Evangelism, Hubris, and the Progressive Church – Francisco Herrera, M.Div.

lt-ny-eve-march-2016When John Allen Chau, a twenty-six year old Chinese American Christian from the United States, ventured into the Indian Ocean in a vain attempt to evangelize an indigenous tribe well-known for their hostility to outsiders, little did anyone know the full impact of his efforts. The conversation sparked by his death at the hands of the Sentineli tribe has riveted leaders all over the church and blog regular Francisco Herrera is adding his voice to this discussion. But instead of discussing the motives and morality of the slain missionary he instead focuses on what the progressive Christian church can learn from this sad affair.

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 photograph of members of the Santeneli tribe, guarding their shoreline against landing by the boat from which this picture was taken.

When I heard that a  young missionary from the United States, John Allen Chau, had been killed while trying to evangelize a hostile indigenous community on a remote island in the Indian Ocean, it didn’t take me too long to guess the tribe. I easily recalled the old National Geographic footage from the documentary “Man in Search of Man” (begins at 16:30 in the link) that I’d seen three years before, showing an aborted attempt to contact the community living on North Sentinel Island, the film’s director getting a five-foot long arrow in the leg from his troubles – and this despite being in a boat nearly a quarter of a mile from the island’s shore when shot.

I cringed to think of this ill-advised, misguided young man suffering a similar fate – though likely shot through by more than just one arrow – the fishermen who returned to the island to check on him the next day saying how they saw his body being dragged along the beach and buried.

Initial responses to Chau’s killing quickly split into two camps – those speaking of him as a martyr for the faith, and those seeing him as a clueless tool of colonialism whose fool-hardiness earned him death. Facts on the ground tended to confirm the latter, as excerpts of his final letter to his parents revealed what before had only been speculation. Those last days Chau made multiple attempts to communicate with the Sentineli, not just one as many had assumed, by shuttling back and forth between North Sentinel’s shore and a boat crew he’d hired to take him to the forbidden island, but his ignorance (or arrogance, depending on whom you ask) pitifully hampered his efforts.

He tried introducing himself in English, which they didn’t speak, singing Christian songs which they didn’t know, and making gifts to them of things that they didn’t need. He’d even been let off with a warning for his intrusion, so-to-speak, as when shot at by one of the Sentineli children, the arrow struck Chau’s water-proof Bible in his outstretched hand, not his body. He later wrote that these rejected attempts at communication left him feeling frustrated, leading him to pout “is it worth me going a foot to meet them?” But between his zeal and his thought that the island might be “Satan’s last stronghold” Chau went back one last time, telling the boat crew to return home with the assurance that he would be safe to stay on the island overnight.

He was killed sometime afterwards.

John Allen Chau in 2017

Over the Thanksgiving weekend countless bloggers and commentators have weighed in with their respective takes on the subject, however their nuance still follows the same binary that emerged during those first hours after Chau’s death was announced: that he was either a martyr or a fool. I’ll admit to being in the latter category, because  it is unconscionable to me he would go and preach Christ to a new people utterly indifferent to their culture, not to mention so filled with entitlement as to suggest that he should be listened to. Added to this, was the fact that Chau paid no heed to the dire warnings he surely received that outside human contact with the Sentineli might decimate the island’s population, as they are so isolated that they have likely not developed any immunity to modern illnesses.

But my concerns in this post have little to do with judging a dead man, rather, I hope to initiate a deeper conversation around what I see to be another example of the progressive Church in the United States being very selective (I would even say cowardly) in where and how they make counterclaims in response to intolerant Christian communities and their often destructive theology and praxis.

And Mr. Chau’s story highlights what I believe to be multiple such concerns.

Pakistani Christians protesting against government harassment and public killings

On one level, it puts in stark relief how the cause Christian martyrdom – what it means to be a martyr as well as paying prayerful and material attention to persecuted Christians around the globe – is barely ever taken up in Progressive Christian circles – a fact which is financially exploited by multiple fundamentalist Christian organizations based in the United States.

A worship service  to show solidarity between the Christian church and the LGBTQ community in Kigali, Rwanda.

