“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.

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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.”


 

 

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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.

On the 500: Semper Reformanda and the Dream Americana – Adam Braun, PhD

thomas110_1027092“So what’s next?” is a question that many Protestants are asking these days – as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation barrels down on the globe and its many people. Adam Braun returns to “We Talk. We Listen.” with another reflection on whiteness, reforming, and a reasonable “what’s next.” 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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Those in Lutheran circles are now facing the fanfare of the 500th anniversary of the reformation.  It is safe to say it has not been 500 years of “always reforming” or even “always reforming the church.” Perhaps, we have reformed ourselves all the way to the American suburbs.  Here, we have no anxiety that God is judging us.  Here, we do not have to work for our salvation.

Here, we can read our Bibles on our own, as individuals, in our individual homes.

But as individuals we are embedded in a culture, fitted with an ideology, and both our cultures and ideologies are outside the bounds of reformation, external to the limits of our possible self-critique.  As I reflect on myself as a person of immense privilege, I am not surprised then that this sort of church produces narratives that are rarely self-critical.  Sure, our narratives are full of humility and admission about the essential sinfulness of our position, but that is not the same awareness of how our privileges interact with the world, nor does it show any understanding of how they negatively impact the world.  In order for us to claim the mantra of always reforming, we must collectively think critically about where are churches are and what they ought to do.

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I was once asked how to do Church in the American suburbs by a suburban pastor.  Behind the question is an admission of difficulty.  It is difficult to preach the prophets (including Jesus) who call for change in a space that is made for stability.  It is difficult to preach Paul in spaces that smooth over differences, when Paul pushes diasporic communities to face each other’s differences.  It is difficult to preach the Gospel, its servant-hood and sharing of resources, in the utopia of the American Dream.

In the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent memoir, Between the World and Me

“I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”

The reality we may not see is in fact the one we don’t want to see: that the invisible hand of the market is actually made of up of black, brown, and yellow hands.*  That cell phone that we hold everyday, was it put together by white European hands, harvested from the resources of white European lands?  How about the computers in our church, or the projectors, or the microphones?

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If Lutheranism no longer is Lutheranism and perhaps is no longer Gospel, then what shall we do with it?  Once Lutheranism has lost the antagonism of its Northern European identity against other forms of Europe in America**, it has no structural force for its own liberation, because it is drowning in its own suburban privilege.  So if its position needs no liberation and if its message never challenges the powers of Whiteness, Patriarchy, and Capital, why celebrate 500 years?  Shall we all move to the suburbs and celebrate 500 years of ourselves and Lutheranism’s place in the Pax Americana?

Always Reform.  Sure, reform our individual selves, but let us measure our reformations by how our churches face up to the privileged and under-privileged.  This is a two step, self-critical process:

1)  Consider what the hegemonic powers of the day are and our churches’ relationships to them.

2)  Ask directly how our churches are actively participating in resisting them.  Are we not a Church PROTESTant?

Let us not celebrate ourselves in the 500.  Let us celebrate that our church tradition provides a history in which we can participate in self-critique and reformation, allowing us to call ourselves to reforming the church’s relationship to black and brown bodies (and all bodies of color), to non-cis/non-masculine bodies, to reforming all the systems that smother us in the glory of Capital. 

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Because, reforming will give us opportunity to peel back the curtains on our own crises, an apocalypse of sorts, and see that our privilege is not a blessing, but an Empire built on the backs of those who deserve better.  A better world than the suburbs.  A better church than our community centers.  A better God than Capital.  A better Lutheranism than ours.


AdamSelfieAdam F. Braun is an aspiring feminist, anti-white supremacist, as well as a PhD student in New Testament Christology at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. A former facilitator at Boston Pub Church, he describes himself as a general radical who looks for radical potential in radical Christian gatherings – prefering darkness to light, and solidarity to love.

*Of course, I do not mean that black and brown hands are the organizing agency of the market.  Rather, it is the market orienting itself around the “secret” knowledge that it can pay black and brown hands less than it pays white hands.

**For literature on the early racial fluidity of European immigrants in the U.S. see Roediger’s Working towards Whiteness and Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color.

