker drove a freight truck through a busy area of the city, killing 5 and seriously wounding 15. It is with this act as the back drop that former LSTC professor and current Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, the Rev. Dr. Antje Jackelén, shares a brief homily about perserverence in times of trouble, and what it means to “keep on keepin’ on” when things seem their bleakest. 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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We have gathered to honour those who on this day a year ago lost their lives to a deed of terror in the capital of Sweden. To say to those who were injured in body and soul: you shall not be forgotten. To express gratitude to and for all those who helped, because it is their profession to help or because they followed the call all humans have: to help, to prevent harm, to comfort.

We thankfully remember good leadership and colourful acts of solidarity in the wake of this horrific deed.

We remember the rousing words: “We are not going to allow evil thoughts and murderous deeds to drive a wedge into our society. We will defend our open, democratic way of life. And we will stand together in doing so.”

Especially on a day like this, we nourish the dream of a world where justice, peace and compassion prevail. A society that is safe, not because the security forces are omnipotent and omnipresent. But because there is no pitting against each other of groups and ethnicities, or of people and their leaders; because there is no exclusion on grounds of socio-economic status, gender, religion or colour; no manipulation and disinformation for power and money.

Those who were killed a year ago carried dreams. Small dreams about a pleasant day in a beautiful city. And bigger dreams for a future still to come, for their loved ones, and maybe even real big dreams for this world.

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Joseph Recognized by his Brothers – Marc Chagall

The Bible tells the story of a little brother who had a big dream. His brothers did not like the dream. So one day, when the little brother came to visit his bigger brothers, they said these horrendous words: “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him.” (Genesis 37:19-20) And so they tried.

We live in a world where dreamers get killed, killed by their brothers – as we all are brothers and sisters in one humanity. And yet, brothers become murderers. Bearers of dreams of a just, peaceful and reconciled world get killed.

But see, dreams survive! They are alive because they give us a vision.

Three days ago, we remembered the violent death of another dreamer. The great leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, was murdered 50 years ago.

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The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his famous “I Have a Dream” speach – Washington D. C., August 28, 1963.

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.” So he said in his most famous speech. And as the preacher he was, he made a heavenly vision present, turning it into an urgent appeal to transform injustice into justice:

“I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day … the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’[1] This is our hope, and … [w]ith this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”[2]

This dream had power because it was not just a dream, but a vision. It makes us see – at least for a moment – the world as it can be, if it dares to reflect the values of peace, justice and compassion. And not only reflect, but embody them in a peaceful, just and compassionate society.

This is more than mere words of great men and women arguing for an open and democratic society. This is more than honest appeals to not let fear take possession of us.

We have a vision: we can see what will be when goodness reigns. When the soil of injustice, violence and war, from which hatred grows, is no more.

The vision is the powerful presence of that future among us. It lays bare our shortcomings, sin and injustice, and at the very same time, as an act of grace, it instils in us hope and courage. It makes us see that it indeed is possible “to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”. It is a heavenly vision – at odds with the imperfection of the world. And not only at odds, but in deadly clash! The very bearer of it, Jesus, was crucified. And yet, the spell of death was broken. The journey of justice, peace and reconciliation started anew. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you”, said the Risen One.

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We remember those who lost their lives. Pain and loss continue to be a reality. Still, the dream is irresistible.

Will you carry it? Will you dare to live it, when you make your way out of this house of worship into a world of twilight, into a world where brothers and sisters still raise hands and weapons against each other – instead of joining hands and minds to build this peaceful, just, reconciled and compassionate world?

Or will you, at the end of the day, be found to have betrayed it?

Bear the dream – and it will guide you into a reality that is wholesome, not only for you, but also for those who are touched by your life.

Bear the dream – and it will give you the courage to be just you. In a life that is both faithful and fruitful. Peace be with you!

[1] Is 40:5.

[2] Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his speech “I have a Dream” on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Monument in Washington DC.


jackelenAfter completing her studies at the University of Tübingen and Uppsala University the Rev. Dr. Antje Jackelén served as a priest in Tyresö parish in the Diocese of Stockholm 1981–1988, in Gårdstånga parish in the Diocese of Lund 1988–1994 and in the Cathedral parish of Lund 1995–1996. After finishing her doctorate at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, she then taught at the University of Lund from 1999–2001, eventually returning to Chicago to work as Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology/Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago 2001–2003. From 2003-2007, in addition to her teaching duties at LSTC, she also became  Associate Professor and Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science until 2007. She then returned home to resume her work for the Church of Sweden in 2007, first as the Bishop of Lund in 2007, and then as the Archbishop of Uppsala (and head of the Church of Sweden) in 2013 – a position she holds to this day.

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Beyond Thoughts and Prayers – Dr. Mary E. Hunt, Ph. D.

Dr TThe #MarchForOurLives made serious waves all over the planet this last week. With full possession of their power and drive, including authoritative voices like the 11-year old Naomi Wadler, young people from all over the country cried out with a unified voice to end gun violence in the United States, while also raising brutal scrutiny of one of the great bug-a-boos of this country’s politics: the National Rifle Association. Reflecting on this, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), Dr. Mary E. Hunt shares her thoughts on what it means for religious professionals to respond to such mass movements, not only for the sake of helping to lead them, but also to learn from them. 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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Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998)

The shootings at a school named for an Everglades environmentalist, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are the straw that broke the camel’s back on gun violence. Young people want action, not thoughts and prayers. Their mobilization of millions of people around the globe to March for Our Lives is a visible sign of their strength and commitment. I’m with them. Still, I wonder how spirituality can be useful as we muddle through arguably one of the most dreadful chapters in our nation’s history.

