Have You Seen Mary? – Madena Sophia

As Advent ends and Christmas begins, We Talk, We Listen is going to be presenting a series of reflections on Mary – the mother of Jesus. Mary receives short schrift in most Protestant communities, and yet our faith would be impossible without her. Madena Sophia, a student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, starts the series – reminding the reader that in her day, Mary was likely seen as scandalous or questionable and how depicting her as a paragon of virtue disrepsects the fullness of her power. Read, comment, and share

Francisco Herrera, PhD student, Interim Blog Editor


I remember the first time a preacher included teaching about context in the sermon, I was in my 30s. I remember that for the first time, the people and the stories became vividly real and not just caricatures. It also helped me to see the Mary’s and Martha’s and Hagar’s in my life and context.

When we read Biblical text, do we do so as though we are entering into a fictional existence in a far-off place with fictional characters playing a role for our entertainment or do we allow the text to shift our eyes to our own surroundings and to the people and situations around us? Do we make super heroes of these characters because we “know how the story ended?”

Growing up and into adulthood, the only teaching and preaching I had heard about Job was about patience and faith and the victory of a life redeemed.

Until I began to study Job for myself, I didn’t know that Job didn’t just skip and whistle his way through his trauma. No, Job didn’t do the spiritual bypassing that negated his trauma, his loss, his depression, his despair, his suicidal ideation. No, Job shook his fist at God in agony. Job asked questions.

Job cursed the day he was born.

It is easy for us to look at this allegory without allowing ourselves to really sit in the grief and what it might have been like to live that existence. You see, we know how that story ends, so we rest in the comfortable victory without allowing ourselves to find the sacred and holy that was found in the “dark night of the soul.”

What does this have to do with Mary, you might ask? We do the same thing with other ministry leaders of history. We make heroes out of them. We create a perfected ideal of who they were. We recreate them to look like, sound like, act like, and think like us. We are so far removed from their reality that we don’t see them for who they really were and because we don’t see them for who they really were, we can’t see them walking amongst us today.

Have you seen Mary?

I asked people through a Facebook post to tell me what came to mind when they thought of Mary. I asked that people not spend too much time, I wasn’t looking for an essay. I just wanted the first words or images that came to mind when people thought of Mary, mother of Jesus…according the Christian tradition, the mother of the savior of the world – and here’s what they said:

“You have filled the hungry with all good things and left the wealthy no part”
Mary did you really know?
Trusting and believing
Young and scared
Peaceful, in spite of her “unacceptable” condition
Wisdom; chosen to uniquely suffer; change agent
My mother and abuela, raising and protecting a family from poverty,
A child
Young, courageous, connected (relationship with Elizabeth)
Her Magnificat
The Holy Spirit and the 4 th member of the trinity*
Willing participant in an unknown plan
Confused about her biological makeup…
A big heart
Holy vessel
Vulnerability x2

Please take a moment to reflect on these words.

Take a deep inhale…and exhale…now, sit in the stillness for a bit as you think of Mary and these words. What comes to mind for you now? What images do you see? Who do you see? Jot down what you hear, see, and feel.

Mary was a poor, Jewish teenager from Galilee. Mary had agency and a choice as to whether or not she wished to participate. If you have ever been seduced by the spirit, it is difficult to think that her body was simply used as a receptacle as opposed to a willing participant. Mary was a radical, teenage, badass Black woman. She could have said, “no” to an ask that was beyond conceivable to most…still is. I wonder if she had a flood of realization once she had said, “yes.”

What did it really mean for the everyday living of her life? Everyday, the sideways looks she must have gotten. The mumbles she must have heard. The people that walked away and betrayed her, the ones that didn’t believe her. The ones that didn’t value her because they didn’t value the body the message was coming in.

Behold Mary’s words in the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

When I read this and think of Mary, not the Westernized version of Mary, but the real and raw Blackity Blackness of Mary, I think of a 15 year old Sudanese girl I heard speak at an event at George Floyd Square this Summer. She spoke with a similar fire of wisdom far beyond her years. The confidence she had as she paced and spoke words that make her a target for attack.

She said, “yes.”

Have you seen Mary?

Maybe you have seen a Black pregnant teenager in your church or community. Maybe you might even know of a Black pregnant teenager who can’t identify who impregnated her. What words do you use to describe her? What words or images do you think of when you see her? Have you observed the reality of her life? What does that look like?

Did you think Mary would have a life like that?

Have you seen Mary?

Have you seen the mothers of the unarmed Black people who keep getting murdered in the streets and in their homes and out for jogs and in other ways enjoying God’s creation? Have you seen their grief on the news? Have you seen them cry out to God? How about the mothers of the prophets who are slain? The activists, the organizers? The Freddy Hamptons and the Dr. Kings and all of those whose names are not as well known. When you see these mothers, what words and images come to mind? Do you use the same words to define these Black mothers? These Marys? Have you observed their lives in grief and has that observation led you to think of Mary’s grief at the state sanctioned murder of her son, Jesus.

As Christians, we talk all the time about whether or not we are seeing Jesus in others. Might I call us to also begin to see the Marys who live amongst us.

Have you seen Mary?


Madena is a budding Womanist Theologian who has completed 3 years of theological work at Luther Seminary. This Fall, Madena was Endorsed by the SE Iowa Synod of the ELCA, however she has decided to leave the ELCA Candidacy process to pursue ministry outside of the institutional church. Madena has a passion for all things Spirit related and is a dedicated prayer warrior, intercessor, and healer. Madena has facilitated racial healing workshops for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Bodies of Culture), facilitating work to unlearn the myths of white body supremacy, and is currently developing an online ministry entitled “Living Inverted: Following Jesus’ Lead.”

The Cross at El Rio Grande: A Reflection on shame and grace – Vicar Sergio Edison Rodriguez

Rivers are gates, crossings, borders. In this next reflection for Latinx History Month, vicar and Latinx theologian, Sergio Edison Rodriguez, shares how his faith, sexuality, and vocation came to light along the banks of two rivers in Texas. Please read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor

El Rio Bravo – the Rio Grande

El Rio Grande

El Rio Bravo

Un Rio en mi mente, espantosa, poderosa °

The Rio Grande, the murky, treacherous bridge between two countries, haunts me nightly with its ageless specter; ageless as the flow of life that is God. This specter carries a force that continues to shape me and ensnare my imagination even as I now serve a congregation as a pastoral intern in Houston, TX. I grew up near this river but if you were to ask me where I am from, I hardly know what to say. Born in Hidalgo, TX, I consider my identity to be formed by this river as a bridge between this land I know and a land that my heart aches over. This river captures my sense of belonging and my way of seeing this world in what folks have called a thin-places where heaven and the world meet. Then the world smells and feels a bit like heaven. I would rather think that the specter of this river follows me in a different fashion. We call it Nepantla[1] where the otherworldly and this-worldly places meet but resolve differently (rather do not resolve). They stand in-tension that leads to confusion, disorientation, loss of direction, familia and self. Simul Justus et peccator[2] but keep the peccator at full force.

the Brazos River

I fled to Waco to start my undergrad degree with the hopes that I would flee the grasp of this river upon my imagination. The Brazos river would be for me the waters of salvation, a new birth into a new world of boundless possibilities; I am my own person with my own thin-places. So, I sought to conform to my fellows, adopt a nickname that English speakers could easily pronounce, join a fraternity, recover a form of Roman Catholicism unlike what I had grow up with. I fled this river traga-familias[3] because I desperately yearned to swim upon my own waters of sexual freedom. As a gay Latino, I craved this gift of new life where I could authentically live into my identity as a believer without the stigma and homophobic aspects of my faith-culture. Yes, I fled El Rio, my familia and form of iglesia because I had the privilege of being able to cast aside this tension and plunge head-first into the aguas of the Brazos River. Of course, El Rio Grande does not easily let one escape its totalizing grasp. But I grew painfully aware that no matter how far I could swim away from el Rio, other folks clearly saw me for who I am; a Mexican-American. I became Brown by the banks of the Brazos River. I became aware of the drops of water that slowly trickled down my back, whose flow goes on like endless song.

So, I felt compelled to find some solace outside of the Brazos (with all its cultural trappings and shouts of “Sic’ Em Bears!”) and el Rio Grande. I became a religion major, being drawn to the breath and depth of images from the entirety of Western Christendom. I discovered Bartolomé de las Casas and his work as the Bishop of Chiapas. I read Silence and wrestled with mystery of Christ’s presence. I uncovered Gutierrez and saw the pages of my life near El Rio Grande come alive with God’s life and grace. I faced the specter of the river, its wounds upon my memory, as I read page after page of The Death of Josseline. The injustice, the anguish, the thirst and the horror of the Sonoran Desert signaled for me the quality of the thin-place along El Rio Grande. Instead of nails, there are craigs. Nopales[4] for thorns. The endless sands, the old, rugged wood of the cross.

