The True Quality of a Theologian of the Cross – Rev. Dr. José David Rodriguez

Dr Thomas Smiling bigIn continuing our tributes to Vítor Westhelle, fellow colleague José David Rodriguez now shares some of his impressions. Both coming from Latin America, both having begun their studies at LSTC together in 1978, Prof. Rodriguez takes a moment to reflect on what it means to be this most Lutheran of things, a theologian of the cross, and how Dr. Westhelle understood that better than most. 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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Vítor Westhelle (1952-2018)

On Sunday May 13th our Brazilian colleague at LSTC Vítor Westhelle joined my father and others in the company of the Church Triumphant. As Rev. Dr. Carmelo Santos, one of Vítor’s former students and now colleague wrote recently on his Facebook page, we thank Vítor for introducing us to …the liberating mystery of the cross and to the practice of the resurrection. Few theologians have witness to this enigmatic experience that we will all face sooner or later, with the rational clarity and persuasion as Vítor – as demonstrated throughout his many lectures, books and articles.  Still fewer have witnessed with their life to what Martin Luther described as the true quality of a theologian of the cross.

The secret lies in the liberating experience that the practice of the resurrection grants as an unmerited gift to those who willingly and faithfully engage the challenges and risks that come with living in the context of the cross.

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For Vítor, this witness of faith took place not only in his role of teacher and scholar, but also – and consistently – as husband, father, friend, and colleague.  As demonstrated by the testimony of his colleagues, friends, and family during Vítor’s excruciating struggle against cancer, his willingness to come to terms with this terminal condition with hope and endurance was a clear sign of his trust in the liberating mystery of the cross in the context of the power of the resurrection.  Now, as Carmelo Santos also claims, …we trust that Vítor rests in peace continuing his theological labors not like one who sees as a dim reflection in a mirror, but as one that sees face to face and knows as he is known.

My relationship with Vítor and his family has run the span of approximately forty years.  We began our advanced studies in theology at LSTC in 1978 where he came with Christiane from Brazil; I came with my family from Puerto Rico.  Throughout the years we became fellow students, close friends, compadres (I am the godfather of his son Carlos), lecturers at common international events, and since the early nineties, dear colleagues at LSTC.

While my professional experience has led me to incur more administrative labors than Vitor, both of us continued our education in other international institutions of higher learning that enriched our vocation as teaching theologians.  For Vítor it was the University of Tübingen in Germany; for me it was The University of the West Indies in Jamaica.  Both of us are also ministers of Word and Sacrament and have had significant experience in parish ministry as well as social and political endeavors.  Given the precipitous departure of Vítor from our midst, there will be a vacuum that no one among us will be able to fill.

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Bruder Klaus Field Chapel – Mechernich, Germany

The memorial service for Vítor celebrated at LSTC on May 17th brought together a great number of people whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the creative, scholarly, teaching, and pastoral labors of this extraordinary Latin American theologian.  While the full range of contributions of towering figures like Vítor may only be acknowledged with the passing of time, the celebration at LSTC broke down barriers of time and space by including viewers in different geographical locations joining in the memorial celebration. This event reminds us that the relevance of faith in our times, rather than effacing, continues to be a present force of empowerment in the face of today’s challenges with hope and resilience.

May God’s grace, which filters through the fissures of rising walls of doubt and seemingly insurmountable challenges, continue to strengthen our resolve in witnessing to the true quality of a theologian of the cross.    


rodriguezRodriguez received the bachelor of arts from Universidad de Puerto Rico in the area of Philosophy (with honors). He earned the master of divinity, master of theology and doctor of theology degrees at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Ordained in 1975, Rodriguez  has served congregations in Puerto Rico and Chicago, held visiting appointments at the Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico and the Comunidad Teologica de Mexico, and has been an adjunct faculty member at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Ill., and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Ill., before joining the Lutheran School of Theology faculty in 1985.

His service to the church includes membership on a number of boards, including the editorial boards of the Association for the Theological Education of Hispanics and the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology. He was co-chair and planner of the first meeting of Hispanic-Latina theologians and ethicists held at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT). From 1997 to 2001 he was coordinator of EATWOT’s U.S. Minorities Region.

Rodriguez has contributed articles and or book reviews to The LutheranCurrents in Theology and MissionApuntesJournal of Religion (University of Chicago), and Voces Luteranas. He is currently working on the planning, coordinating, and publishing of the Rev. Evaristo Falco-Esteves lecture series.