500 Years of Lutheranism – Rev. Ronald Bonner

thomas110_1027092In recent years, this day – the second Monday in October, traditionally used to Celebrate Christopher Columbus’ so-called “discovery of the Americas” – is being more-and-more directed towards giving voice and attention to plight of indigenous people across the globe. However, since the colonialism that lead to the demise of countless indigenous culture on virtually every continent, discussion about confronting white supremacy invariably figure into many of these conversations as well – virtually beckoning the long ignored stories of millions across the globe to finally come forward. The Rev. Ronald Bonner, welcomes us into a similar discussion – reflecting on the presence of racism in the church, the season of Advent, and Lutheran theology. 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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As a person who was ordained in another tradition I have come to embrace my identity as a Lutheran pastor.  It was Martin Luther, the German monk who began a non-violent conversation that became the first of a series of reformation movements that changed the Catholic Church and the world.  Martin Luther became incensed with the misuse of biblical text and practices by the Catholic Church.  He was appalled at the selling of indulgences to poor people to ensure their afterlife and the afterlife of their dearly departed. This practice that he considered fraudulent served as a fund raiser for the Catholic Church in Rome.  He saw this practice of selling indulgences as a major breach of Christian values and practice. 

About this Luther observed: “They have obscured the teaching concerning sin and have invented a tradition concerning the enumeration of sins which has produced many errors and introduced despair. They have also invented satisfactions, by means of which they have further obscured the benefit of Christ. Out of these arose indulgences, which are nothing but lies devised for the sake of gain.” [i]

In response to his displeasure, Martin Luther wrote an inspired argument that became known as the 95 theses. In this document, Martin Luther pointed out errors in church practices that were supported by the Catholic Church and the Pope.  He argues that these practices and beliefs went against the bible and what it teaches about love, liberty, and salvation.  It is widely believed that on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the main door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Germany, a sort of bulletin board for discussion.  Some also believe that a sermon or lecture in 1518 at Heidelberg may have been the actual spark that led to the acceptance of the 95 theses that created the impetus for the Reformation.  Regardless, there is little debate regarding the importance of the newly invented printing press, the internet of its day, allowing Martin Luther’s ideas to spread and gain momentum for church reform.

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Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers

The story of Martin Luther is one that speaks to the power of one, and when a timely idea becomes a demand it can change the world.  The story of the Protestant reformation honors the story of Jesus and his revolution or reformation of Jewish religious tradition.  It speaks that the power of truth can weaken the stranglehold of orthodoxy and bring liberty and freedom to those who were bound.  It is this part of the story that a young Baptist minister traveling in Germany in 1934 became enamored with and fully embraced.  He was captured by the power of Martin Luther’s commitment to God and liberty, to the point that upon his return to the South he changed his name from Michael King to Martin Luther King and his son’s name to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am glad to be part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) a young arm of the Lutheran family that was formed in 1988. This Communion was developed with a vision of inclusion and diversity.  However, it is not just my personal experience, but a shared experience with a growing number of persons of color within the ELCA, that unfortunately this vision of inclusion was not fully embraced by many of its membership.

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Graphic from Pew Research on racial diversity among religious communities in the US – the ELCA is second from the bottom, marking it as the whitest religious community in the United States.

The evidence is seen on Sundays and a recent PEW report that claims that the ELCA has not really moved the needle in terms of increasing the number or percentage of persons of color who gather in worship. However, during my nine years as a local parish pastor and increasingly within the past five years, I have become blessed to meet and interact with those who seek to truly reform this Reformation denomination with commitment and not just lip service.  It is these reformers that give me hope that this church will not continue to embrace behavior and attitudes that deter the full participation of persons of color and others.

It is these reformers who do not just embrace diversity or inclusion but stand against the tide of white supremacy and patriarchy that still flows through the veins of many within this denomination.  Of course, there are those who will decry being called white supremacist or racist, or heterosexist, or sexist but the truth is there are many within this denomination that hold fast to their normative sense of racial, gender, class, and orientation superiority.