I wanted to escape the shame of this cross I carried upon my back. I wanted to toss off the mortal coil that drug me unto the death-dealing embankment of El Rio Grande. I wanted not to be associated with the painful memories of poverty and privilege, of living on both sides of la Frontera[5] but seen as coming from neither, of the violence of the Cartels, of being seen as a maricon[6] but never gay. For me, the shame became to much to bear and the overwhelming waters of this river too strong to carry on forward with life. And so, I planned to put an end to my life and to reach some resolution to this shame I felt, the specter would again claim another to its depths of misery. Of course as you read this, it is abundantly apparent that something within me resolved this tension. I am alive and in a much better place. For that, I thank another fellow friend who accompanied me through this challenging time of my life and who likewise walked within this challenging Nepantla.

By the time I voluntarily entered the hospital, I already identified as a Lutheran and read extensively Luther’s Theology of the Cross by Von Loewenich, C.F. W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, the Apologia and Augsburg Confession and the Heidelberg Disputation. But as much as these theological tomes provided for me a framework that spoke to my understanding of the Christian faith, they failed to speak to this specter of El Rio Grande and its accompanying shame until this moment in my life. As I laid in my hospital bed during the first night of my stay, after countless sleepless nights battling intrusive thoughts of shame and death, I finally closed my eyes and fell into a deep sleep. But as I approached the mid-way point between alertness and rest, a finally entered into a nepantla that swept me into a different experience all together.

On my hospital bed, the words of the Psalmist entered into my mind; “for you are with me…my cup overflows (Ps 22).” Each of the words uncovered for me, as if in a sudden flash of insight, what this specter of the Rio Grande actually meant for me. I saw the cruciform shape of that Rio; bending, twisting, murky and filled with the wounds of a people. At that moment, I felt the weight of the craigs, the nopales, the sands and the currents of the Rio as death and life to me. I didn’t just know the theology of the cross, but my very body carried this truth beyond all systemic certitude. This specter of the Rio Grande became to as a baptism of my own Christian baptism in Reynosa, MX. What had been pursuing me all those years now finally had its way. I was drowned in the cross of mi gente with all its messiness on my hospital bed. Yet the Spirit of God raised me to life with Jesucristo. I began to understand my woundedness and trauma as parts of a larger story of people groups held down by the weight of a colonizing, slave-holding form of Christianity. I was raised so that I may no longer run away from el Rio but embrace it, swim around in it and call it my spiritual home. This river became for me a point of life and solidarity with others whose lives have been baptized by this river. The goodness and mercy that pursues me trickles down my back whenever I seem to want to lean deeply into my peccator, into my desire to flee this river of life and death. 

El Rio Grande

El Rio Bravo

Un Rio en mi mente, espantosa, poderosa en forma de cruz.°°


Sergio Edson Rodriguez is the Pastoral Intern at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, TX and the Campus Minister for Rice Lutherans, a Lutheran Campus Ministry at Rice University. He is currently finishing his final semester at Wartburg Theological Seminary. He’s the proud dad of two cats and several plants.

° The Rio Grande River / The Bravo River / A river in my mind, hideous, powerful

°° The Rio Grande River / The Bravo River / A river in my mind, hideous, powerful in the form of a cross

[1] Nepantla – comes from the nahuatl word (the language of the Aztec/Mexica people) for “in the middle,” but Latinx/Chicano writers relate this to the idea of “being in between” – neither being from Anglo-American culture, nor from Mexican/Indigenous culture.

[2] “Both saint and sinner” – an important concept for Luther and Lutherans.

[3] Traga-familias is a Spanish term – literally “carrying/packed-up families” – to describe the way that individuals and families pack up whatever they can carry and make the long trek, over land and through water, to from one country to another.

[4] The Spanish word for “cactus paddles,” or the tear-dropped shaped, flat out-growths from certain cacti.

[5] Spanish for “The Borderlands” – the in-between place along the border between the United States and Mexico.

[6] Pejorative Spanish-Mexican slang for “fag,” “sissy,” or “coward.”

Sitz Im Leben for #America2020 – Rev. Ronald Bonner

Rev. Ronald Bonner is a beloved regular contributor for We Talk. We Listen. And as we share our last post for Black History Month, he gives us a stirring lament on how open bigotry and white resentment have roiled our country’s politics these last few years, as well as how we must respond. Click, read, and share with your networks, friends.

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, LSTC PhD student

I am asking a simple question…

Can you explain what has happened to our situation in America?


A country that once had moorings in truth, but now alternative facts or lies are valued as truth by persons in high places?  Is there a problem with the way our government is behaving, and if yes, how do we address it? Are we living in a situation that 60 million people wanted when they voted on November 8, 2016?  Are they happy, is the current situation what they desired?

Is this the government that defines what the American form of democracy has become?

Albert Einstein said that if we are to solve a problem, then we must ask the right question. Are we experiencing the world of Ephesians 6:12 that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Is this the Sitz im Leben, the setting, the situation that we find for ourselves?  Then perhaps we need to move the focus from a person and address the perception or spirit that permeates our government? Are we facing an ideology of instability for a change?

One clear perception that seems to dominate is that of white supremacy and not just in the understanding of an individual but in a nation that the current president represents.  Is he the messiah that will restore their sense of self-worth that some white people were fearful of losing during the eight years of the President Obama Administration?  Was the Obama Administration representing the hastening of the day when white people would no longer be a substantial majority in the United States of America?  Has this prediction led to an irrational fear of loss of control and the fear of being treated as they have treated other racial or ethnic groups in America?


The Howard Beale mantra was the core of the 1976 movie Network.  In that movie, he had a catch-phrase “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” that became a rallying cry for an angst-filled population.  Did our current president use that model and tapped into fearful angst?  Was our society exploited?  Did he ride this angst, along-side increased xenophobia, latent misogyny, and oppressive heterosexism to a faux but legal political victory?  And now, do we get to witness the undoing of our democracy, the crushing of the constitution, the fracturing of our freedoms?  Will the recent Impeachment trial become a self-fulfilling prophecy of power over the will of the people? Are we on the edge of a discovery that we exist on a moral flat earth, and the freedom of truth is falling over the edge?


Is this the time that Gil Scott Heron predicted when he said that It is Winter in America …”the Constitution a noble piece of paper with free society struggled, but it died in vain, and now democracy is ragtime on the corner hoping for some rain?”

Are we firmly in the grasp of a society where the wealthy minority is using its power and influence to make itself even more prosperous? By offering in exchange, a dreaded delusion of inclusion, through the promise of the new American Dream, of “make America great again?”

I am persuaded that the faux-promise of an America made great again will not invite or include the millions of blue-collar, rural, and lower Middle-Class workers, who believed in a xenophobic messiah.

Whose promise of a wall, may have energized a what some are calling a forgotten market, but will not benefit them.  Their desire to trumpet a clarion call of “build the wall” that was their hope, to shield them from the growing nightmare of racial parity at the hands of the growth of brown-skinned invaders. Those whose ancestors called this land home, generations before the first boats from Europe began sending waves of immigrants and migrant workers.

I believe that what these loyalists will soon discover is that the only wall this administration will build is the wall between the haves and the have-nots.  Those who fell for the faux-promise empowered an uncaring ideology, and will soon find that they have forfeited their futures and have indentured their progeny, for an imaginary morsel of inclusion.  #AlternativeReality, #HahaNoFunnyButTheJokeIsOnYOU, #TooLateToComplain, #Expletives, #HaveYouNodecency?


Is it true what President Lyndon Baines Johnson said: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Is that true for their vote or blind allegiance as well? Thus, is there the realization of an undiagnosed problem of unsolvable internalized oppression? Usually, that term is reserved for persons of color who value whiteness more than their heritage. But it is plausible that those who do not vote or work in their real and not ill-perceived best self-interest also suffer from a form of internalized oppression?

Perhaps the beauty of our current situation is that America will have clarity that the wealthy landowners of the 1600s invented white as a race to exploit the working class for their benefit.  And once enough of the rights and interests of those who voted for the current administration will have eroded, they will see that people of color and whites are in the same boat.  And the yachts of promise that all white people are equal will not allow them access to a “great” America except as the help.  And will they then realize they are in the same boat as people of color, and it is sinking and taking on Flint quality drinking water?


And maybe then they will see with clarity their future and apologize for their apathy.  Because, in truth, we can’t let injustice win, we must resist.  “The way things are now is not the way they have to be in the future[1].” And what is now lost, good people must work together to restore.

And in case you’d like to see/hear what our Found Fathers have to say, click here…

CST PhotoRonald S. Bonner Sr. is the Associate Pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA for Community Engagement with responsibilities for evangelism, outreach, service, and advocacy. Before his current Call, Pastor Bonner served as the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Atlanta, GA, for ten years. He also served as the Manager for Multicultural Resources for Augsburg Fortress Publishers in Minneapolis, MN. Pastor Bonner was ordained in The United Church of Christ through Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL, to his first Called position as the Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity for the United Church of Christ. Pastor Bonner is also the author of No Bigotry Allowed: Losing the Spirit of Fear, and The Seat a short story looking at issues of radicalized law enforcement and the editor of 3 religious devotionals.