No one could have foreseen after the Charleston church shooting, the Pulse Night Club, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, and so many other incidents of gun violence known simply by their location that this one would catalyze the hearts and minds of millions of young people. I rejoice, not in the deaths but in the action, not in the violence but in the deep sense of outrage that permeates and percolates in so many corners of this vast and diverse country. It is a sign of hope when such signs are few and far between.

A month after the February 14, 2018 shooting, thousands of high school students left their classrooms to commemorate the lives lost, the families shattered, the communities robbed of their young people by gun violence. Some school officials wisely organized such protests, adding their weight to the students’ good sense. Others foolishly sought to thwart their students’ desires to express their opinions, a counter-educational strategy to be sure. Some religious schools turned the occasion into an opportunity for prayer and contemplation, sagely weaving their own values into the action.

The main point is that students do not want to forget what happened, and they want to prevent it from happening again.

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The walkouts reminded me of the old Irish custom, the Month’s Mind, a requiem mass celebrated a month to the day after the death (or burial) of a person to keep their memory alive. A meal usually followed. By that time, the family and neighbors had had gone through initial grieving. As the reality of their loss sank in, their mourning had a different quality. Likewise, our children had a month to absorb what happened in Parkland and conclude that they did not want it repeated. Hence, their cries of “never again,” and their demands for legislation to curb access to guns by young people rang out nationwide. A newly revitalized movement to accomplish common-sense gun laws sooner rather than later was launched after the fashion on an old spiritual practice.

The human spirit once moved is a powerful force. The spiritual roots of civil rights, feminism, anti-war, environmental, and other movements are well documented. Of course everyone is not in agreement. Some National Rifle Association members reject out of hand any changes in gun laws. Massive rallies in Washington, DC, and around the country on March 24, 2018 are the result of a new brand of activism led by students, reminiscent of the Vietnam War protests but with an even younger set in the driver’s seat. Who can forget Emma Gonzalez presiding over the collective, commemorative silence at the D.C. rally? Her powerful presence, tears and all, her embodiment of intersectional justice making, her stalwart being engraved on the national psyche for generations to come, and giving sure proof that spiritual practice is useful, perhaps essential, for social change.

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This movement is powered by social media, the third hand of most young people.  It is focused on local events, in this case shootings, that are strung together by type and outcome, all pointing to the need for widespread changes in gun ownership criteria, mental health funding and provision. An underlying motivator is the need for sustained conversation about whether we want to live in a country where there are almost as many guns as people. These are hard conversations, but young people are the major stakeholders who, if they are lucky enough to survive, will live with the consequences.

We did not reach this boiling point without a context. The disruptive, disgraceful behavior of the current president and his cohort of morally challenged colleagues has left a leadership vacuum. A dysfunctional Congress is of little help. Sorting out the international corruption and finding a way forward in a nuclear-studded world requires seemingly more wisdom and finesse than anyone in power possesses.

It is no wonder students, most not old enough to vote, have taken matters into their own hands. They will need all the resources they can muster to venture forth in terrifying times.

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In my youth, the “duck and cover” drills were held to prepare us for atomic bomb attacks by the Soviet Union. Little did we know what an atomic bomb looked like, much less how to find Russia on a map. Today, teachers are led through “active shooter drills” and students are taught to nip into the closest classroom and bolt the door if there is violence. Now the enemy is not amorphous and far away, but perhaps the kid who sat in the next desk in algebra class last week. It is a terror exponentially more impactful than what preceded it. I fear that without solid grounding in more than our own experiences that fear can turn inward or even outward in dangerous ways.

So my quest is for spiritual resources adequate to the needs of our young people in an increasingly secular society. Many Christian churches, for example, are rapidly losing market share, so any hope that they will fill the bill seems misplaced. Similarly, the many New Age groups and their programs do not appear to be terribly effective. There are some spiritual entrepreneurs—Hot yoga, Pop-Up Shabbat, and the like—that are finding resonance in the culture.  But lots of what is available are niche offerings in upscale neighborhoods leaving most people to fend for themselves.

Religious professionals, students of religion, and those whose work it is to care for communities of faith as well as for people who profess no faith whatsoever are in for a challenge. We must find, or failing that, create fonts of meaning and value sufficiently powerful to sustain human community. It must be done in harmony with global needs in the shadow of nuclear weapons that are in the hands of knaves.

Good luck! We need more than thoughts and prayers, but I will take even with those if they will help.

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MaryHunt PublicityMary E. Hunt, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. A Catholic active in the women-church movement and on LGBTIQ matters, she lectures and writes on theology and ethics with particular attention to liberation issues. She is an editor of A Guide for Women in Religion: Making Your Way from A to Z  (Palgrave, 2004, 2014) and co-editor with Diann L. Neu of New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views (SkyLight Paths, 2010).

Looking in the Mirror: A #Metoo Reflection -Elyssa Salinas Lazarski – PhD student, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Dr TOur next installment for Women’s History Month comes from PhD candidate, and former student of mine and an M.Div. alumnus of LSTC, Elyssa Salinas. Like last week, it is a reflection that starts with #MeToo, but quickly turns into an, inimitable, defiantly beautiful poem to the power beauty of the female body – as only this magnificent, aspiring academic and theologian can write. 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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Me too. Two simple words that offer validation, assistance, and the momentary glimpse of community with another person. Me too. These two little words have rocked our world, and from the power of these two little words there rose a community of shared pain.  