From the book No Bigotry Allowed: “Thus, the inability to admit past wrongs, the inability to see how one has benefited from past injustices of racism, and the inability to see “I got there on my own” as myth are all by products of racism supported by the pedagogy and language of white supremacy. These are attempts to deflect the reality that racism is normative and that the vast majority of white people still benefit from its use and existence on a daily basis.”  [ii]

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I have seen on the ELCA Clergy page the comments that police brutality is sparked because black people do not know how to behave and deserve whatever treatment they get.  This comment long since removed or deleted was posted on the same day that a young white male Lutheran decided to kill 9 African Americans in an AME church in Charleston, SC.  I know of stories of how persons of color were devalued by different expressions of this church.  One such example is the nearly five-year wait between seminary completion and ordination for women of color.

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This church is not without spot or blemish, but there is a growing segment of committed persons who seek equality and not superiority based on any human characteristic.  These reformers are the ones who will tear down dividing walls within our church and will be the reformers who will embrace the changes needed to continue to grow the global Lutheran church.  These people are the ones who truly live in the tradition of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.  These people continue to breathe new life into this church and understand the promise of ecclesia reformata semper reformanda.  They are not seeking change for the sake of change but for the realization of the beloved community, for the realm of God.  Paulo Freire reminds us, that we must have reflection before we act.  It is important for the church to examine itself, to reflect, and then adjust the rudder and sails of belief to make sure that we are going in the right direction.

The reformers of our church who seek to end hatred and bigotry within our church understand that the gospel message of Jesus was never intended to create economic elitism based on skin tone, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic background.  Yet, somehow the departure from the gospel message of “love your neighbor” was witnessed in countless segregated white Lutheran congregations where persons of color were not allowed in or not welcomed if they came in.  These modern-day reformers have seen the malignant bigotry that causes the cancer of racism and the dementia of white supremacy and it makes them ill, ill enough to take a stand within the church against this evil.  They see how the church has normalized white supremacy and seek to expose it, name it, and dismantle it.

Again, from the book No Bigotry Allowed: “There are white people who are well intended who can grasp the horrors of enslavement intellectually. There are some white people who consciously endeavor to understand the full impact of racism in our culture, society, the world, and people of color. They are the ones who historically have given their lives in support of freedom and equality for all people. In the 60’s they were among the Freedom Riders and other supporters of justice, whose blood also spilled on the landscape of hope as they gave the ultimate sacrifice to bring humanity back into harmony.” [iii]

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Jean and Robert Graetz

Two such reformers within the Lutheran church are Robert and Jean Graetz.  I know that there have been thousands of persons who have fought and continue to fight for racial justice and equality. But, these two stand out because of their involvement as a white Lutheran pastor and his wife and their role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott movement during the 1950’s.  They took to heart that this church could not simply be a repository of 16th century values and aesthetics and that it must share the gospel message as one of hope and not simply of following traditions. The Graetzs, whose home was bombed on two occasions, were willing to risk their lives to live out their understanding of the theology of the cross.  They witnessed, that like Christ who stands with those who suffer we too must stand with them.  We must stand with those in the margins of our society, the victims of predatory public policies. We stand with our siblings not to offer charity that keeps people at the margins, but in a manner, that liberates, empowers and encourages them to become part of the center as equals.  Today the legacy of the Graetzs is institutionalized and serves as a reminder of what love in action looks like.  My prayer is that justice will also become fully institutionalized within the ELCA and not remain in the margins of polite talk, toothless resolutions, and well-meaning social statements.

The new reformers must continue to fully embrace what it means to dismantle a world organized around the elite status of materialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy and fight the power that is designed to protect it. As the Lutheran church and specifically the ELCA, we must move our world to understand and embrace Jesus’ teachings on love, liberty, and salvation as the cornerstones of biblical teaching and Lutheran practice.  And when we do, then we will be the ones and those who follow us to keep the Reformation alive for another 500 years.

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pastorfotoRonald Bonner, is the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Atlanta, GA, author of No Bigotry Allow Losing the Spirit of Fear: Towards the Conversation about Race and The Seat. And has recently been called as a Director of Evangelical Mission/ Assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA

 

[i] Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Church, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1959, 328

 

[ii] Ronald Bonner, No Bigotry Allowed: Losing the Spirit of Fear, Towards the Conversation About Race, North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Publishing, 2015, 49

 

[iii] Ibid., 48

 

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.