[1] Elizabeth Liebert, The Soul of Discernment: A Spiritual Practice for Communities and Institutions, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p3.


These Times Call for a Prophetic Church – Rev. Kenneth Wheeler

In a truly stirring address to our reader one of the most august voices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Rev. Kenneth Wheeler, weighs in with a passionate reminder of how Jesus call for love and justice animated the very soul of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and by extension must continue to do so today. So on this day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, take in this reflection and ask God where you are to be sent!

Francisco Herrera – PhD student and Interim Editor

Dr. King and Coretta Scott King being booked for arrest.

Edgar Hoover who was the Director of The F.B.I. during Dr. King’s life called him the most dangerous man in America. He said that because he believed although wrongly that Dr. King had Communist ties. But although Hoover was wrong about Dr. King having communist ties he was right in calling Dr. King dangerous.

He was dangerous because his message was a prophetic message that challenged a Nation’s assumptions about truth and power. Power that defined itself in the misguided notion of white supremacy that would violate and denigrate the personality and humanity of African-American people;

Many of our churches and our Pastors have lost the capacity to be dangerous because we have lost our prophetic voice and we have lost our prophetic voice because we have cleaned Jesus up and made him antiseptic and sterile so that the crosses we wear around our necks are just decoration.

In times like these we need for the church to recapture its reputation for being dangerous.

In times like these we need the church to be a drum major for Justice. In times like these we need a prophetic church – called by God to be God’s mouthpiece, called to declare “thus said the Lord.” Called to speak a Word and let the chips fall where they may, Called to march into the palace of the King and tell him, “Let Justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream” (Micah 5:24).

Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah were prophets who functioned in the 8th century BCE in Israel. They were speaking to a social and economic context very much like the times in which we live. There was a huge gap and a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The majority of wealth was concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite while the poor were scraping to get by. And most egregious was an unbridled greed and arrogance that made those in power callous to meting out justice fairly and evenly. And so when we read these words in Isaiah 58 we understand the basis for the harshness of the prophet. He says to them that God will not honor your worship because it is a sham. “You gather into your houses of worship and on your fast days you cover your head with ashes and sackcloth but you refuse to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free” (Isa. 58:4-6). Prophets don’t fleece their people.

Prophets aren’t governed by public opinion polls. By the nature of their call they will often create enemies especially those who are in seats of power. Their prophetic task will mean that they will find themselves alone and alienated from family and friends. Near the end of Dr. King’s life he found himself standing isolated and alone when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam.

Dr. King marching against the war in Vietnam.

In 1967 Dr. King delivered perhaps one of the most important speeches of his life. Delivered at Riverside Church in New York, it was entitled “A Time to Break Silence.” – and it he made official his opposition to the Vietnam War and the reasons for his opposition. Dr. King was widely criticized for this speech from every corner, including those who had been very close to him during the Civil Rights movement. Some folk would call him a traitor because they saw this speech as an attack against President Lyndon Johnson, who had been deemed as a great friend to the Civil Rights Movement. Time Magazine called the speech demagogic slander, and The Washington Post went so far as to declare that Dr. King had diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people.

King’s opposition to the war was rooted first and foremost in his understanding of a faith that saw the sanctity of life all life. War and particularly the Vietnam War and we could add the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were and are fundamentally destructive to this divine principle. King saw faith as real and that is why he clung to the principle of non-violence. Non-violence was a practical and pragmatic way to live out the words of Micah 6: . “The Lord has shown us what is good and what does he require of us? But to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”

All of life he said was interwoven; inextricably bound. Justice was indivisible. Violence is fundamentally a threat not only to justice but to community. Our commitment must be to justice, to building communities that provide for fairness and economic health that reach across all communities for where justice reigns peace reigns.

Too many young men and women have lost their lives over insignificant things like some insignia that bears the name of some athlete on a shoe or a jersey that somebody wants and would be willing to kill for because we have come to a place in our culture where things have become more important than a human life.

Several years ago I preached on the Southside of Chicago, in a neighborhood of where a week prior a father was in a van changing the diaper of his six month old infant when someone pulled up who obviously knew the father and let out a barrage of bullets – five of them ripping through the body of that baby. Our associations have consequences. The people we hang with if they are dealing in unsavory things have consequences and sometimes the consequences are tragic and ugly.


When I was a Pastor at Cross Lutheran in downtown Milwaukee, I remember the cold-blooded murder of a mother, gunned-down like a dog as her young teenage year old son watched and then cradled his mother in his arms as she lay dying. Her life was taken for the contents of her purse.

Every time I think about the concealed-carry law I have to wonder what were those lawmakers thinking not only when they proposed it but when they passed it.

Dr. King talked about the need for somebody to exercise common sense. In a climate where our urban centers night after night continue to experience horrific and devastating acts of violence why do we need to put more guns in circulation and risk putting more and more innocent people in harm’s way? More importantly, what does this law teach our children about how they should settle conflict?

Jesus reminds us that if we choose to live by the law of retribution, an eye for an eye the result is blindness.

We’ve become comfortable as a people with the makeshift memorials that dot too many places in our neighborhoods that mark the spot where another one of our children have become the victims of gun violence.

And much of the responsibility for the violence that we witness I believe must be borne by the policies of a nation that have historically disregarded the humanity and dignity of communities of people because their skin color was red, black, or brown.

The sin of racism has perverted our religion, our courts and our body politic. This is the first violence and it is the violence that we must work diligently to eradicate whenever we see it and wherever it raises its ugly head.

I have come to the conclusion and we all need to come to understand that poverty is more than about individual choices and circumstances. To see poverty in this way is to miss the forces and the policies that are made by people outside of the community that often impact the poor in ways that keep them poor.

Hospitals who choose to close their doors and leave a community already desperate for good health care that’s economic violence.

Factories that choose to shut down and move to another region in the country or to move out of the country because they would like to increase their profit margins by paying lower wages and fewer benefits to people who would just be happy to have a job – that’s economic violence.

We close schools in the most challenged communities, in communities that need quality education the most, and who could benefit from having the most creative, seasoned and compassionate educators and we build prisons – that’s violence to the nth degree and we ought to be up in arms about that trigger that somebody is also pulling every day.


Dr. King  opposed this war on moral grounds, on religious grounds – as a matter of his own faith and how he understood the mission and ministry of Jesus but he would also make a powerful connection between the injustice of that war and any war for that matter that diverts valuable resources from the poorest of the poor in our own Nation.

In his own words: “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men in my own country, I have told them that guns and violence will not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked and rightly so, what about Vietnam [and for 2020 – Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran?] They asked if our own Nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today; my own government. For the sake of these young men, for the sake of my own government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

And we cannot be silent.

Ultimately, the violence that is happening in our own communities with our children killing each other means that there is a work for us to do. We cannot give up on our children. They need us more now than ever. They need for us to care. They need for us to believe in them, to love them, to inspire them to dream. But most of all they need to see in us who are their elders a consistency between the values and morality we preach and teach matching the lives we lead.

On a larger scale we must work to build a community that is filled with quality schools and we must work to ensure that these schools are filled with educators who believe that every child is capable of learning.

We must work tirelessly to put people in offices  who will pay attention to our communities and to those issues that will allow our neighborhoods to flourish and our people to succeed.


Because there is violence in poverty. This is the first violence. Long and protracted poverty that has become entrenched so deep that it settles into the bones is violence of the worst kind because it scars the soul. It kills one’s dreams.

When I have listened to some of the King tributes in recent years I hear a King that is unrecognizable to me. He has been turned into some kind of fairy tale figure and we end up trivializing his significance in the struggle for justice and human dignity. If his life is to have any real meaning for this age we’ve got to take him out of the monument that we have placed him in, chisel away at that rock until we touch the humanity of who he was-find the soul and the faith that allowed him to lead a movement that challenged a violent and brutal system that everyday made a conscious choice to denigrate a people and squash their personality because of the color of their skin.


Equally, some of us have made Jesus so divine that we have made him untouchable. But that’s not the Jesus that I read about. My Bible tells me about a Jesus who went to the Temple and turned over tables and drove out those who were using religion to extort monies from the poorest members of the community. My Bible tells me about this same Jesus who came to his hometown and preached a message filled with the imagination of God:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has anointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. To set the burdened and the battered free and to announce: that this is God’s time to act.” (Luke 4:14-21)

This is the Jesus that King came to know. This was the work and faith of Jesus that inspired him. But this is the same Jesus that we confess as Lord and Savior. This Jesus the flesh and blood Jesus who ate with sinners, who touched lepers, who healed the sick, who fed the hungry masses, who experienced the disappointment of denial and betrayal by his friends, who so loved the world that he gave his life for that world that we might have life and that life abundant not just in the great bye and bye but abundant life on this side of the grave.