It also exposes the paucity of our efforts to develop genuine relationship with our beloved kindred in Christ in the Global South – to the point that whenever progressive Christians in the United States raise needed scrutiny on the violence done towards the LGBTQ community abroad, our lack of relationship to these Christian communities makes it easy for fundamentalists in the United States to paint us as judgmental, out-of-touch, and condescending – even neo-colonial.

But it is the evangelist in me that grieves the most deeply as I write, especially as one who came to Christ not in the United States, but through the global Church via an amazing community in Switzerland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva. Situated in an unassuming building in the middle of Geneva’s Old Town, this globally-rooted congregation with about 230 active members from 47 nationalities speaking 39 different languages gave me a thorough schooling in what it meant to be a Christian  connected to other Christians all over the planet.

Francisco Herrera

It was among them that I first experienced the shock of the Holy Spirit and began my first efforts at evangelism – fueled by a near compulsive desire to share the beauty of this community with everyone around me. I even had a Jesus fish tattoo’d on the left side of my chest (see above) both as a visible sign of my dedication to Christ as well as a not-so-subtle conversation starter (like when I would deliberately wear thin t-shirts to make my Jesus fish more visible), making it easy to share testimony and church invites to the largely secular citizens around me.

So what does this have to do with John Allen Chau?

Over time, my experience testifying to the power of the Gospel has led me to act as a vehicle of repentance and healing for many who  have been terribly abused by pastor and parish. But even more frequently, many with whom I speak express surprise and relief to know that there are indeed churches that will accept them, even love them. They often confide to me how most people who usually share Jesus with them invariably insist that something or other about them is wrong, things that they consider to be vital to who they are as human beings, let alone as a children of God.

And it saddens me that in the progressive Christian community, I have known of only three or four others with a similar love of evangelism – who love sharing the story of how God loves them so much that they invite others into their communities to share that love.


And I worry, as liberal/progressive Christians sidestep Matthew 28’s call to make disciples, that who-knows-how-many people in the United States seeking spiritual nourishment continue to live hungry – languishing in their search for community simply because many progressive church leaders don’t go out into the street and invite others into the love they’ve been given.

But on a deeper, planetary level, I see the need for progressive Christians to become more dedicated evangelists as a justice issue – for each person from more inclusive churches who invites someone to Sunday worship, there are literally thousands of others inviting people to church so that they will hear sermons teaching that if you are poor or homeless it is a sign that you have been rejected by God.

Hence those of us who are Christian leaders, prophets, and teachers of what we like to call of as ‘inclusive Christian communities’ need to do more to tell the world about the churches we serve, the love we experience, and the justice which the Holy Spirit has energized us to fight for if we are to ever counter the destructive, anti-Christ theology coming from intolerant Christian communities. We cannot be a light to the world and hide ourselves under a bowl (Matthew 5:15).

And yes, mission and evangelism has often been the first beachhead in every all-out assault by white supremacy and hegemony upon both individuals and entire societies. Yes, it is important for contemporary Christians to fully embrace and repent of the people who have died because of this complicity. But the problem is that the forces of hegemonic white Christianity are not even close to done with their work and are ever looking for new lands to ‘conquer for Christ’- just as Chau was. Therefore to counter this – as flawed as we are – all of us who claim ourselves to be proclaimers of the radical grace of God must do more to proclaim the love and acceptance of this radical God, and do so more vehemently, more unabashedly.


And the more of us who do this, the more of us who there are to prevent another travesty as happened on Sentinel Island from happening again.

And besides, this love that we feel, the sacrifice the Christ has made for us, this power which God has given to us to strengthen ourselves so that we might strengthen others – don’t you all think we should share it?

Aren’t you tired of reading or hearing story after story of how our faith is used to spread misery  instead of boundless Grace?

Before coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor, both at LSTC and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and travels the country as one of the central leaders of #decolonizeLutheranism.