Those words felt innocent before I saw them rising up from my social media feeds. I thought of someone saying they were going to get another cup of coffee or walking to the train, and my response “me too” would erupt from my lips. In those instances, there was no agenda, no greater thought, just the acknowledgement of similar tastes or travel plans. Then the night I saw the first #MeToo on my Facebook feed, I was confused and curious. Who is saying this? Why are they writing this? And why is there nothing else on my feed as I scroll down? I finally got some direction, and realized that I needed to respond with #MeToo.

When I wrote mine, I remember wanting to cry. I wanted to weep because of the memories that flooded back of each and every time that my body felt like it was not my own. Times when it felt like it was the object of a man’s gaze, the control of my abuser’s whims, or the piece of my fondler’s dreams.

As painful as it was to recall these memories, it was important for me to write out #MeToo into the chorus. I kept thinking how for a moment I not only felt heard, but not alone. I didn’t need to tell a story or share everything, it was a moment that felt as though a community gently sat down next to me, and held my hand. It was a moment of deep liberation, but also of traumatic triggering.

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For the next few months, I kept hearing my abuser’s voice in my head, and it was drowning out every moment of self-confidence that I had regained. I kept hearing his voice, and forgetting that I had come so far from that awful time when I could barely look myself in the mirror. So, one day, I looked in the mirror to try and remember the woman who I cultivated and loved. The woman who got me to this place, and I tried to remember that she was standing in front of me, looking back at me.

In that moment, I realized that this #MeToo movement was more than words, it was a resounding echo of painful moments and that I was going to need to remember that my body was for me.

I went back into my old poems, and I found this one. I read it and cried because the woman who wrote it felt much stronger than me. I knew that something needed to change, and I needed a reminder of how far I’ve come and how strong I am, no matter what I see in the mirror. I decided to shave my head, for the second time. This time was about reclaiming my body, my beauty, and myself. When I let my hair fall to the kitchen floor later that night, I knew that this would not be the cure for my pain, but instead a ritual in my resistance to the voices in my head. The truth is those voices still sometimes whisper in my ear, and on some level, they probably always will.

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But I remember that I also have a voice, a voice that resounds in a chorus of #MeToo, a voice that can speak my truth in poems like this one.

 

First: A Conversation I Never Expected to Have

I was made with more than flesh in mind;

A mind! Imagine that.

A mind that reasons & wonders why

All you see are body parts;

Mountains & valleys that you can walk over & conquer.

Not afraid of rough terrain or how it will fight back,

Just looking for a place to stick your flag.

A claim for all to see that you saw, you came & you conquered.

I was made with more than flesh in mind.

Given the gift of womanhood,

Of soft curves, short stature & the hope that one day

I will meet her.

The woman I’m supposed to become –

The woman everyone seems so excited to meet.

I was given the gift of womanhood.

A package filled with more than

Sugar in the raw &

Spices to fill the rack.

My womanhood lay underneath

Tissue paper and ribbon.

Gently laid and ready to be assembled.

My limbs were put together by women;

Women older & wiser than me who

Fastened me, piece by piece.

Putting my arm in a socket,

Showing me how to embrace

A sister

A mother &

Telling me one day I won’t need any instruction

To embrace a lover,

I’ll get enough practice when I find him.

Placing my hips low to the ground,

With a laying on of hands

Showing me how to sway when a beat calls to me.

They place my feet firmly on the ground & tell me

Each step I take will lead me

Through pain unbearable &

Toward pleasure unimaginable.

I was given this gift of womanhood,

Not you.

As much as you might think my hips sway only in your direction,

My body submits simply to your touch,

& my lips never speak anything but your name.

You are mistaken.

My body is not a present for you to unwrap &

Discard when you’re done playing.

My body is a gift from God with

My name on the tag.

A God that gave me the ability to create or wait,

Or just to say no if I choose.

My hips are not just childbearing –

They are weight-bearing, rhythm making, melody moving &

Cocked from side to side, depending on my mood.

These breasts are not meant for you to unclasp & set free,

To fondle as you dream.

They were meant for me

To push down, push up, fill out my dress if I see fit

& if I want you step

From that plate to touch a new base

I will tell you.

And what I hold between my legs

Was never meant to be called

Chastity, virginity, purity or honor.

It was never meant to be

Property, a bicycle, or a revolving door.

What I hold between my legs is not called

Shame.

It has a name

all its own,

but one I choose

& do not have to share with you.

What I hold between my legs is

Beauty beyond measure

Ecstasy without ceasing

A point of pleasure & pain

Of life & death

& it is by invitation only that you get to come.

I have the God-given gift of being a woman &

What rests between my legs is divine pleasure,

What resides between my thighs

Is something more than a switch

Labeled

Madonna & Whore

Virgin & Slut

Prude & Pleasing

What I hold between my legs is more

Than a fleshy existence

More than a quick night or fleeting fancy.

It is a place where life begins

Where existence is known

And where more women have been hurt

Then you can imagine.

I never thought I would have to explain

That my body belongs to me.

That it is my own,

That it does not belong to you.

I never thought that my decisions would give you ownership

Of a body that you do not take care of.

A nice dinner might fill my belly,

But do not think of it as admission

To play games and ride around as you please.

Take a whirl all the way to the top &

If you like it,

Make it spin again.

Pay a little extra and maybe it will go backwards?

I was made with more than flesh in mind.

I have the God-given gift that you try to turn

Into something I should hide

Or something I should give away.

But I have decided to keep this present,

This ever present gift that is God given,

The gift of being a woman.