They did not march for naught. They did not march so that we could turn on each other like wild dogs, not able to see each other as the brothers and sisters we are.

They did not suffer the daily humiliation of being called out of their names, of being addressed as “boy,” or “girl,” when they were 40-50-60 and 70 years old by whites who believed that Black people were less than human and not worthy of being addressed by the title of Mr. or Mrs.  No! No! They did not suffer the kind of wounds so that we can humiliate and wound each other by using the “n-word” –   word that still carries with it a kind of vitriol and poison whose primary aim is to destroy and kill; They did not march, go to jail, bleed and die so that we could ever turn on each other and wreak havoc and leave a trail of fathers broken and mothers weeping not because their children have died for something important and noble but because we felt that somebody challenged our manhood ,or disrespected us with a glance or a stare that we took as a threat.

They did not march and struggle and suffer a daily humiliation by those who thought them less than human-not worthy of the freedom of a human being-the dignity of a human being.

We celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today but surely this day is more than just about one man or one man’s life. It is about many people, a movement that grew out of a clear view that people deserved to be treated with dignity and respect.

And when I think about this struggle it was a struggle rooted in love.

Love gives us courage to fight against what is unjust and dark and evil, but it also gives us the courage to fight for our own humanity as well as the humanity of others and finally it gives us courage to act on behalf of the community to build community-a community where there is justice and dignity and opportunities for every individual to reach their full potential. These are difficult days still. There are people still living under the burden of economic oppression. We are losing to many of our young black males to prison – which Professor Michelle Alexander is calling The New Jim Crow. Poverty in this community is a nightmare. People are suffering because justice is scarce. Drugs have become a scourge on our community wreaking havoc not just upon individual lives but upon families.


God’s ears are attuned to us. He hears our every groan. He hears our every cry.

And he’s calling out with His burning question: Who will go for us? The fullness of the Godhead is united in the question and united in the vision. Who will go?

Isaiah answered ‘Here I am Lord!” Send me.”

May it be so with you and me!

Get your courage up

There are some people counting on you and me to make our faith more than just about words.


wheelerBorn in Vicksburg, MS. 1952 raised in Jackson, the Rev. Kenneth Wheeler was educated in the Jackson Public School System. He received B.A. in Religion 1974 from Concordia College Moorhead, MN and his M.Div. 1982 Trinity Lutheran Seminary Columbus, Ohio – and was granted an Honorary Doctorate 2018 from Wartburg Seminary. During his rich ministry life he served 18 years as Assistant to the Bishop, Greater Milwaukee Synod (ELCA) as well as pastoring 16 congregations as a trained intentional interim. In his own words, “I have a passion for justice because I believe that Justice is a Gospel issue. I have been privileged to speak in a number of places across the country on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout my ministry and that continues even in retirement.” These days, he glories in time spent wonderful wife of 44 years, Cloria – along with their three adult sons and five grand-children. In retirement their enjoy travel, reading and spending precious time with his grand-kids.

Recycling Trustworthy Servants – Rev. Steve Jerbi

When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their long-awaited report back in the fall, its shockwaves quickly reverberated around the globe. Predicted serious environmental collapse by as soon as 20 years, the church world is approaching the environment with an intensity not seen in more than 20 years. We Talk. We Listen, too, has been neglectful in talking about this subject so we have dedicated every Monday in April – five total – to writers speaking specifically on subjects related to theology and the environment. The first, by Pastor Steve Jerbi of Bethel Encino Lutheran Church in Encino, California.

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor

logo-elca-300x130.pngTrustworthy Servants, a new standard of behavior for rostered leaders and candidates for ministry has been a buzz among rostered leaders, seminary students, and candidates for ministry. As I write this, the document is being challenged on several fronts. I want to specifically address the section Trustworthiness With Creation, which begins at line 290 of the draft.

The section focusing on creation is consistent with previous eco-expressions within the denomination. There was the 1993 social statement Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice. There is the Living Earth devotional series and a host of curriculum resources. The previous standards manual, Vision and Expectations also included creation care as an expectation for the leaders in the church. What we are hearing is a sincere yearning for greater care for the creation God calls good.

earth day 1970.jpg
Cover of the New York Times covering the first Earth Day – April 22, 1970.

All of this emerges from the voices that shaped the first Earth Day in 1970. Air pollution, pesticides and oil spills were the dominant issues that spawned an ecological teach-in day.

The impact was impressive as the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were all passed later that year and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. It was in this spirit that environmentalism went mainstream – so much so that by the 20th anniversary I was planting trees at my junior high. We all loved trees and clean air and clean water.

These elders shifted the conversation – and the policies – of the United States of America. Yet much of the conversation around environmentalism – like the Trustworthy Servants document – focus on personal responsibility. Are you taking shorter showers, recycling your single-use plastic, driving a Prius? Are you doing your part to help the environment? The document states:

As leaders in the congregation and in the community, pastors and deacons are in a unique position to raise awareness of the human impact on the environment and lead people towards behavior and practices that minimize damage to natural resources. (lines 294-296)

recycle bottle

It goes on to say recycling, reusing, and energy-conservation is a witness to the care of God’s creation.” (lines 297-298)

And this is problematic AF.

First off, this call centers the role humans play on impacting the environment. This is sanitized language that does not take into consideration the constructs around human impact. The impact of industrialized nations look vastly different than the impact of developing nations. The pollution of creation is tied to when native water rights are violated, coal-fired power plants are sited in African American communities, and fracking in poor, rural areas. We are not only devastating God’s good earth but specific communities are being destroyed by this action. Just ask the people of the Maldives Islands.

The goal of Trustworthy Servants is to have leaders raise awareness and shift personal behavior. That behavior is tied to a consumer-driven understanding of recycling, reusing, and energy-conservation. With China refusing to import our recyclables, cites like my own, are looking to dump recyclable materials into landfills. While reusing and conserving are great household ideals, they seem weak when our country has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement.


Being trustworthy with creation needs the radical roots of a movement that changed the environmental policy of a nation for a generation. We need churches to be following the students leading climate strikes like the one last month or in Germany last week. We need to name the corporations in our communities that are contributing to a climate crisis. We need to say I don’t care how much funding comes out of North Dakota fossil fuel driven communities, the protection of creation is more important than our institutional endowments. We need to denounce leaders that deny climate change. We need to hold crafters of a green new deal to a standard that moves beyond feel-good personal responsibility quips and toward an entire overhauling of our economic system. It isn’t just that what we’re doing isn’t working – it is that it is literally killing us.

We are beyond raising awareness and starting recycling programs in our congregations. We need to be mobilizing our communities against the very powers and principalities that seek to destroy us.

steve jerbiRev. Steve Jerbi, is the lead pastor of Bethel Encino, a progressive congregation in Los Angeles. Before coming west in 2017, he served as the senior pastor at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, WI. He earned a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Montana – Missoula in English Literature with an Environmental Studies minor. He graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago with a Masters of Divinity and an environmental ministry emphasis.

Colonization and Assimilation – Nicole M. Garcia, M.Div., M.A. LPC

As our first post for Women’s History Month, Nicole Garcia – approved candidate for word and sacrament ministry in the Rocky Mountain Synod – shares a painfully poignant reflection on her life as a Latina in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Her family tracing its roots to the southwest in the 16th century – she shares how the rich guidance of the Roman Catholic roots of the women in her family have given her direction and how this latinidad of her background can often be at odds with the with her colleagues. Originally shared in September during Hispanic History Month, we felt it a great way to begin this month’s series, too, and we are glad that Nicole agreed.

Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera, Interim Editor

At the churchwide assembly in 2016, the ELCA passed a resolution, “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery”[1] which calls for the church to “explicitly and clearly repudiate” the doctrine and “to acknowledge and repent of its complicity in the evils of colonialism in the Americas.”[2] The ELCA took responsibility for the part the Lutheran church played in taking lands from Native peoples in the northeastern part of the United States; far away from my ancestors who lived in the southwest.

Detail of “The Conquest of America,” by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

The people of the southwest had been colonized centuries before the arrival of the Lutherans. My blood is the blood of Spaniards and the blood of the native women raped by the men who claimed our land for their own under the Doctrine of Discovery. Centuries later, my people were colonized once again after the relatively young government of the Untied States renamed the doctrine—Manifest Destiny—a concept that justified the invasion of Mexico by the United States in 1846. When the war was over in 1848, Mexico ceded more than half of its territory to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[3] Tracing my roots to the southwest all the way back to the late 1500s, this second land grab impacted my family directly and immediately.

So, Mexico abandoned my ancestors while the people of the United States cared only for the land we lived upon and what’s more we were told to assimilate and become “Americans.” We were part of North America already, but the people from the north co-opted the name “American” and told us to speak English and adopt their values. Not paying much attention to the latest conquerors, my people created a culture separate from Mexico and the United States. We created our own food and music. We created our own spiritual beliefs and practices and so we lived in a world within a world.  