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Good Theology Saves: A Reflection on the Marginalized and James Hal Cone – Rev. Erik Christensen

Dr TThese have been hard days for me, dear readers. This past Saturday, April 28, my mentor and guide of some years – the Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone – joined the great cloud of witnesses after a full life of writing, teaching, mentoring the next generation, and prophetic witness. As the first of several tributes to the lives of this great man, my seminary’s own pastor and Director of Worship Rev. Erik Christensen has allowed us to share the sermon (also posted on his blog “By Proclamation”) he presented in chapel yesterday, touching on Cone, good and bad theology, and the Gospel’s insistent call to the margins. 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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I spent the summer after my first year of seminary doing street outreach with runaway, homeless, and street-dependent youth in Atlanta in neighborhoods like Little Five Points, Midtown, the Old Fourth Ward, and downtown; but this phone call that I got on my very first cell phone (a flip phone) from an anxious mother didn’t come until the summer was over and I was back in school the fall of my middler year. I was walking back to my car after a morning of classes when the phone rang. Those were the days when I still picked up for unknown numbers. I answered expecting it to be someone from school, instead it was a woman who immediately asked who I was.

I told her my name, Erik, and wondered if she might have the wrong number. She said she’d gotten this number off a business card she found in her son’s bedroom.

The card had my name and phone number and the name of my summer project, “Street Chaplains.” She wanted to know what it meant, street chaplain, and what I’d been speaking to her son about. I wish I could have taken a page from the recently terminated Congressional chaplain and replied, “hospital chaplains pray about health. Congressional chaplains pray about Congress. Street chaplains pray about the streets.”

But, the truth was, I had no idea what I’d said to her son. I’d spoken to hundreds of people over the course of the summer. I’d trained a handful of my classmates in the basics of safe, ethical outreach, work I’d done before going to seminary. Together we’d gone out in pairs, day after hot summer day, talking to every young person we found. We’d ask them if they had a safe place to sleep, or if they knew someone who didn’t. We handed out these business cards dozens of times every hour, and every once in a while we got to have a meaningful conversation with a young person experiencing homelessness. I didn’t always get people’s names, and I rarely remembered the ones I did get. So I really had no way of connecting this caller with a memory of her child.

The easier thing to do would have been to explain all this quickly and get off the phone. The summer was over, after all. The project was finished, the final report written and turned in. The subject of this conversation was in my past. To reopen the topic would be to make space for a detour on my way to the day I’d planned for myself. Except this woman had my number, and I still had the phone and this call.

I could hear something in her voice, a question she wanted to ask and an answer she didn’t want to hear. So I asked if her child was alright. She said, “I think he’s gay,” and I could tell from her voice that this thought brought her no joy.

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I remember wondering what my duty was in that moment. Did she deserve to know that she was speaking to a gay man?

Should I make that clear so that she could decide how much she wanted to say, or not to say? But I didn’t. Instead I told her that I’d met lots of LGBTQIA+ (well, I probably said “gay and lesbian”) kids out on the streets, kids who’d run away from home or been kicked out. Youth who’d been humiliated. Youth who’d been denied justice. Youth led to the slaughter. I didn’t say that last part, that’s from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And, because the business card said “chaplain” on it, she felt free to ask me; more than that, she wanted to know what I thought the bible had to say on the topic of gay and lesbian people (though I’m sure she said “homosexuals”). So, like Philip, I was invited to help interpret scripture.

I do remember one of the people I met that summer. I’d been outreaching in the Little Five points neighborhood on a scorching hot day. I was wearing cargo shorts, a baby blue short-sleeved clerical shirt and collar, and carrying an over the shoulder bag in which I’d packed business cards, bottles of water, a social services referral guide, condoms, etc and I’d just purchased a soft serve ice cream cone to cool me down. Then I spotted this boy, almost a young man, no more than seventeen. He was tall, thin, white, all angles. I made it a practice to talk to anyone who looked twenty or younger, but he’d seen me scoping him out and he spoke first.

Spinning on his heel to confront me at a stoplight that had just turned red, he unleashed the kind of fierce fury that’s hard for anyone over twenty to sustain. He came at me hard.

“What are you looking at, preacher man?” I told him my name, explained what I was doing, and asked if he had a safe place to sleep. “People like you are the reason I don’t. ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’ That’s what the priest told my parents. So Dad showed me ‘tough love’ by kicking me out and telling me not to come home until I’d manned up. So excuse me if I don’t give a shit.”  By now the ice cream had melted and was dripping down over my fist, but I couldn’t find anything useful to say. The boy just kept going, delivering his final blow, “Is your church ready for this homosexual?” My next words were pathetic and inadequate to the wounds this child had just revealed. I’ve never forgotten him, or his question.

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As for this mother waiting on the phone for me to speak, I honestly don’t remember what I said next. I just know that the passages I might have quoted and the interpretations I would have given were not what she was expecting. I likely told the story from Acts 10 in which Cornelius calls for Peter, who then has the vision of the sheet being lowered from heaven, filled with unclean animals, and the divine voice that challenges Peter’s received theology and established practice, saying “What God has called clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:15) Or maybe I quoted Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We spoke for fifteen minutes, twenty at the most. When it was over, she didn’t ask to meet me or request to be baptized. I wouldn’t even say she left the conversation rejoicing over the good news I’d shared. All I know is that, like Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, I never heard from her again.