Of soft curves, short stature &

That ever present hope that one day

I will be her,

The woman that everyone seems so excited to meet.

(written 12/9/13)


elyssa fierceElyssa Salinas Lazarski believes that her theology must touch her body; therefore, her scholarship encompasses her experience as a Mexican American and as a woman. Utilizing her own body as a crux, her research embraces sex and body-positive theology in order to combat a culture of disgrace. Currently beginning her second year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Elyssa continues to write for www.boldcafe.org and on her own blog Coffee Talk With E, and performs poetry throughout the city of Chicago.

Intersectional Theology: A Prophetic Call for Change – Profs. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw

thomas110_1027092To help us launch our posts for Wonen’s History Month, Professors Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw this week are generously sharing an article they wrote for The Huffington Post – and it is one worth seriously contemplating. Despite efforts in the United States to the contrary, there is considerable momentum among many circles of the church – among pastors, activists, preachers, academics, and lay leaders – to theologize in ways that are intersectional or that speak to people with overlapping identities that trigger systemic discrimination (bisexual, African American, women – for example – or for those who are disabled and elderly). It is a dynamic concept that challenges long-held assumptions about theology and praxis, and we are happy to share those thoughts with you here. 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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You’ve probably seen the photos: In one, a half dozen powerful white men flank the president while he signs the global gag order that prevents international organizations from receiving US aid funds if they so much as mention the word “abortion;” in the other, the president and vice president are surrounded by powerful white men from the congressional Freedom Caucus to talk about removing requirements for insurance coverage for maternity care. Nary a woman is in sight for either photo… or for the discussions about women’s health at the center of these photo ops.

On the other hand, every day the news, Facebook, and Twitter bombard us with stories about the next law, policy, or executive order issued by the Trump administration that targets women, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and the poor.

Taken together, those photos and these policies highlight an intentional and concerted effort to enhance the fortunes of the already privileged and further marginalize those outside this “mythical norm”—white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, native-born, young to middle aged, and Christian.

And the further from the norm, the greater the marginalization. This marginalization, however, is not simply additive, but rather social categories of gender, race, class, and other forms of difference interact with and shape one another within interconnected systems of oppression.

These systems of oppression—sexism, racism, colonialism, classism, ableism, nativism, and ageism—work within social institutions such as education, work, religion, and the family (what Black feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins calls “the matrix of domination”) to structure our experiences and relationships in such a way that we participate in reproducing dominance and subordination without even realizing it.

These systems teach us how to see the world, how to evaluate each other, and how to treat one another based on our differences. In a larger sense, these systems shape society in ways that reinforce the dominance of men over women, whites over people of color, heterosexuals over LGBTQ people, and so on. Even more complicating are the intersections of difference that create, for example, different experiences of sexism for white women than for women of color or different experiences of racism for Black women than for Black men. Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw calls this phenomenon “intersectionality.”

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Kimberlé Crenshaw

Crenshaw explains intersectionality through this story from the courts. In DeGraffenreid v General Motors, a group of Black women sued the company alleging discrimination against Black women in the company’s seniority system. The court found against the women. Because General Motors could show that it had hired women (white women), the plaintiffs could not show that the company had discriminated on the basis of gender. The court recommended the women join another case alleging racial discrimination, but the plaintiffs refused because this recommendation overlooked that their claim alleged both race and sex discrimination. The court, nonetheless, refused to acknowledge Black women as a special class.

Intersectionality recognizes how power works across multiple forms of difference and acknowledges that oppressive powers cannot be isolated or examined separately from one other.

Rather, intersectionality pays attention to the ways social differences give shape to one another and demands that remedies to discrimination and oppression also attend to these intersections.

Religion as a social institution is not exempt from the effects of intersectionality. As a part of the matrix of domination, religion plays a role in maintaining hierarchies of power. Christianity specifically has been a key player in reproducing systems of oppression throughout history through its support for the domination of women, imperialism, capitalism, slavery, segregation, and anti-LGBTQ legislation. In recent years, Christians have misused scripture and theology to maintain social inequality, and, most recently, many Christians have supported the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-people of color, anti-LGBTQ, anti-poor rantings and policies of the Trump administration.

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image courtesy of Tagg Media

Even among progressive Christians, often the tendency has been to develop theologies of liberation focused on one’s own oppression without accounting for one’s privilege and attending to the intersections of difference at work, even in liberatory theologies.

The time has come for progressive Christianity to center intersectionality in its biblical interpretations, theologies, and church practices. We cannot develop feminist theologies without attending to race, sexual identity, social class, ability, gender identity, and age. We cannot develop queer theologies that do not account for race and class, for age and ability. We cannot develop racial/ethnic theologies that do not attend to gender and sexual identity.

When we create a singular identity as normative for any liberatory theology, we marginalize the intersections of diverse people within a group, who experience oppressions in varying ways because of the intersections.

We propose an Intersectional Theology, a theology that begins in the intersections and moves toward liberation and justice for all people inclusive of all their differences. We propose an intersectional hermeneutic that begins with examinations of the biblical text’s imperial history and highlights the intersectional lives of biblical characters—Jesus, a Jewish man of the working class living under a colonial power; Paul, a character full of challenges and contradictions as a Jewish man and Christian convert with Roman citizenship; the Samaritan woman, the hemorrhaging woman, the Canaanite women, the Ethiopian eunuch, Peter and Cornelius.

We propose an Intersectional Theology that leaves no one out, that leaves no one’s experience unconsidered in exploring and expanding our ideas of God, sin, redemption, and the church, and that leaves no one’s oppression unchallenged and no system of oppression intact.