One of my earliest memories tied to my faith is that of my Grandma Celia, my father’s mother. I remember standing next to her as she prayed the Rosary. I don’t think I was yet five years of age when I stared at her lips as she prayed in Spanish to the Virgin Mary. When I left the family farm that day, grandma gave me the Rosary she had used. The beads were already well worn from use when grandma gave them to me and I still pray the Rosary on those beads from time to time. I now keep that Rosary on the altar by my bed, next to the other precious religious artifacts I treasure.

Why is the Rosary and the Virgin Mary so important to me? I must relate a story of La Virgen de Guadalupe; an intricate tale of the love and devotion of the Virgin Mary for the people colonized by the Spanish conquistadores and priests.

juan diego
Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego

In a nutshell, the Virgin Mary appeared to a native man, Juan Diego, on the hill called Tepeyac in December of 1531, ten years after the conquest of Mexico by Spain and the fall of the Aztec Empire. The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego three times. Each time, she told Juan Diego to go to the Bishop of Mexico and to tell him to build a hermitage on the side of the hill so her people could come to her and be comforted by her. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego and ultimately the bishop demanded a sign to prove Juan Diego had actually seen the Virgin Mary.

Contemporary photo of Juan Diego’s tilma in the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The last time Mary appeared, on December 12th, she told Juan Diego to collect the flowers that grew at the top of the hill. He gathered the flowers in his tilma, the piece of cloth he wore around his shoulders, and took the flowers back to Mary. She arranged the flowers in the tilma and told Juan Diego to take the sign to the bishop. When Juan Diego unfurled the tilma, the flowers fell at the bishop’s feet and the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe was etched into the fabric of the tilma. That piece of cloth hangs on the wall in the Cathedral of Guadalupe built at Tepayac.[4] Why is this story so important to me? I came to this earth on December 12th—the day of this final, holy apparition—making me a Guadalupana (a devotee of the La Virgin de Guadalupe) by virtue of my very birth.

This cross-stitch depiction of la Virgen de Guadalupe was made for me by my cousin, Diane. She gave me this work of art as a thank-you gift for officiating at her daughter’s memorial service. Diane knew the gift would be special because of my devotion to Guadalupe.

I was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church and was fiercely Roman Catholic in my teens and 20s. In my 20s, however, I learned how my people became Roman Catholic due to colonization and not because of faith. I realized didn’t want to be colonized anymore.

I left that denomination in my mid-20s and stayed away from any church until my early 40s when I had an awakening of my faith, but I had no desire to return to the church of my youth. I discovered Lutheranism and fell in love with the theology. I discovered a rogue, excommunicated German priest who read scripture the way I read scripture and I learned I was saved by grace through faith and not through my own merit and works.

I was hooked, but the deeply held beliefs of my mother, aunts, and grandmothers are part of who I am as a Latina.

Yo soy una Guadalupana and I continue to pray the Rosary because the prayers remind me of my grandma Celia and reaffirm my devotion for La Virgen.

My faith is simple. My faith is strong, but I live in-between.

My face is brown, but I do not speak Spanish.

I love the work I do in the church, but I often feel I must prove I am “white enough” to be accepted in the ELCA—the denomination to which I’ve been called. I have occasionally felt the yoke of colonization upon my shoulders; a burden I have struggled to leave behind for more than half my life. I do feel loved and accepted in the church where I work as the Director of Congregational Care, but I often notice I have the only brown face in the sanctuary.

I do not want to believe the only place I truly fit in is with my family and God, but I know I live in-between two cultures. I have done as I have been told and assimilated, but at what cost? I fear the next generation will not remember from whence we came and the sacrifices made by our ancestors to live in our colonized land.

Nicole GarciaNicole M. Garcia (she/her/hers) is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith. Nicole has a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. Nicole has a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN and is an approved candidate for Word and Sacrament ministry in the Rocky Mountain Synod. Additionally, she works as the Director of Congregational Care at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church – Boulder, Colorado and has her own private counseling practice.


[1] The resolution can be found at: http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/RepudiationDoctrineOfDiscoverySPR2016.pdf?_ga=1.157204155.1478422222.1471218167 (Accessed September 15, 2018)

[2] Vince Blackfox, “A Reflection on the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly’s Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics (March 2017, Vol. 17, Issue 2), https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/1202#_edn2 (Accessed September 15, 2018).

[3] See the National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/guadalupe-hidalgo

[4] My favorite rendition of the Nican Mopohua, the original title of the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe, translated from the original Nahuatl language, and a detailed explanation can be found in:


Increased Devotion: Reflections on Race and Religion from the Place of Gettysburg – Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel

black and white dr thomasAs we prepare for Black History Month Rev. Dr. Leonard M. HummelProfessor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology at United Lutheran Seminary  delves into some of the complicated history of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – both events that lead up to and during the famous Civil War battle in the city. 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.”

A Gettysburg Address was not delivered by President Barack Obama on Nov. 19th 2013.  President Obama had been scheduled to speak at the hallowed ground of the Gettysburg National Cemetery for the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s own address there—but his widely anticipated appearance was cancelled suddenly for reasons that never have been made public.

Much of the public responded—and with various emotions that mostly clustered around disappointment and sadness. 

But a few expressed anger and even disdain—especially conservative presses who proceeded to excoriate the President.  These groups ushered forth complaints derived from those they had promulgated throughout his presidency.  They said: The President was not a leader but a divider—and here evidenced his divisiveness by declining this special event to reflect on reconciliation between the North and South following the Civil War.  He was at best a fool—and was likely worse—for having passed over this opportunity to speak of supposed progress in race relations since that war.

I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on the enduring significance of the place of Gettysburg for race matters and freedom in the United States.  As Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care at Gettysburg Seminary (now, along with Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary, reformed as United Theological Seminary) in some ways this contribution to the blog at LSTC is a reflection on what has been in the place of Gettysburg and a suggestion for what might come to be there.

So, what is the place of Gettysburg?  Some have asserted that it is “The most American place in America” and “The most beautiful place in the world.”


The Wikipedia site for the borough details much about this county seat in south-central Pennsylvania.

With its many particulars about things local, the link may unintendedly belie its significance for matters beyond the locale.

For, upon reflection, some have discerned many things that are transcendent to be abiding within the bounds of Gettysburg, 17325.  In her 2004 Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the poet Laureate, Helen Vendler, described how both the particular and the universal—both the finite and the infinite—somehow blend within the borough of Gettysburg.

A vacant stretch of grass becomes humanly important when one reads the sign “Gettysburg.” Over the grass hangs an extended canopy of meaning—struggle, corpses, tears, glory—shadowed by a canopy of American words and works, from the Gettysburg Address to the Shaw Memorial.


The impetus for Vendler’s musings—the battle of Gettysburg, July 1 to July 3, 1863—is arguably the turning point of the American Civil War and is unarguably the most iconic event of that war and its many meanings.  In particular, Gettysburg has long both hidden and revealed racism in America—as well as being a well-spring of hope for unfinished work for freedom.

In the decade prior to the Civil War, a lively and, within white imposed limits, thriving African-American community comprised a sizeable segment of the borough’s roughly 2,500 residents who, along with a portion of the white populace, maintained a station on the underground railroad.  Gettysburg, then, was a first stop on the road to freedom—but, as a starting place—also was a holding-place of fear.  Whether they were resting or residing only ten miles north of the slave state of Maryland, Gettysburg blacks—whether transient or tenant—were beset by enslaving kidnappers who sometimes succeeded in carrying them back to old places of bondage.

However, on various occasions, blacks successfully resisted enslavers.  Most notably Mag Palm, herself a conductor of the railroad, fought off several . . . and some years afterwards posed for a photograph with her hands crossed just as they had been bound by her would-be enslavers.


The devotion of others at Gettysburg for a new birth of freedom foreshadowed the central role that race, slavery and freedom would come to play at that place during and after the war.  Among such labors were those of the radical abolitionist, Thaddeus Stevens, (portrayed with a close likeness by Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln) who practiced law there and, after several terms on the town council, served as the borough president—long before his leadership in the years immediately before War, during the conflict and through the travails of Reconstruction.

Thaddeus Stevens – Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens in the film Lincoln

Resistance to bondage and hopes for freedom pervade the early history of the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg.  Its founding president, Samuel Simon Schmucker, stood out within Gettysburg and among Lutherans elsewhere for his anti-slavery advocacy.  A clear summary may be found in Mark Oldenburg’s essay, “Scripture and More: Schmucker’s Persuasive Authorities in his Attack on Slavery.”


He worked to show that the whole tenor of Scripture militated against the contemporary institution, forcing slaveholders to deny inalienable, God-given rights and preventing slaves from carrying out inalienable, God-given responsibilities. [1]

It is important to note the Pietist tone of portion of the text emphasized above: Schmucker lamented that enslaved blacks did not enjoy the proper bondage that whites had been permitted—that is, servitude to their God-given duties that ensued from their God-given talents.  Only as free persons could African-Americans fulfill their real responsibilities to all their neighbors—both black and white.