Pray and Work – Rev. Dr. Katrina Foster

fontTasked with the role of ministering in a church that is 96% white,  any pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who is a person of color other than white  has a special role to play. They have a two-fold job – to change the structures of the church and society that keep people of color at risk, as well as doing what they can to protect and defend people of color wherever they are at risk. The Rev. Dr. Katrina Foster – pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, NY reflects on this reality with a mix of personal anecdote, riffs on the apostle Paul, and how combating white supremacy needs to be a top priority for all white Christians. This has been a crucial part of her ministry, and her observations are as poignant as they are jarring. So 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.”

My honorary daughter called me from Chicago recently. My ringer was turned off. I was in a training for an anti-racism curriculum to be included in the Diakonia class I teach. She tried Whatsapp and texted me. When I turned my phone during our lunch break, I saw all the activity.

I called her back. Usually when we talk, it is very substantial, but also fun, funny and easy.

When she answered the phone, I knew she was scared.


She told me about a disturbed man who came to the church where she works. She’s not yet ordained, but she was the closest thing to a pastor there that day.

So she met with him, listened as he described the storms in his mind and all that scared him. She listened as he said he had a gun in his car.

She got the gun away from him.

And now, she was calling because she was scared, not of the man or even the gun. She was terrified of what could happen if she, a young woman of color, called the police to ask them to come get it.

She called around and I did too, to find a white, male pastor who could call the police and facilitate the hand over of the gun. It felt like it took forever. I was ready to fly from New York to Chicago to do it myself.

Lest you think she had no reason to be afraid as a woman of color with a gun, please remember Philando Castile was in legal possession of a handgun and was shot and killed while sitting in a car with his girlfriend and her four year old daughter.

Remember, Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times when he tried to pull his wallet out to show the police his identification when they mistook him for a rape suspect.

Remember, Stephon Clark who was killed in his grandparents backyard when police thought he had a weapon. He did not.



In my nearly 24 years of ordained ministry, I have had many occasions to call the police, usually my local precinct, to come get a weapon or drugs I had taken from someone or that had been given to me. Not once did it occur to me that the police might think I was doing something illegal. Not once did it occur to me that I would be accused of breaking the law.

Not once did it occur to me that I could be seen as a threat. Not once.

That is the very definition of white privilege. As a little, white, middle aged woman, I am not seen as a threat. I am not assumed to be guilty of anything. I have never been afraid of the police. I enjoy all the benefits and privileges of citizenship.

My honorary daughter could not assume she would be safe. She could not assume she would be seen as innocent. She could not assume she would not be shot. She is a well educated, thoughtful, powerful, amazing law abiding American born citizen of this country. None of this would guarantee her safety. Long ago, she was convicted in the womb and must prove her innocence always.

In Jesus and the Disinherited, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman draws out the primary contextual difference between Jesus and Paul. The difference was Paul was a Roman citizen, Jesus was not.  Paul “was of a minority but with majority privileges.”

I have often puzzled over Paul’s promotion of government as it is. His urging of people who were slaves to remain in that position and not rebel seemed out of character when set side by side with his radical theology of inclusion and recognition of women in leadership roles.

For most of my life I simply assumed Paul favored the status quo, government as it simply is, etc., because he expected Jesus to come back very soon. Why bother changing the world, systems of oppression, if Jesus was coming back any moment now?


I think that mindset was probably true. His life as a Roman citizen and the privileges afforded him made him more comfortable under Roman rule. His fellow non-Roman citizen Jews chafed and rebelled under this oppression and had no expectations of benefits or blessings from the government.

I have been thinking about this difference between Paul and Jesus as I have been reflecting upon what happened to my kid. We are both American citizens, we are both baptized, we are both well educated, strong, and on and on.

The color of my skin affords me the full blessings and benefits that white citizens expect. The color of her skin puts her in danger first, makes her suspect, makes it less likely she will be afforded the blessings and benefits of citizenship.

I failed Greek the first time I took the class in seminary during the summer intensive. I barely passed my second attempt. But, I did fall in love with some Greek words, one in particular: metanoia, μετάνοια.

Metanoia is often translated “repent.” There is another meaning which is to change how one looks at things, to change one’s mind. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.

When I studied sociology as an undergraduate student and took classes in subjects like Race and Ethnicity, Social Stratification and Criminology, I was able to begin questioning the lies I was raised with about white superiority and the inferiority of all others.