 

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In our present political climate, we desperately need an Intersectional Theology to offer a prophetic call to the church to engage theologically and socially in resistance to the institutions and ideologies that perpetuate oppression. In centering intersectionality, we answer the call of the “least of these,” and we position the church, not as a complicit institution, but as a leader in a vision toward God’s kin-dom that welcomes, affirms, encourages, and supports all of God’s children in all of their God-given complexity.


577fd5dd1a00001a006f93f4.jpgGrace Ji-Sun Kim received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. Kim is the author or editor of 13 books: Mother Daughter Speak; Planetary Solidarity; Intercultural Ministry; Making Peace with the Earth; Embracing the Other; Here I Am; Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice; Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style”; Contemplations from the Heart; Reimagining with Christian Doctrines; Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Power; The Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other; and The Grace of Sophia. She is a Series Editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for Palgrave Macmillan Series, “Asian Christianity in the Diaspora”. Kim is on the American Academy of Religion’s Board of Directors as an At-Large Director and co-chair of AAR’s “Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching and Activism Group.” Kim has written for Sojourners, Feminist Studies in Religion (co-editor), TIME, and The Nation. Kim is an ordained PC (USA) minister and more of her writing can be found on her blog gracejisunkim.wordpress.com.

57768e861900001800218f96.jpgSusan M. Shaw is a professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. She holds an MA and PhD in Religious Education from Southern Seminary and an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Women Studies and English from Oregon State University. She is an ordained Baptist minister who makes her congregational home in the United Church of Christ. Prior to joining the OSU faculty in 1996 she taught religion at two private liberal arts colleges. She is author of Reflective Faith: A Theological Toolbox for Women and God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home, and Society, and co-author of two introductory textbooks, Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings and Women Worldwide: Transnational Feminist Perspectives on Women, and Girls Rock! 50 Years of Women Making Music. She is currently executive editor of a forthcoming 4-volume encyclopedia of women’s lives worldwide and co-editor of a forthcoming volume on intersectionality in Baptist life.

 

 

The Wrong Line – Dwayne Craig, Ph.D. student – Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

lt-ny-eve-march-2016“Solidarity” is a word thrown around a lot in Christian cirlces these days, so much so that often times its true meaning, feeling, get lost. Dwayne Craig – student at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary – reminds our readers this week that in its most potent form, ‘solidarity’ means putting your body on the line, not just your convictions or privilege, not just your online presence or public opinions. God had to take on a body to lift everything to new life, and if such is the case, it’s likely a good idea for us to imitate. 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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In the mid-1940s, a young mother was standing in line to make an appointment to see a doctor about her ailing young son.  She, like many others, waited patiently in the crowded hallway, ever eager to speak with someone who could help her, as her five year old son, weary from the prolonged standing, complained more and more about his stomach.

An elderly nurse, who sought to assure all who stood in the lines that the doctors were seeing patients as quickly as possible, noticed the young mother with child, went over and whispered in her ear that she was in the wrong line.

She signaled to the young mother that she was standing in the colored line, which was long, and she ought to be over in the line for whites only. 

The young mother listened intently to the elderly nurse and then appropriately and politely responded by saying, “I am standing in the right line.” 

The nurse was astonished by such a response and the calm, yet fierce demeanor of this young, ivory-skinned mother, who stood firmly with those relegated to the margins of society.

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The Miami Dolphins players before a game, in support of Colin Kaepernick.

In the great drama of life, we are ever challenged to bear witness as to whom we are willing to stand “with” and “for” in this vast holding environment.  In this great celestial sphere, our holding environment, we are terrestrial creatures interrelated and interconnected, like a constellation suspended in a winter sky.  In this vast galaxy, among billions of others, we are so housed together on a rocky, ordinary planet.  We, as fragile, bipedal inhabitants, are chemically and molecularly connected, as the astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us.  In this vast domain of a multiplicity of diverse objects and fellow inhabitants, both human and non-human, we are intimately attached one to the other, as we seek to navigate our way through a world of difference.

Howard Thurman writes, “For every man (sic) [human being] there is a necessity to establish as securely as possible the lines along which he [she] proposes to live his [her] life.”  The young mother had resolved within herself long before the nurse in the hospital approached her on that day that “to be is to be with and for the other.”

There are some things in life that leave an indelible mark upon our conscience.  We are constantly bombarded by news from one end of the globe to the other; the kind of news that numbs our troubled bodies and stuns our fragile souls in world that is becoming increasingly divided.

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Tens of thousands of migrants from various countries on the African continent flock to Libya in the hope of pursuing a better life in some european country but only to find themselves standing in a slave auction line and being sold for four hundred, seven hundred, or twelve-hundred dollars by “unscrupulous people smugglers.”

November of last year, thousands upon thousands of far-right groups and white supremacists in Warsaw, Poland, marched in line on that country’s independence day burning flares and holding signs that read “White Europe” and “Clean Blood.”

Since last August, approximately 650,000 Rohingya Muslims, and the numbers continue to climb, have been forced to flee for their life from Myanmar and stand in long lines for entrance into Bangladesh.  Under the duress of ethnic violence, in the majority Buddhist country, Rohingya Muslims, by the thousands, exit Myanmar each week, where men have been tortured, women raped, and children burned.

In October of this year, the U.S. mourned the shocking deaths of 58 people killed and over 500 injured by a single gunman in Las Vegas and, recently, a lone 19 year-old gunman, with a .223-caliber AR 15 rifle took the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

And here, in Chicago, a couple of months ago fifteen men were recently exonerated of drug conviction charges because of the lack of integrity and truthfulness in the reports of police officers.  The officers framed the men by planting drugs on them and falsifying their reports, resulting in some men serving more than ten years in prison.