President Schmucker was also a mentor to someone who would become an educational president and church leader—Daniel Alexander Payne. 

Daniel Alexander Payne

Although he spent only seven active years within the Lutheran Church and only two years on the campus of the seminary, Payne’s seminary experience was not only an experience in theological education but also an experience with the freedom to think, interpret and live. Payne stated it clearly with these words: “…see the Almighty Hand in the small and ordinary affairs of men. From that worm sprung up an acquaintance with that great naturalist who gave me those letters of introduction to the Lutheran clergy, who placed me in the theological seminary at Gettysburg, which prepared me for the enlarged usefulness of more than fifty-three years…”[2]

This above-mentioned “usefulness” included Payne’s becoming one of the most recognized leaders in education for African-Americans both after the war and for all time.

A clear summary of Payne’s life—and the meaning of that life for many matters including the African-American Church and anti-slavery work—may be found in Dr. Nelson Strobert’s work, Daniel Alexander Payne: The Venerable Preceptor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  And, in another work, Strobert provides this summary that reveals the influence of that place for matters beyond Gettysburg:

Before the war came, then, Gettysburg had primed to respond to issues of race/racism; slavery/freedom; suffering/consolation for suffering.

“And [in 1861] the War came” as Lincoln’s observed in his 1865 Second Inaugural Address.  And, along with these words, came his assertion (sadly belated, but by then, clearly fixed) of slavery as the cause of this carnage.

“And the War came” . . . to Gettysburg.  For, on the morning of July 1, 1863, pious Lutherans at the seminary awoke to watch the majestic rolling hills to the west magically transformed into a tsunami:


into a rolling wave of troops rushing toward their holy ground:

seminary building
Main seminary building (Old Dorm) in the center-left of the background

This tide of fighting men pressed closer to those defending the seminary grounds:

Old seminary dorm in the center-right of the background

And closer:

black sem.jpg

Until this wave crashed over the seminary leaving behind a debris of wounded outside its main building:


Who later were cared for inside of it—both during the battle and long after it ended on July 3rd:




Some from the seminary stayed to care for the wounded.  President Schmucker fled.  Schmucker did so because he had learned from a former student that his anti-slavery reputation was such that Confederate soldiers marching north had spoken of their intention to arrest him.

These soldiers did not capture Schmucker but they deliberately destroyed iron works west of town owned by Thaddeus Stevens—because they knew that this business belonged to that abolitionist.

Before the battle, most of the towns black residents fled (though, some hid in cellars and belfries) because the word had spread that, whether escaped slaves or freeborn, they were being seized by Confederates and sent south enslaved.  As Mag Palm had resisted before the war, so did some during this battle.  Unlike Palm, some did so unsuccessfully.  During the battle, a Vermont soldier reported seeing west of Gettysburg one recalcitrant black ” ‘grinding his teeth & foaming at the mouth’ ” after he had been stabbed and castrated by Confederate soldiers.[3]  As one Mount Holyoke Professor has clearly noted, “This horrific image summarizes the horrors of slavery and forecasts the rise of lynching in the postwar period. The carnage of Gettysburg looks backward and forward at the nightmare of American racism as a whole.” https://www.mtholyoke.edu/media/elizabeth-young-chicago-tribune-reviews-book

And the very climax of the battle on July 3rd—known as the Pickett-Pettigrew charge—reveals many ironies and enduring injustices in African-American history.  The acreage of this high-water mark of the final Confederate advance—which, if successful, may have ensured the endurance of slavery in North America—was owned by a free black, Abraham Brian, who had fled his property before the battle to avoid being enslaved.


Thus, this may be said: the outcome of the Civil War itself hinged on/turned around the house and barn of a black man.  While Brian’s final freedom was aided by these events on his land during the war, he did not receive just recompense for his damaged property from the United States after the war.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves . . . to the enduring significance of the place of Gettysburg for matters of race, racism, religion and freedom following the war.  In the next installment of “Increased Devotion,” we shall hear more: of the depletion of the Gettysburg’s post-bellum African-American community and of its endurance despite continuous assaults; of the denial after the war of burial to black Union troops in the Gettysburg National Cemetery (where Lincoln gave his address and later Obama was invited to do so); of their interment instead in a segregated cemetery in the town; of the continuous haunting of Gettysburg by the Ku Klux Klan following the war and up to our time; of the clad-in-white Klan’s self-understanding of their garb to represent the original ghosts of Gettysburg—that is, to stand-in for slain Confederate soldiers returning for revenge; of the determination of African-Americans everywhere after the war to pilgrimage to this place where some white residents did not warmly welcome them—but, for the most part, did appreciate the money they spent there.

Of theological education about war/peace; church/state; suffering/consolation for suffering; slavery/freedom; race/racism—in one of the most public of seminary settings.

Of assassins who, in 1869, may have threatened Frederick Douglass in Gettysburg when he did not stay away from his scheduled presentation.

And more about an African-American President who did stay away from his.

leonard hummel photo

Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology at United Lutheran Seminary (Gettysburg/Philadelphia) and currently serves as an Interim Pastor in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the E.L.C.A.  In 2017-2018, he was the Visiting Professor of Religion at Augustana University and the Visiting Scholar at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  At Gettysburg Seminary, he was Co-Project Leader of the Templeton Foundation funded AAAS grant, “Science for Seminaries.”  His co-authored book, Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer was published by Wipf & Stock in 2017.  He is a co-editor of Gettysburg:the Quest for Meaning, (Seminary Ridge Press, 2015) and was the Faculty Liason to the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum.  A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he has lectured in South Africa and widely elsewhere on race and religion in the American Civil War.  Hummel is a graduate of Haverford College (A.B.), Yale Divinity School (M. Div., S.T.M.), and Boston University (Ph. D. in Religious and Theological Studies).

[1] Mark Oldenburg, “Samuel Simon Schmucker: Slavery, Scripture and More” in Gettysburg: The Quest for Meaning, edited by Gerald Christianson, Barbara Franco and Leonard Hummel (Gettysburg: Seminary Ridge Press, 2015), 106.

[2] Nelson T. Strobert, “Daniel Alexander Payne on Education and Freedom” in Gettysburg: The Quest for Meaning, edited by Gerald Christianson, Barbara Franco and Leonard Hummel (Gettysburg: SeAndminary Ridge Press, 2015), 120.

[3] Margaret S. Creighton, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle (New York: Basic Books, 2004) 132.


Advent, Christmas, and Public Church – José F. Rodríguez Páez, MDiv student at LSTC

IMG_4512Advent is nearing its end and Christmas is upon us. The life of migrants and refugees, all who seek peace and freedom, is especially poignant these days. José F. Rodríguez Páez gives us his own deeply personal observation of what this means to us, as Christians moving from Advent into Christmas, giving us all reminder that even in the darkest days of displacement and fear, God is always with us. 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.”


Advent, which means “arrival” and precedes Christmas and then Epiphany, provides us with a very special opportunity to renew ourselves and prepare ourselves to receive the Christ and celebrate his presence in our midst. We know the prophecies about his birth, the announcement of the angel to Mary and Joseph, the census, the manger, the shepherds, the child wrapped in a manger and the visit of the Sages of the East; these are all important and well-known events in the Christian tradition. However, the Gospel according to Matthew tells us about a moment in the life of Jesus that we rarely hear about in our churches during Christmas, despite the fact that this story is very relevant for the Christian people of today. Matthew 2:13-14 says:

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.14 so he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.”

Currently thousands of men, women, youth and children are immigrating to this country. They are forced to leave their countries in search of a better future. Just as Jesus and his family had to flee to Egypt, these people come to the United States fleeing from the Herod who oppresses them in many of our Central American countries. The lack of work and health and education services, as well as poverty, government corruption, social inequality and weakened economies are some of the powerful reasons that motivate people to venture on an extremely dangerous pilgrimage to try to cross the border in search of better jobs that allow them to offer a better quality of life to their loved ones.

refugee caravan.jpg
The refugee ‘caravan’ making its way through Mexico last month.

The events that Matthew describes lead us to reflect on the fact that, in a literal sense, Jesus Christ began his life as a refugee and foreigner in another country.

As an immigrant, Jesus lived in his own flesh, together with his family, the harsh reality of having to leave his country and move to a strange land in search of safety and well-being. When we contemplate this aspect of Jesus’ life, then his name takes on a broader and extremely hopeful meaning for immigrants.

Amidst the atmosphere of hatred and persecution that currently prevails in the United States, against the immigrant community, it is extremely encouraging to know that even today, Jesus, the immigrant, is walking along with all the people who are pilgrims and foreigners. More comforting is knowing that Jesus Christ not only knows and understands our suffering as immigrants, but also suffers with and for us.

