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.

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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.

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

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

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


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

I am an evangelical.

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

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

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

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

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See article here.

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

Well, it’s complicated.

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

Like I said, It’s complicated.

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

But, it gets (even more) complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Caught in the Words – Rev. Tuhina Rasche

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Words need accompanying actions.

Words need flesh.

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

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

The words shifted.

Not just in the constitution, but in my heart.

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

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

And that hurt.

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

I got caught up in the words…

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

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

It was time to act.

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

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

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

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

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

My words to speak to amending the continuing resolution were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The conversation must continue on accountability.”

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

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


Resources

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

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

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

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


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