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These few stories remind us of the tragic nature of our turn away from each other but, also, in four of the above listed stories we find how certain bodies are devalued, distantiated, abused, and incarcerated.  Such bodies are made to feel unwanted and disposable; they are defined as guilty, problematic, and transgressive because such bodies are conceived as black bodies and black bodies are not to be free bodies, as noted by Kelly Brown Douglas.  Since the early 1970s, the number of persons incarcerated in the U.S. has jumped from 350,000 to well over 2 million, with “ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses” have been black and brown brothers and some sisters.  Michelle Alexander issues a call and summons us to stand in line with those who find themselves under assault by a criminal justice system that follows the script of slavery and Jim Crow: social control of black bodies.

Like the mother who stood in the colored line, God stands in the line with those who are relegated to the margins of society and are devalued, abused, burned, lynched, and incarcerated.  God identifies with disposable black bodies, becomes a disposable body, and in the here and now works on behalf of those bodies in desperate need of liberation.  God is the Mother of those who have been signified as outsider, but “we” know such human beings as persons created in the image of God who, likewise, are members of the human family, as Frederick Douglass indicated. Therefore, we must stand as he did to “love the religion of our blessed Savior” and hate “the slaveholding … soul-destroying religion….”

The challenge in the twenty-first century will be to break the chains of protracted balkanization that persists on a global scale.  This is a monumental task; however, if there are persons who will resolve within the fibers of their being to stand in the lines of uncomfortability and risk, then the dawn of a new day can race across the horizon of Zion.  We must stand up and against white supremacy.

We must stand up and against white racism.  We must stand up and against a stand-your-ground culture.  We must stand up and with the God of love and justice.  For in so doing, we will, by God’s Spirit, see the birthing of an ethos of genuine care, compassion, and concern for the other and stand in line as long as it takes, so that the aches within our bellies will be tended to by physicians who have a desire to bring comfort and well-beingness to all bodies in the biosphere.

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IMG_1855Dwayne Craig holds graduate degrees from The Divinity School at Duke University, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University and, at present, is a third year PhD student at Garrett.  He is a native Floridian and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.  Dwayne firmly believes that theological reflections are to be linked to the concrete realities of everyday life and circumstances, and that the church is to choreograph a love supreme (John Coltrane) as she subversively engages in acts of crossing the borders of social and ecclesial balkanization.

“Buck Up” and Other Lies – Evan Mayhew

Linda Thomas at CTS eventInspired in part by the the #Me Too movement, last night Oprah Winfrey spoke directly to young girls after accepting the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Gold Globes. She said that, “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.” LSTC MDiv Senior Evan Mayhew, shares a most passionate blog post with us this week – detailing his life-long wrangling with toxic masculinity and depression. On the long walk to gender equality, lifting-up more holistic ways of ‘being a man’ is a crucial step, and Evan attempts to do so here. He is rigorously honest about the way male socialization can lead to abusive behavior. As a woman who has experienced abuse, a pastor who has supported those who have been abused by men, a professor who teaches about abuse and most pointedly, as a mother with a 17-year old daughter, I find hope that Evan takes the crucial step of lifting-up more holistic ways of ‘being a man.’ Indeed, this is public church ministerial leadership. 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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“Buck up”

I don’t think there are two words in the English language that I hate more.

This phrase is tied to so much in my life.  It speaks to me of a certain kind of toxic expectation: that we should be able to bury our emotions and just deal with it.  But some awful things happen when we don’t deal with our emotions… they bubble up in different ways… in horrifying ways…

I’ll be the first to say that I’ve had a pretty privileged life.  I’m a cisgender, white man who was born to a lower middle-class family in the conservative breeding grounds of southeast Wisconsin.  Think Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, Scott Walker… they’ve all been formed or grew up in the place I lived.  It’s a conservative utopia.  And with traditional politics came conservative morals, and with conservative morals came conservative gender expectations.

I was a “boy”, and I was expected to act as such.

Not by my family, thank goodness.  My mother and father were children of the sixties revolution, and therefore encouraged me to do whatever I wanted and got me the toys I actually wanted to play with (except G.I. Joes… my Mom hates guns).  My mom encouraged me to talk about my emotions and express myself.  My dad didn’t force me to play catch with him and joined in all the fun activities my three older sisters and I got involved in.  My sisters dressed me up in coconut bras and we made little home movies complete with dance parties.

And I was never told, “Boys don’t cry”.

 

But from a very early age, I realized something… I wasn’t like the other “boys.”  I didn’t want to play with trucks, or footballs, or tackle people in the yard.  I wanted to create epic stories with my stuffed animals, talk about my day, and hang out with my sisters.  But these other boys just wanted to act as masculine as they could.  They fought on the playground, bragged about their Pokémon card collection, shouted over each other… I was nothing like them.

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And as I got older, I saw these same boys become aggressive teens, I heard “locker room talk,” I smelled the horrible Axe perfume, and the fights continued.  But suddenly, I felt a pressure I had never felt before… that I should be like them.  I should like football, aggressively talk about girls, act cool. 

But… I wasn’t anything like them. 

As I journeyed with these peers through high school I noticed that the locker room talk was more aggressive,; I heard the bragging, saw the bullying and fighting get more and more serious… and I didn’t know how to relate to them anymore.