The presence of God and the certainty of this love and solidarity, as they are incarnated in our lives through Jesus Christ, strengthens us and gives us hope that a better day is coming for our people. On that day, our people will no longer be “invisible” or considered “illegal”. There will be just migratory laws that will treat all people with dignity and that will promote the unity of the family. The security of knowing that Emmanuel is walking by our side is what allows us to work hard to build communities where discrimination, racism and classism are not are tolerated in any of the spheres of government, society and church.

God says: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”


I may raise my voice when discouragement, frustration or nostalgia robs us of the joy and desire to move on. Let us raise our eyes to heaven and seek to be enlightened with the comfort, healing and strength that Jesus Christ gives us. Remember that the light of hope, which emanated from the humble crib of Bethlehem, still continues to shine in our favor to give us true freedom, salvation and hope. This freedom is key. As Christians—and as Lutherans—we are called to live in the freedom of Christ. I believe that there is no contradiction between freedom and the call to service of the human being because each of these faculties is given by different natures. We live out God’s freedom by also living in service to one another.

With a loving voice, today Jesus continues to encourage us with the same words that the angel pronounced to Mary and Joseph. It tells us: “do not be afraid”. The churches, which proclaim Jesus the immigrant, the churches that serve the immigrants who come to our communities with love, are the ones who receive the words of Jesus “do not be afraid”, as a call to continue raising their prophetic voices against discrimination, racism and unjust laws who oppress our people. For me, Public Church means connecting with the community with the needs of community member.

The Public Church is in the street, wherever it is located. It means walking with the people, as Jesus walked with people. In this situation, it means walking with immigrants, as Jesus walks with them.

To be with those whom are often regarded as the classic “other,” who do not belong. Such constructions of the “other” may be based on legal grounds, physical appearance or race, (perceived) cultural and religious differences, class characteristics, or on any combination of these elements. Such constructions have been used politically, e.g., by the anti-immigrant movement, and express themselves in discriminatory practices, deteriorating inter-ethnic relations, and weakening of social cohesion in communities, cities, and states.


And it is for the sake of the least of these beloved ones, the least of these, to whom the cries of the baby Jesus summon us. 

14991307_1483363748347244_1499329586401493230_oHaving spent most of his career as an attorney, José F. Rodríguez Páez emigrated here to the US as a consequence of the political unrest in his native Venezuela. Currently, in addition to completing his divinity studies at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago he also works coordinating Hispanic ministries at San Andres/St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in West Chicago, Illinois.

Identity Crisis – Rev. Mauricio Vieira

IMG_4512After a hiatus of a couple of weeks, we have returned to our series honoring Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month – and this new post is truly a curious one. Written by Rev. Mauricio Vieira, a naturalized US-citizen from Brazil serving in rural Illinois, it is a poignant reflection on how being a “white-passing” Latino immigrant has been problematic. 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.”

Colorism in the Latino community – see video here.

Peace, sisters, and brothers, be with you from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. How should I describe my journey as a Latino ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America? Four words come to mind: post-adolescence identity crisis. 

Allow me to explain.

It all began in the year 2000. My wife Ana and I were somewhat fresh living in the United States and working as life sciences scholars at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One day someone working for the census bureau stops by, and Ana answers the door. There was a mistake with our census information. We had marked white. Ana looks at the inside of her forearms and all the veins visible through her ashen skin, gives the person a very puzzled look, and asks flat out, what do you mean?

The unfazed person then answered, “Sorry, you are not American.”

See, in spite of being born and raised in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ana and I are white as white comes. We are designated as white in our birth-land. Without relying on the precision of DNA tests, Ana is 100% Portuguese. I am more or less 70% Portuguese, 15% Italian, and 15% French – pure Caucasian blood unless proven otherwise by modern science. Therefore, without thinking, Ana just went with the motions and checked the box that said, white. I confess that the fact that someone had come back in an official capacity to knock on our door to correct the “mistake” gave me pause. I went on to learn much more from that point on.

As a consequence of my pure whiteness, I can claim to myself the colonizer heritage mentioned by Nicole Garcia in this blog. Our ancestors, the Portuguese, did pretty much the same stuff that was done in the rest of the Americas, plus one small devilish detail. We invented the concept of go to Africa, kidnap people, and ship them as cattle to a foreign land to live lives of slavery – the British took over the business later. This is a heritage that is not oblivious to me, nor my wife, nor my two sons.  Ana and I, we own it, and since the time we were college students, each one of us on their own path, and then together, have worked and stood against the prevailing racial injustices that happen in Brazil.

Contrary to North American perception, Brazil is a very racist country, and I have benefited from its systems of racism. That privilege allowed me to come to the United States legally, to be offered a job, to become a permanent resident, and then, later on, a citizen.


Nonetheless, like most Latinos, due to the excessive number of vowels in my name, which can be typical of Latin-derived names, combined with my place of birth, I was introduced to stereotyping very early. A lot of it can be dissipated in the science field. Flagship State University towns and work environments tend to be melting pots, including biology labs. Therefore, one’s accent and culture does not necessarily carry the same weigh in the power structure because this is what is important: can you generate data and get funding? If one can, ethnicity does not matter as much.  Even so, there were moments when, despite my qualifications and expertise, I lived the typical Latino experience in America, that is, almost always misinterpreted, often distrusted, seldom heard.

However, nothing had yet prepared me for the reality of the North American relationship systems outside the science “bubble.”

Seminary for me was brutal. I checked most of the handicap boxes, a second career, full-time, commuter, husband of a wife with a full-time job, father of two kids in elementary school, international student.  My perceived privilege – and physical strength – was shattered by mid-October during the fall semester of my first year. I made it, but I have scars.

I get it now what took me some time to figure out. In white North American Anglo-Saxon systems, solidarity and respect are earned, especially if you are perceived as a person of color – now you can see where this is getting twisted. I come from a system where there is an expectation of solidarity and respect out of the gate – at least if one is Caucasian – which is lost if you prove otherwise over time.  Therefore, when it came to the “real” world outside labs and conference rooms, acceptance was upside down to me, as it was paper styles. In life sciences, the conclusions are the last paragraphs. It took me a “D” to figure out that in human sciences the conclusion comes first. The seminary professor for whom I actually wrote that commented that it was upside down.

Latinxs talking about the pain and frustration of being seen as “white.”

But I digress.

So, there I was. On the one hand, male, Caucasian and privileged for some, and therefore steward of powers that now I know I have, but that I never claimed or wanted. On the other, Latino, foreigner, heavy accent, perceived as a person of color for others – even if one can still see the veins on my arms – and therefore almost always misinterpreted, often distrusted, seldom heard. It was a mess.

Who was I supposed to be in God’s beloved creation!?

I know it sounds dramatic, but I have many mundane and shocking examples to share. However, since I am mindful of the number of words suggested to me by my friend Francisco Herrera, I will mention only three.

There was this day in CPE small groups that a colleague told me out of the blue that she did not know what it was, but my presence alone was stressful to her. I wonder if she got confused by a big Caucasian male who acts like a Latino. Then there was the day when we were on a candidacy retreat, and I had volunteered to set up the worship space, only to hear a fellow person of color tell another that he was sticking around “to make sure our international student (yours truly) knew what he was doing.” By the way, that was after one of the internship supervisors in the retreat approached the organizer and offered to set up the worship space in my place, only to hear that I was the one assigned to do it.

Now comes the cherry on top.

Once I was attending one of the classes on Science and Religion and it happened that the speaker was presenting something about my country of birth, out of a website, that I knew to be, let’s say, scientifically incorrect. The speaker had no idea that sitting in the audience was not only a life scientist with a doctorate but also a native of the same country. Credentials enough, right? Nope, comments dismissed, even after the such were presented. Apparently, I did not know enough about my own country.

One can’t make this up!

I can certainly say, however, that not everything in this crazy and awesome life of serving Christ through God’s people has been annoying our upsetting for this Latino pastor and preacher. I have met classmates, teachers, colleagues, and parishioners who have made this journey absolutely a blessing. The support of my home congregation of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Urbana, IL. My friends from St. Andrew Lutheran Church and Campus Center, who welcomed my services during my time in Ministry In Context. My supervisor and the people of Grace Lutheran Church in Champaign, IL, who taught me more than I deserved during my internship, especially my beloved confirmation class. My candidacy committee, who accompanied and prayed for me along the way. Those from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Cullom, IL, and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Chatsworth, IL, who have embraced me as their proclaimer, teacher, and pastor. I don’t have space to name all of you. But, you know who you are I would not have done without you; and I continue to do it for you. I love you all.

Me and my family

So, here is my message to you, fellow Latinos who may be pursuing ministry, or to anyone who is not cookie cutter and feels like always having to justify why you are in such path…

By the way, it is a minimized version of the crude and lousy sermon that I preached on the before mentioned candidacy retreat. It goes like this. When one goes into my country to buy salt, one will find only one kind, which is cooking salt. It can be either coarse or finely ground but cooking salt, nonetheless.  In this country, there are a variety of salts, sometimes on the same shelf. There is water softening salt, salt to melt ice, rock salt, salt for ice cream machines. Besides the ordinary cooking salt, there is Kosher salt, sea salt, garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt, and Himalayan pink salt.