When in seminary and I learned about biblical criticism and sat through lectures that tore apart my simple faith and replaced it with a real relationship with Christ, I was equipped to question our role is systemic racism and misogyny and a social religion that kept god on our side over and against all that I was raised to fear.


When I began serving my first call in the Bronx, I saw the transformative power of faith in the lives of everyday, kitchen table saints.  I experienced the renewing power of worship in our lives together. I came to understand I could not go back to old ways of thinking and believing. I could no longer have a pocket sized, MAGA Jesus. I needed this poor, Palestinian, iterent Jewish Rabbi whom I came to believe is the Messiah.

I needed this non-citizen of the Roman Empire who changed the world, created hope, healed, fed, led and called us to go and  make disciples of all nations.

I needed Paul at his best when he taught us to trust in the one “who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

I needed to metanoia, to change the way I looked at the world and the way I thought.


I must try to convince you and continue to convince myself, that we are called to speak, to work, to pray, to labor and to make justice.

I must convince you and continue to be convinced myself that the world can be different than what it is right now. I must convince you and continue to believe for myself that we are better together than apart. I must continue to convince you that my kid’s body matters because Black Lives Matter.

I must keep praying and working, and hoping and believing. “Not talking about race does not make the matter of race disappear. It only sustains the culture of race that continues to take the lives of our children.” (p. 227 Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God Kelly Brown Douglas)

After the white male pastor came and got the gun to the police, and I knew my kid was safer, I went to my church to do some more work. I sat at my desk to something, but I could not sit and read, or reflect.

I went and laid in front of the altar, staring up at the Crucifixion/Lynching scene, staring at the angels on the ceiling. Screamed and sobbed in rage at Jesus. Seethe prayed at God who knew what it was to have a child murdered by the state.

I have no happy ending to this essay, no answer to these omnipresent yet invisible reaches of systemic injustice and racism, no way to let us off the hook.


This is what I have, clarity that God is still calling us to DO  JUSTICE, LOVE KINDNESS AND WALK HUMBLY. Clarity that when we pray THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH, that is a command we are called to follow. Clarity that the most frequent command in scripture, DO NOT BE AFRAID, is still spoken by angels to us in the midst of all that is too big.

I do not have certainty of how to fix all that is wrong, I have clarity that we, Jesus people, are called in the church and without, to not give up and to hold onto hope.

Friends, no matter what, be encouraged, pray and work.

20180802_115940.jpgKatrina D. Foster earned a B.A. in Religion/Philosophy and Sociology from Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina. She earned  a Master’s of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. She earned a Doctorate of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, May, 2008, focusing on Stewardship and Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Now in her third decade of ministry in both the parish and the street, she began serving St. John’s Lutheran Church, Greenpoint, Brooklyn –  where her work was the focus of an award-winning short documentary by The Front entitled “Working Women: The Urban Pastor.”  And since May of this year, Pastor Foster will be one of the presenters in the PBS series The Great American Read – presenting 1984 by George Orwell.

Conversion, Ash Wednesday and #BlackHistoryMonth – Karl Anliker, Candidate for Ordination (ELCA)

lt-ny-eve-march-2016As we approach Lent, M.Div. student at LSTC – Karl Anliker – has a powerful reflection/confession to share with our readers. Grounded in a personal story of his theological development, Anliker shares a vulnerable and passionate self-critique, as well as the steps by which he came to his conclusions. And as the church gets ready for a 6 week season of repentance, Anliker’s thoughts will make good company. 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.”

I was recently working on a project for a class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). The project involved depicting a group of highly intersectional people as saints using traditional Eurocentric Mosaic depictions of saints. Samples below.


I entitled the project For All the Saints in the hopes that my faith tradition would be able to see these beautiful people as saints, beloved by God. Furthermore, I hoped I could awaken the hearts and minds of folks who share my European Lutheran heritage to a new imagining of saints.