“Buck up”

As college at UW-Madison came and went, I dealt with depression and began to understand how ADHD was going to affect my adult life.  I reached new lows, lost faith in myself, ignored God… I slept through classes, took incompletes, I had to stay an extra year because I failed a class…  I did things I’m not proud of just to survive.  A professor told me “I would never succeed in life”.

Those years were the hardest of my life.  Some of those scars never healed.  And all the while, white men who were angry, screaming obscenities at football games, partying every day of the week, making horrible jokes and always asking me the same question… surrounded me

“…Am I right?”

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This phrase always seemed to come after some awful statement.  Sometimes it was about a woman being attractive.  Sometimes it was a subtly racist joke.  Sometimes it was after something so ridiculous I didn’t know how to respond, “That’s why we gotta get our pump on, bro… Am I right?”

NO! 

NOT AT ALL!

These angry men were so drenched in a received personality, I didn’t even know how to interact with them.  It was an identity shaped by expectations to be tough, loud, funny, interested in certain things, and above all else, un-emotional.  These men had been told that it wasn’t okay to cry, that real men like certain things…

…That “a real man” was even a concept.

I count myself lucky every day that this was not my experience.  I can’t imagine what it would be like if my parents told me I had to act a certain way, or scolded me for wanting to do things that fell outside of the bounds of being a “boy”.  Of course these men are angry!  Of course they do and say horrifying things!  They’re told to be a “real man” all their life, a concept that might have made sense 50 years ago, and when they grow up they don’t fit in the world they live in.  They’ve never been who they actually are!  They’ve never been given permission to have emotions, so of course they express their angry and resentment through a myriad of destructive means.

And since the world is set up for them to do whatever they want, they wreck havoc on everyone else’s.  When I see the news, I wonder how many men I met in college went on to commit sexual and domestic violence, who secretly harbored racist resentment, who were in the closet but actively harassed LGBTQIA people out of frustration…  You don’t need to convince me that there’s something wrong with white male culture in America. I’ve seen it my whole life!

“Boys don’t cry”

I went through harrowing depression in college.  I still deal with depression.  I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions.  The truth is that we all go through these moments at some point in our life, and if we are not equipped to deal with them, we are a danger to ourselves and everyone else around us.  I have always believed that all problems in society stem from depression, fear, and low self-esteem.

White popular culture worships hyper-masculinity.  Just look at the biggest box-office hits and you’ll see what I mean.  Captain America, James Bond… the list goes on and on.  Football players, action stars…  There’s so much that reinforces that this is what a “real man” looks like.  If you can’t live up to the standard, then…

“Buck up”

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For t-shirt, click here.

I want to imagine a new vision of masculinity, where men are encouraged to be vulnerable, to cry, to express emotions without fear of being labeled.  Or even better, I want to get rid of the idea all together.  Just like any other label, it messes with our head.  I want to ask parents to buy all sorts of toys when their kids are growing up.  Let them find out what they like and whom they like.  Maybe, just maybe, we’ll stop hearing stories about the ones who snapped.

But it’s up to me too.  Recently I heard a friend say that they want to spread the hashtag #YesAllMen …and I agree.  Just because I was lucky enough to escape the hyper-masculinity that so many cisgender white men are born into doesn’t mean I haven’t aided and abetted it.  I sat in those locker rooms, I nervously gave high fives after “am I rights?” I watched men refuse to be emotionally open…

It’s my problem too. 

For me it all begins with vulnerability.  If we do not allow “boys” and “men” to be vulnerable, I believe nothing will ever change.  I was lucky enough to be a part of a class in college that discussed issues of race, ethnicity, and gender… The diverse class would read a play about a topic and then sit in a room and discuss.  There were no boundaries of what could and couldn’t be said, but there was an understanding that we were to respect one another and keep the conversation open.

What I saw in that class was eye-opening.  I saw cisgender, white men ask some of the most horrifying questions I have ever heard, and then a member of the group they were talking about would answer those questions.  Anywhere else in the world, these questions would have ended in a fistfight, but because everyone felt safe and supported, the issues were actually dealt with.  It was transformative.

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Why are you afraid?

I want to give these men a place to be vulnerable.  I want them to have space to say and feel all the things they’ve been told they can’t.  I want them to know that someone cares about them.  But there’s more… As the professor in that class said, “If you stay silent, no one will ever challenge you.  But if you speak, you can grow”.  As much as these men make me furious, I also know ignoring and abandoning them will only make the problem worse.

So, I resolve to “speak up.”


26638446_10210345507586451_263831965_n.jpgEvan Mayhew is a seminary student from The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago where he is in his last year of his Master of Divinity (MDiv) and was recently approved for ordained ministry in the ELCA. Last year he served as the Vicar at New Life Lutheran Church in Bolingbrook, Illinois where he began to explore his passions for creative worship leading and interfaith relationships. When not engaged in ministry, he can be found working on film projects, writing and playing music, or laughing with friends.

New Year’s 2018 – Rev. Erik Christensen

Dr TPastor Erik Christensen, Pastor to the Community and Director of Worship at LSTC, gives us a very memorable reflection to begin the year focusing – somewhat fittingly – on resolutions. However, Pastor Erik uses this moment to expose how these new year’s resolutions have a dangerous tie-in to individualism, and how maybe – just maybe – talking about how we hope to change is actually best accomplished not by ourselves, alone, but rather with others. Read, comment, and share, and Happy New Year!