So remember, you too were called to be the salt of the earth. Figure it out what kind of salt God has made out of you, for this time and this place, and never, ever, let anyone take your saltiness away.

“[The God who abundantly poured grace upon you] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).


mo.jpgPastor Mauricio Vieira was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and became an American Citizen. He is a former life scientist with a Ph.D. in Cell Biology by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He obtained his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Home is currently in Cullom, IL, with his wife Ana, sons Logan and Dominick – all culprits in this ministry – and puppies Gus and Molly.  He is currently the called Pastor to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cullom, IL and St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chatsworth, IL.

“Who do you say that I am?” a Refelction on Laquan McDonald and Jesus – Rev. Erik Christensen

Dr TIn life, one of the hardest things that anyone can do is try to answer the question, “Who am I?” Compounding this, too, is the fact that despite what we say about ourselves there are countless others willing to say who we really are, and are willing to do so with violence. This week’s reflection, written by LSTC’s pastor for the community and Dean of Worship Erik Christensen, is a profound exploration of Jesus’ question “Who do people say that I am?” in the context of the horrific murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald – whose killer, Jason VanDyke, is going to trial this week (for a transcript of this sermon, click here – to hear the SoundCloud recording, click here). Read it. Comment on it, and share it. 

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

Laquan McDonald in a family photo

The trial of Jason Van Dyke, the police officer who shot and killed Laquan McDonald four years ago here in Chicago, began this week. For those of us who have lived here in Chicago for some time, or who have been following the story of endemic police violence against black and brown bodies nationally, the details of this case are old news. But for those who may be new to this country, or just awakening to this issue, the details in brief are these:

Laquan McDonald was born on September 25, 1997. If here were still alive, he would have celebrated his 21st birthday this week. But he is not alive because, on the night of October 20, 2014 he was fatally shot by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Police had been called to investigate reports of a person breaking into vehicles at a trucking yard at 41st Street and Kildare, about 11 miles from here just off the Stevenson Expressway, north of Midway Airport.

When officers confronted Laquan, he used a knife with a 3-inch blade to slice the tire of a patrol car and damage the windshield. Initial reports by the police department said that he lunged at Officer Jason Van Dyke, forcing him to shoot Laquan in self-defense. This was the accepted story for almost a year, until video taken by a police car dashboard camera was released, clearly showing that 17 year-old McDonald was walking away from the police officers when he was shot, 16 times in 15 seconds.

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago at the time of McDonald’s killing, and Officer Jason VanDyke

The tale of how that dashboard video got released is a story all its own, and worth taking the time to learn. It involves a $5 million payout to Laquan’s family that wasn’t settled until the day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel secured re-election to his second term, and continued protests that built into a movement calling for the resignation of the city’s top officials. Eventually police superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired, and Cook County’s State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez lost her bid for re-election. There is speculation that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term is connected to the timing of this trial coming just as Chicago’s mayoral race is heating up.

Chicago Public Radio has created a podcast titled 16 Shots that goes deep into the facts surrounding Laquan’s death, and explores how the police killing of this one young man set off a series of events that led to the United States Department of Justice conducting a civil rights investigation that resulted in a public report in which the Chicago Police Department was described as having a culture of “excessive violence,” a “culture in which officers expect to use force and never be carefully scrutinized about the propriety of that use,” especially when used against minorities, an assessment supported by the fact that Chicago Police are 14 times more likely to use force against young black men than against their white counterparts.

But I feel like I’m getting off track here. I’m supposed to be talking about Jesus.

Oh, right, so I was listening to the podcast, 16 Shots, and was struck by the fact that of all the places the journalists might have chosen to begin their reporting on this story, they began with a clip of an interview with the Rev. Marshall Hatch, Sr., pastor of New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, who — along with other black clergy from Chicago’s south and west sides — was called into the mayor’s office and asked for support in quelling the rising tensions immediately after the video footage of Laquan’s killing was released.

These clergy were told in no uncertain terms that if they did not help out, they should not expect support from city hall when they came with requests of their own.

marshal hatch
Rev. Marshall Hatch, Sr.

In that same meeting, Pastor Hatch learned that Laquan had been raised in foster care from the age of three, bounced from home to home, diagnosed with learning disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder rooted in the brutality and trauma of growing up on the streets. Reflecting theologically on these facts, Pastor Hatch told the reporter…

“That’s when I knew we had moved into a real spiritual realm with this piece … and as a pastor, to me, that’s divine poetry. ‘Cuz he’s a throwaway person if ever there was one. That would have to be the one that God would have to put in the center, the name that somebody else thinks is worth throwing away. And it was pretty explosive after that, as the ministers kind of said, ‘Look, we’re not making any guarantees. It’s not our job to go and tamp down a situation that you guys have created.’”

That would have to be the one that God would have to put in the center, the name that somebody else thinks is worth throwing away.

Are we talking about Jesus yet?

This past Sunday, the Church throughout the world gathered for worship and many heard the except from the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel, in which Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and follows this up with, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers him, “You are the Messiah.”

The daily lectionary selects passages that support our reflection on the meaning of the Sunday texts, setting them in conversation with other biblical voices so that we can more readily perceive the conversation going on in scripture about questions like these. So, today we hear a related conversation taking place in the gospel of John, as “some of the people of Jerusalem” speculate about Jesus’ identity, wondering with one another whether or not the authorities have actually determined that Jesus is, in fact, the messiah.

This passage is the only time where “the people of Jerusalem” appear as a group in John’s gospel. They appear to be different from “the crowds” that Jesus has been addressing, who may be pilgrims to Jerusalem, there during the Festival of Booths. In the verses immediately preceding this passage, Jesus says to the crowd, “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” And the crowd replies, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?”


Jesus perceives correctly that his movement is setting him in opposition to the reigning power structures, and that he is a marked man. The crowds, less schooled in the politics of Jerusalem, doubt Jesus. “The people of Jerusalem,” however, knew how power worked in Jerusalem. They understood how the religious authorities operated when it came to exposing false messiahs, so they knew that Jesus’ life was most definitely at risk.

They say, “Isn’t this the one they want to kill?” because they know that’s how the system works, to eliminate all voices of dissent. “And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true that the authorities have made up their minds that this is the Messiah?”

So here we have finally returned to the question from Mark’s gospel, the question that ties these readings together, the question Jesus puts to his disciples, and to us, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question that forces us to examine our expectations of God, who God is and how God moves in time and space. Is God a divine conqueror, the sovereign of a heavenly empire? Is God an ineffable wisdom,  the truest of realities hiding in plain sight? Is God a righteous avenger, upending worlds and effecting regime change? Who is God, and how does God show up in the world?

We all have our explicit and implicit expectations about who God is, and how God will show up in the world. The people of Jerusalem say, “Yet we all know where this fellow comes from, but when the Messiah comes, no one will know that one’s origins.”

The story begins working in irony at this point, because the people of Jerusalem have named their expectation for God’s messiah, that that one will have unknown origins. Jesus cannot be the messiah, because they know exactly where he is from, Nazareth in Galilee, not Bethlehem — at least, not in John’s gospel — the expected site for a messiah in the Davidic model of warrior kings.

The irony is that Jesus actually meets their expectations, his origins are unknown to them, because he has been sent by “the One who is true.” He is, to use John’s earlier words, “the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through [the Word], and without [the Word] not one thing came into being. What has come into being in [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1-4)

This is John’s answer to the conversation Jesus started in Mark. Who do you say that I am, John? And John replies, “You are the Word. You are the life that is the light of all people. The light that shines in the darkness, that has not been overcome. The Word that became flesh and lived among us.”

This is why the people of Jerusalem cannot recognize Jesus as the messiah at first, because they cannot conceive that God would take on human flesh in time and space, in history and in politics, in the dying mess of human relations and the decay of human bodies. In children shot down in the street and hung from crosses.

That would have to be the one that God would have to put in the center, the name that somebody else thinks is worth throwing away.

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)


In this way, John’s gospel responds to Mark, asking a new question of those looking for a messiah. John poses from the first chapter, “And who do you think you are? Children of God?”

It is a question we must grapple with. Our desire to deny that name, child of God, to those we hate, those who oppress us. Our habit of denying that name to ourselves, in our own self-hatred and self-doubt. The evidence of history, the way that all our hate of self and other has laid the foundation for systems of violence that seem eternal. Yet, the gospel truth is that the Word of God, shining in the darkness, has not been overcome and, one day, it shall be that same Word that overcomes.

That is who we say Jesus is, the Word, co-eternal with God, the Word that creates, the Word that overcomes. The Word that somebody else thinks is worth throwing away. That is the truth we bear in our hearts and on our lips, even in moments when it seems that truth and justice themselves are on trial.

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