During this #BlackHistoryMonth in the rhythm of the repentance and renewal, I discovered a story I would like to share. The story has functioned as an eye opening, soul stimulating piece of reflection as well as a corrective for the prevailing narratives of my own white, cis, hetero, able, male world.

Mosaic from St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral by Sirio Tonelli. Image of Matthew Shepard is from Huffpost

Matthew Shepard is pictured in the image above. All of the people incorporated in the For All the Saints project were killed by acts of violence, fear, and hate. His murder played a pivotal role in awakening white communities, in particular, to the evils of homophobia. I learned his story in school and the horrors he experienced.

Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009. A quick google search reveals that this act is also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.

However, that is not the full name of the legislation.

President Barack Obama greets Louvon Harris, left, Betty Byrd Boatner, right, both sisters of James Byrd, Jr., and Judy Shepard, center, mother of Matthew Shepard, following his remarks at a reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 28, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The full name of the legislation is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

James Byrd Jr.?

Who was he and why did I not know his name?

Why did the legislation not commonly include his name?

James Byrd Jr. was murdered by white supremacists in 1998. He was lynched by being drug behind a vehicle for miles. The three men, whom court proceedings revealed had deep connections to white supremacist groups, offered him a ride and he, weary from work and without his own transportation, accepted the invitation.

Erasing James Byrd Jr. and his family who advocated for the legislation only furthers the atrocities committed.

The For All the Saints project was sure to honor both men and their loss of life, seeking to honor their personhood and not engage in the details of their horrific death.

James Byrd Jr.

This is his name.

This is his face.

Byrd Photo from face to face Africa.
Mosaic from St. Eudoxia, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Now and forever a Saint.

Hate Crimes prevention must begin and end honoring him and his family. I have to sit with his picture and the words from his family.

Byrd’s sister Betty said, “He (President Obama) had told him that one day my name is going to be all over the world and if he was here today I would say James Junior, we called him son, your name is all over the world.”[1]

Knowing that the loss his family faced is unimaginable, I cannot help but remain committed to what James Byrd Jr.’s sister proclaimed. His name must be known all over the world. In my church. In my family.

LSTC is in the midst of a curriculum focused on “public church.” Although I continue to explore what this might mean for my own exploration of call, I have to tell a different story. I have to disrupt the corruption of the white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchy by finding the story that is not told, or is not received.

My role in public church is amplification and correction with a constant awareness that my own voice will dominate and must be minimized.

Public Church is being, standing, listening.


My call must include exploring how our images and depictions of the saints and icons in worship is not inclusive. I must engage with the story of James Byrd Jr. alongside the parable of the Good Samaritan to make it clear where I have failed to recognize my neighbor.

I must be careful to not overemphasize or erase the tragedy of theft and destruction women into the story of the African diaspora. I must honor beauty, rich cultural heritage and black excellence. Holding tragedy and beauty together.

I must be ready to hear that I have messed up.

Knowing that the narrative illuminated by Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas in Stand Your Ground is my own. When I’m corrected or challenged I stand my ground. I refuse to acknowledge my own participation in systems of death dealing evil. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas speaks of how the Trump presidency is standing its ground and attempting to erase the reality of the Obama presidency. I know that in my heart I also stand my ground erasing people of color from places and spaces.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me writes to his son and describes my story this way:

“But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed in prisons and ghettos.”[2]

Knowing my complicity in creating the deathbed for us all, I find myself approaching Ash Wednesday. Acknowledging mortality and the reality of death. I find myself in need of repentance, conversion and the kind of transformation only God can bring to my heart and community to bring about a world where he is known all over the world. James Byrd Jr., in life and death, a saint.

[1] http://www.ktre.com/story/15519578/james-byrd-jrs-family-speaks-out-as-his-killer-is-executed

[2] Coates, Ta-Nehisi Between the World and Me, 151.

head-shot1Karl Anliker (he/him/his) is a second-year student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the Master of Divinity program. Karl most recently served with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at All Peoples Church that Karl first proclaimed #BlackLivesMatter and his determination to resist white supremacy, more fully understand his privilege, and move white communities to real solidarity began. Karl lives with his wife Charlotte in Hyde Park, Chicago where they find joy in walking around the neighborhood and a sun room garden.