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


 

 

blank-calendar-2018-2018-monthly-calendar-template-2018-monthly-calendar-template-2018-calendar-by-month-2018-calendar-by-month-2018-yearly-calendar-2-hcjklw-actpzb-pnomkr-uqtuka-ngRPVt.jpgThere it is, sitting open on the dining room table. The 2018 planner, with its blank pages and silent promise that this may be the year when I finally … what? What is it that I hope will slip in and replace this sense of fragile, tentative expectation?

I wonder if it might be accountability.

New Year’s Day creates a moment for reflection on the patterns and habits that, over time, shape our lives into whatever they are. From the Earth’s point of view, it’s just another day, another twenty-four hour rotation. From the sun’s point of view, it’s the end of one earthly cosmic circuit and the beginning of a new one. Our planet’s steady wobble creates the periodic rhythm of seasons that help us track the course of each year, reminding us that we, too, will grow up, bear fruit, shed our leaves, and eventually rest with our ancestors in the ground.

Having firmly entered middle age, I’m newly aware that my life is not infinite. My time feels measured in ways both mysterious and urgent. I want to make something of myself, to use the time given to me wisely and powerfully, to make a difference, to leave something of value behind. I sense that there is another iteration of me lying just under the surface of my present life better equipped to meet the challenges of this broken and tragic world, and my blank planner is the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible commitment to become that person.

This is the sentiment that gives rise to the ritual of making resolutions, and today is the day for doing just that. Yet, having lived through a few New Year’s Days already, we are all a bit suspicious and weary of resolutions. We remember too easily our stalled efforts and abandoned commitments. Perhaps we compensate by setting our sights just a little lower with each passing year, or by abandoning the ritual of making resolutions altogether. While that may be acceptable in a specific sense (we can surely make allowances for those who refuse to follow the crowd), what would it mean to live a life devoid of goals? What happens when we abandon any sense of agency to set and pursue a direction for our lives, our families and communities?

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My suspicion is that the sense of futility that haunts our efforts at reform is directly connected to the spirituality of individualism and the myth of willpower that props it up. As an undergraduate psychology major, I remember being surprised to discover that “willpower” was not a readily verifiable aspect of human personality. If willpower is measured by the ability to make significant changes in one’s life, then it runs counter to all the evidence that the single most important factor in making real and lasting change is the support of another human being to whom we make ourselves accountable.

In one memorable study, a pool of heart attack survivors whose lives depended on their ability to make major changes to their diet and exercise regimens were split into two groups for observation. The first group was given clear information about the changes needed to improve heath and prolong life. The second group was given the same information, and was also supported in identifying and recruiting another person to whom they would be accountable for making these changes. The results were dramatic. A year later, those who’d been given nothing but information had not made the necessary changes to their lives. Those who’d established relationships of accountability had made real gains toward recovering their health. Though willpower failed, relationships prevailed.

What does this teach us about what is needed in this present moment, in which it seems the whole world has suffered a heart attack? A moment in which the necessity of change is a matter of existential survival for the planet, and a test of moral credibility for institutions like the church that have for too long been silent about, and therefore complicit with, the unjust arrangements of power that have kept great swaths of humanity shackled in poverty and dependent upon untrustworthy actors. It teaches us that we need more than information. I believe it suggests that the time has come once again, as it does each and every morning, for us to make new resolutions — but now to make them together.

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This is what I appreciate about community organizing. It begins with the assumption that we are all longing for change in our lives and in the life of the world around us. Furthermore, it does not blame us for failing to effect these changes on our own. Instead, it correctly diagnoses the issue — we lack the power to make these changes alone and, therefore, need one another. Where the spirituality of individualism with its myth of willpower blames and mocks us for what we fail to accomplish by ourselves, the spirituality of organizing assumes that we were always intended to arrive at God’s preferred future together. Therefore, it offers a process by which we can do so through deep investment in one another’s lives, solidarity with one another’s dreams, and collective action for the common good.

This is also why I find worship so nourishing. In worship I am reminded that my life is not my own, that we all belong to one another. I regularly name the ways that my life fails to conform to the image of God within me, and hear a word of forgiveness that frees me from self-hatred and useless guilt so that I can resume the work of building the beloved community of God here and now with other, similarly liberated people. Over and over again I am reminded that I exist as part of “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” (1 Peter 2:9)

All of us in this together.

Science backs up what we intuit from our participation in worship as well. In his work on gratitude and self-control, Northeastern University professor David DeSteno has found that where individual strategies of change (let’s call them attempts at “willpower”) create body damaging side effects connected to the release of stress hormones, the intentional cultivation of gratitude in relationship to one another seems to generate higher levels of self-control while lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety and depression.

Our ability to act together may, in fact, be what saves our lives.

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The lesson I take from these findings is this: that the sense of urgency I feel on this particular day of the year to do something new, something better, something effective, powerful and lasting will quickly dissipate unless I find a way to do it with others. This means the resolutions I make need to make space for the resolutions you may be making as well, which means we each need to hear one another’s stories of resolve. I need you to understand what I am trying to do with my “one wild and precious life” (to quote Mary Oliver), and I need to understand the same from you. These goals won’t make much sense unless we understand the paths that led each of us from our various pasts to this fresh moment in which, once again, everything is possible.

So let this be one of the handful of commitments we make today: to share our resolutions with each other, and then to ask the other…

“Why are you making this resolution?”

“What is at stake for you in this commitment?”

“What will happen if you fail to make this change?”

And, most importantly of all, “How can I help you keep this resolution?”

Happy New Year.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18)


headshot professional (large)Pastor Erik Christensen serves as Pastor to the Community and Director of Worship at LSTC. He joined the staff this fall after previously serving as the redevelopment pastor with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square (Chicago) for the past eleven years.