The Samaritan mission, under the leadership of Philip (whose saint day is observed tomorrow), signals the beginning of the spread of the gospel beyond the boundaries of traditional Judaism. For that reason, this story has served as an entry point for a number of communities that have historically been marginalized by the kinds of Christianity practiced by the dominant culture.

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Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III

When the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss came here to preach last fall, to kick off our commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this was the passage he selected for preaching, reminding us that this African figure has been misrepresented and aspects of his history and identity erased down through the centuries; the presumption that he was an outsider on the basis of his African identity a willful forgetfulness that Israelite religion had made its way to Africa as far back as King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and that this Ethiopian eunuch is not identified in the text as a Gentile God-fearer, but simply as one “who had come to Jerusalem to worship.”

He could just as easily have been a Jew attempting to worship at the temple. The very fact that later audiences, that White audiences, felt the need to imagine him as an outsider on the basis of his national identity, with its roots in Africa, speaks to modern racial ideas and not the worldview of the scripture itself.

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This morning I can’t help but think that these insights owe a great debt to one of the most powerful theological voices of our generation, who died over the weekend. The Rev. Dr. James Cone, author of books that shaped a generation of teachers and leaders in the church and in society: Black Theology and Black Power, God of the Oppressed, The Cross and the Lynching Tree; teacher and mentor and guide. A man whose work reflected a holy anger at the disenfranchisement of black lives and disfigurement of black bodies, but will also be remembered for the warmth of his smile and the joy in his laughter.

A fully human being, who we can imagine might have heard the desperation in the Ethiopian eunuch’s voice when he read aloud, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth” and then asked, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Because, at this point in the story, the Ethiopian eunuch does not know about Jesus, so we can only assume that he hears something in this account from Isaiah that reminds him of his own suffering, which reminds us of our own suffering, which is why this figure has remained central to the theological imaginations of all who suffer and therefore to liberation theology as well. I imagine Dr. Cone stepping into that chariot with Philip and the eunuch and teaching us once again that…

Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience, or God is a God of racism … The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God’s own condition. This is the essence of the biblical revelation. (This is the essence of the biblical revelation) By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering … Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity. (A Black Theology of Liberation, pp. 63-64)

What lesbian and gay, bi and trans, queer and intersex, non-binary folk and anyone else whose sexual or gender identity is not normalized by culture have seen in the Ethiopian eunuch is one who would have been excluded from the temple, Jewish or not, on the basis of his sexual or gender identity.

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The Baptism – by Don Reason

As a castrated man, he was not allowed access to the temple under Deuteronomic law, he was a gender outlaw, scarred and defective, impure and subject to stereotypes. But the prophet Isaiah announces that God will “recover the remnant that is left of my people … from Ethiopia” (Isa. 11:11) and that “eunuchs who keep [the] sabbath” will be welcomed home and will receive “a name better than sons and daughters.” (Isa. 56:4-5) What is at stake for the Ethiopian eunuch, and for many queer exegetes, is not the authority of scripture but its interpretation. Is God the one who authorizes the exclusion from the temple, or the one who gathers the remnant and welcomes the despised and the rejected home?

That is the kind of question that requires a guide, an exegete, a theologian. That is the kind of question that, depending how it’s answered, can either end a life or save one.

Black liberation theology set the table for the ever-expanding host of liberation theologies that have followed. My ability to find myself in this text owes a debt of gratitude to the work of James Cone and others who have helped me to know at the core of my being that at the very place where the world turns its back on me, God is with me, God is for me, God is on my side because God sides with the oppressed. And that, likewise, at any place where I would use the name of God to contribute to or continue the oppression of others, that is not true Christianity.

It is White Christianity, it is straight Christianity, it is middle-class Christianity, it is respectability-politics Christianity, it is colonial Christianity, and therefore it is not Christianity.

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You and I, who have been baptized, have drowned to those lies. We rise from these waters as the children of God and joint heirs with Christ of a freedom that cannot be taken away from us.

We are fully human.

We are alive.

As we prepare to take our leave of one another near the end of another rich, full and difficult school year, pay attention to those who share the road with you. Listen for the phone call that threatens to take you off the path you’d set for yourself. Be prepared to give an account of the faith that is in you, in you, knowing that the right word at the right time can save a life.

Good theology saves lives.

Amen.


headshot professional (large)Pastor Erik Christensen serves as Pastor to the Community and Director of Worship at LSTC. He joined the staff last fall after previously serving as the redevelopment pastor with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square (Chicago) for the past eleven years. He also regularly shares his reflections and sermons on his personal blog “By Proclamation.”

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.

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.