Don’t Put Off Love – Sarah Derrick, MDiv student / LSTC

thomas110_1027092James Baldwin once commented on the disconnect he often witnessed, confronting supposed white supporters of the Civil Rights Movement when they acted in ways that directly contradicted their verbal support of equality. His response was classic: “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” It is precisely this disconnect between intent action that this week’s author, Sarah Derrick, so boldly admits and grapples with – how despite her passionate desire to help, often her privilege gets in the way of following through. 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.”


I’ve been able to put this off.

More than a year ago, I attended the Islamic Society of North America’s dynamic annual conference in Chicago. 

I was asked to write and reflect on my experience.

Sure, I thought, not even responding to the email, I will absolutely do that once I get home. 

Classes started, work began to pile up, suddenly the experience of ISNA seemed distant, lower on my list of priorities to address, it seemed less important to invite conversation around engaging our Muslim neighbors, more important to turn inward, and reflect on my own situation.  Then last November came, political rhetoric was even more charged with xenophobic, anti-Muslim, racial bigotry.  I was reminded once again that I had been invited to challenge this in some sort of written reflection.  I had every intention to do so.

Donald Trump was elected. I was angry at the country.

I wanted to speak up.

Yet, once again, I put it off.


This tidal motion of my intentions, actions, and feelings are, I believe, reflective of my privilege as a white Christian in this country.  I can be bothered, invited into action, and choose whether or not it is convenient for me to engage in the moment.  I can choose to put off speaking on a topic, put off engaging with the brokenness we see around us.  My privilege allowed me to go one year without responding to an invitation to reflect on anti-Muslim bigotry and the church.  I say this to point out that I could have said something much sooner, to point out my choice to keep an arms distance.  In my complacency, I had contributed to the problem.  And to shift this out of a personal confessional into a corporate one, I invite all of us to think about how we as a collective people often times put off speaking up.  I wonder what that has looked like, I wonder what the implication of our inaction has been.

What has happened in the year plus since I was invited to write? 

Political tensions heightened, a leader many are frightened of is now president, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish hate crimes have been on the rise, groups like ACT for America have organized anti-Muslim protests around the country, people have lost their lives for defending their Muslim neighbor. The election of Donald Trump has not only given permission for the incidents just listed, but I believe it has also given permission to white Christians to continue in their complacency.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard family and friends say some variation of, “wait and see” or “give it a chance first”.


I actually believe that most white Christians would not align themselves with extreme hate groups, that they do see anti-Muslim bigotry as a problem in this country.  But I also see the complacency of individuals and communities to take actions to address the brokenness to be the same as endorsing the hate.

A while ago I went to Washington, D.C. for Ecumenical Advocacy Days.  In one plenary session, we heard of the faith community’s silence in public witness.  We heard that where legislative offices are bombarded with 4,000 calls a day from organizations like the NRA, the same offices hear far less from faith communities.  So when it comes time for legislators to make a decision, they can say that they are voting on behalf of their constituents.

Our silence allows dangerous legislation to flourish.

While I was at the Islamic Society conference, I picked up a print of a quote from Rumi, “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”  When I went to pay for it, the woman running the stall asked if I was a new convert to Islam.  When I shared with her that I was there with other interfaith religious leaders, she gave me the print as a gift, saying she felt grateful that there were people who wanted to learn and show up.  I have this print hanging in my apartment, and it has been both a source of encouragement, but it has simultaneously been a reminder of the ways I have fallen short in showing up.


The Center for Christian Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice at LSTC partners with is Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a non-profit that works to combat anti-Muslim bigotry.  The calls to action they release are always twofold: 1. Speak up—write letters to the editor, op-eds, blogs, and 2. Show up—join an iftar during Ramadan, visit the mosque in your neighborhood, build relationships with interfaith leaders in your area so that when tragedy strikes, you have a relationship that is allows you to work in response to the needs of your neighbor, not in response to your own needs.

