Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor
Trustworthy 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.
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)
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.
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” 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.” 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
 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).
As we prepare for Black History Month Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel, Professor 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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:
This tide of fighting men pressed closer to those defending the seminary grounds:
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.
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.
 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.
 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.
 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 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.
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.
After 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.”
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.
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.
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).
Pastor 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, ILand St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chatsworth, IL.
In 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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
The world of theology was rocked again last week, as the trailbrazing womanist Christian ethicist and heroine to many of us, the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, returned to her eternal home last week (to read what the New York Times had to say about her, click here). Her passing has truly devastated many of us, myself included, whom she has impacted over the course of her life. Unsure of how to respond to such a deep loss, I received a poem extolling Dr. Cannon’s from a dear colleague yesterday, Dr. Cheryl Kirk Duggan – and being a woman who broke barriers and transcended categories here entire life, it seemed a fitting tribute to say something about her in verse, than in prose. We’re sure you’ll agree. Please 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.”
Elegiac moments, wrapping themselves around the viscera,
the DNA of the moments when first I knew of her,
and when I think that she is now with the ancestors–
So daunting, my imagination trembles at the absence
of her presence. Even though days have passed
since hearing that sister Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon
Fourth child born to Esau and E. Corine Lytle Cannon.
grew up in in the Fishertown community in
Kannapolis, North Carolina
took her rest–
This great granddaughter of former enslaved Mary,
who went and found all of the children stolen from her
lived her faith, and Katie followed.
The pain, the indefatigable loss, has yet to permeate my being
For some of us who knew her, yet know her–
the tears have been unceasing,
the grief inconsolable
the injury: the depths of the ocean, phantoms deep–
the pain searing our nerves–
After all, she’d “kicked herself back to life
when upon awaking in 2016, she had a broken ankle
in her sleep as she overcame the widow maker, the
type of heart attack, from which you do not wake up. Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics
Degrees from the Schools of Life and the household of Grandma Rosie
Barber-Scotia College, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary/The ITC
Union Theological Seminary (NYC)
Upon whose campuses she left an indelible mark
Now gone, but never forgotten
Our weeping and wailing
Oh, but for a respite, a moment
when the aches do not fill the caverns
of our hearts, souls, minds–
for some of us, the loss is so excruciating
that the dams of the liquid behind our eyes
cannot flow; they refuse to cross
the vicissitudes of our being
perhaps paralyzed behind our eyes
somewhere lost within our brains
for the inscrutable ways in which human beings function
there’s yet mystery.
For we know her rigor and scrutiny
that exposed the white supremacist misogynistic patriarchy
that could not kill her soul, for “the God she served
has sufficient power” to make a way out of no way. Theology is holy work, it’s a sacred vocation.**
And so in our ontological, existential realities
as we wrestle with the Absence of the physical presence
of the late great, the August, Awesome, Amazing
Rev. Dr. Katie
whose Beautiful Brilliance hovers
in the galaxy, Courageous, with Compassion
to the level of the exponential
Daring and Determined to move from the shackles of Kannapolis “Be aware of the ontological arm of the empire.”
Erudite, though an introvert
Focused like Flint on troubling the waters
of her students’ beings so that they reckoned with the responsibilities
Faith-filled of her Foremothers, Great-grandmother Mary, Grandmother Rosie, Mother Corine
Giant in spirit and mind; Gentle in her movement with Global implications
Heralding the dawn of a new day, as embodied blackness can make a difference;
Intuition and Intellect par excellence, in public, in spirit
Joyfully quiet, Cordon bleu Chef and baker of Justice in spaces and places
folks were so privileged to be in her midst
Kindred spirit—Kind, creating a Kismet of womanist theological ethics
Loving her God and her people
Magnificence critiquing mellifluence, in all that she did and does
Noble in presence, Nudging herself and others toward excellence
Even when having to jump through hoops, and nasty spaces—she had the
“Gumption to Challenge Dominated Forms of
Knowledge Acquisition and Religious Power”
Open to new ways her Ontological self, speaking volumes
Prayerful, Passionate Pedagogical Presence
Quick wit, Quiet, so profoundly Quintessential
Regal and Restive with Righteous unction
So many fought her, which She faced with Salvific Sincerity
Troubled the waters, Triumphed over adversity
Ultimately unfazed in her spirit, her praxis radiating effortlessly
Valiant, with valor-clothed feet, having created the Center for Womanist Leadership
Wise Woman for the ages, in many ways, before her time;
Winner of numerous awards, in the Church and the Academy, for teaching, preaching
scholarship, civic engagement, for being Rev. Dr. Katie!!!
Xanadus of white supremacist patriarchal, misogynistic empires, she exposed
Youthful and whimsical in her art, her doodling,
Zealous for justice, for her students, for all who loved her
reminds us as she takes her rest: “Thinking with our Hearts/Feeling with our Brains:
Testimonies of Faith that History Might Otherwise Forget”
And so we say, good night and good morning Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon
Welcome on behalf of the ancestors!
we will grieve you; we will miss you,
we will ache for days because of your transition
we will look for you at annual meetings,
we’ll go to text you, we will read, and read, and reread your work
And come to appreciate you even more
As you wear your robes of purple in glory
In the greatest of Presbyteries, where you continue to “Rock steady in the faith of Almighty God”
We will never forget you.
We know well your lessons of “embodied, mediated knowledge”
Know that you helped a Lot of somebodies
And your living was not in vain.
As you rest with the ancestors,
As you have debates with the great ethical minds of the centuries,
Know that your impact spans oceans and continents:
You pedagogical genius embraced a praxis where you “mined the motherlode.”
While too many did you wrong,
You did so right by thousands
You have shaped hearts and minds
And we will call your name for centuries to come
And so good night, and good morning sweet Katie,
Thank you for living a significant, salvific, paradigmatic life.
We thank God for giving you to us for six decades
Thank you for being you
Rest of your soul
You’ve done your work.
Soar sweet giant, soar.
**Words in bold italics are the words of Dr. Cannon.