I see this twofold invitation to be particularly challenging in my own context as a white Christian.  One of my professors in seminary always teaches that the people of the United States, and I think in this context we can say mainline, white US Christians, are great at playing host, but we are not great at being hosted.  We are used to being in charge, to calling the shots, to having people over on our terms, but we are much less inclined to give up some of that control in order to be a guest.  I was able to attend several iftars over Ramadan last year year, in those meals, learning the stories of my neighbors in Hyde Park, I was once again reminded of the invitation I ignored one year ago.  I think that reminder was the work of the Holy Spirit.  She often shows up among strangers, over meals, and She often makes us uncomfortable.

Amidst the ACT for America anti-Muslim protests, and now the Muslim travel ban, I finally responded to that invitation I received – though a year late.  I deeply regret that it I ignored the invitation, and that I could ignore the pain of my Abrahamic family when it wasn’t convenient to engage.  The both/and of showing up and speaking up means we are living into what it means to be a guest.  We are speaking up when our neighbors need it, not when we need it to feel better about ourselves.  We are showing up at the invitation of our neighbors.


This is hard, and is something I have a hard time with holding in tension.  It seems that when I feel especially adept at speaking, I at times leave relationship behind, or when I am in relationship through interfaith gatherings or meals, I at times fail to follow up by speaking against narratives that demonize those I am in relationship with.

My having written this article doesn’t resolve my privilege to err into complacency.  I see this being something I continue to struggle with, as perhaps evident in what I have written.  My hope is that the next time, it won’t take a year for me to respond to an invitation to speak when my neighbors are suffering.  And my hope for the church is that we recognize that a “wait and see” attitude is fueling the hate we see around us.

unnamed.jpgSarah Derrick having finished her second year of Masters of Divinity studies at LSTC,  she began an internship in Seattle this past August, working in a parish as well as an interfaith advocacy organization.  Originally from South Carolina, Sarah enjoys being in the kitchen, exploring new places, and finding reasons to throw a themed party.

On Immigration and ‘Putting-Up’ with Oppression – Francisco Herrera, M.Div.

Linda Thomas at CTS eventLate this past Sunday evening, and after several suspenseful days, the White House began actively hinting at their plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative (DACA), suggesting that it might be extended only by about six months or so in order for Congress to pass some kind of immigration reform tied to either the US government’s debt ceiling or funding for Trump’s border wall. DACA is a popular program which allowed those who came to the United States as children of undocumented parents to have a measure of protection from deportation. The shock of this announcement moved swiftly and one of our regular contributors, blog manager Francisco Herrera was quick to respond. Both resigned and defiant, he reminds us that immigrants do not need, nor want, pity – rather incarnate solidarity and support, and gives some practical suggestions that are as easily applied as they are Lutheran. 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.”


As you can probably imagine, like most Latinos in the United States these days (let alone countless undocumented immigrants from all over the world) late Sunday evening was a blur of rage and fear for me. That night, the White House finally broke weeks of tension and began leaking to the media that President Trump would likely not renew the Deferred Action Child Arrival program (instituted by President Obama in 2014) for anything more than six months, as opposed to continuing it. The news hit the country like a neutron bomb – the external structures of the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country and those who love them somehow miraculously standing and functioning despite all life and hope within us viciously vaporized. I was fortunate that my colleagues in #decolonizeLutheranism let me draft our official statement. But the first rush of despair soon passed and, as is always the case, within short order an ancient and eerily familiar calm settled over me.

Because let’s face it, what else is new?


What else is new?

Living in a country where millions of individuals denigrate you for speaking Spanish – never mind that your people have been speaking Spanish in these lands for close to three hundred years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence?

Being in elementary school and having to sing a patriotic hymn about a country that goes “from sea to shining sea” – even though one third of that country was violently torn from Mexico under the most pathetic of justifications, while the entire thing was stolen from its myriad indigenous people through a combination of disease, betrayal, and war?

That likes to call itself  ‘America’ despite the fact that this word covers two massive continents with 28.4% of all land on planet and more than 40 countries and territories filled with people who are just as equally American?

But you know, I don’t mind.

Really on some level I don’t mind, because despite all the ways that whiteness and white supremacy have doggedly impeded the dreams and aspirations of untold numbers of immigrants and their decendents, I’ll know we’ll be fine.

I mean, we’re still here – right?

Because if it’s one thing that immigrants of all times and all places know what to do it’s aguantar – a marvelous little Spanish verb that means ‘to endure,’ ‘to hold on for dear life,’ even ‘to put up with.’ The noun form ‘el aguante’ is equally pretty brilliant – meaning ‘resilience,’ ‘endurance,’ ‘resistance,’ even ‘guts’ or ‘nerve,’ similar to the US slang word moxie or the Yiddish chutzpah.

Calle 13
L to R: René Pérez Joglar aka “Residente,” and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez aka “Visitante” – their stage names a play on immigrant visa statuses world-wide – ‘resident’ or ‘visiting.’

Calle 13, a music duo out of Puerto Rico, has even written an excellent song about it, simply titled ‘El Aguante,’ and it’s chorus perfectly describes the attitude of many who have come to our shores seeking a better life, their steps strengthened and steadied by a mix of resignation and fortitude:

Por lo que fue y lo que pudo ser

Por lo que hay y lo que puede faltar

Por lo que venga y por este instante

Levanta el vaso y a brindar por el aguante! 

¡A brindar por el aguante!

(keep reading for translation*)

Because even though there is always plenty of scholarship money for already well-connected white students that want to get any kind of degree and never enough for people like us, we’ll still sweat in dish-rooms, teach adjunct courses, sweep floors late at night and work four jobs because we know if it worked for our ancestors it will work for us too.

And even though you sent a ship of our family members back to Europe to die in death camps and gas chambers, we will make here a life of beauty and abundance – despite the sideways glances and questionable jokes –  because we know that the Living God has our backs in part because you so readily stab them.

And we stay because, as that prophet James Baldwin so brutally remarked we have the advantage of seeing who you are and what you do clearly while you don’t really know much of anything about us – and this knowledge gives us a terrifying advantage – a reservoir of insight into the workings of white supremacy and how to protect ourselves from it.

Arial view the ICE raid of the Agriprocessors Inc. facility in Pottsville, Iowa on May 12, 2008. 389 undocumented workers were arrested from five different countries – 18 of them were juveniles.

So therefore when horrors like the MOVE bombing or or the Postville raids occur we’re not really surprised. Charlottesville  may have put a lot of otherwise supportive white people on the defensive, but if your people would have lived through Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears you similarly would have known for hundreds of years the orgasmic delight white supremacy gets over the violent exploitation of countless innocents and have long had multiple plans of action.

Having your ancestors sold on auction blocks, also for hundreds of years, kind of prepares you for the tragic inevitability of death and destruction at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect you, motivated by the sick wiles of people you didn’t vote for – or even did vote for. And just as science has shown that trauma actually alters human DNA, our readiness to both stand up to and suffer these attacks is hardwired into us and always gets us through.


However, it certainly would be nice to have a little help in the fight. So if any of you Christian leader types are reading this, and especially if you’re Lutheran, pay close attention – because wonderfully enough, the classic Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms can give a pretty solid confessional foundation for how we respond to these problems in our days.

Though often used as an excuse to keep the Church and church leaders “out of politics” and focused only on a bloodless notion of salvation and sacrament, Luther indeed had another intent for it. For as someone who stood toe to toe with the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V himself and said “Here I stand,” the Reformer understood there are times that faith leaders must stand against the power of the state – especially when the church is called by God to defend its people from the forces of oppression. 


In her recent book, Resisting Structural Evil, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda points out that if white folks want to become serious accomplices in the battle against structural oppression, you need to learn from people in the struggle as opposed to about them – to take a few hits on the jaw, to lose sleep, the compromise your relationship and reputation to the powerful.

For certainly advocating for and assisting the undocumented in their struggles with governmental authorities it’s a great way to begin learning something from them.

So first, get connected to justice orgs that advocate for and protect the undocumented.  If you want to take it up a step, the next thing you can do is advocate for your synod to declare itself a sanctuary synod – as we see in the Sierra Pacific Synod, the Southwest California Synod, the Oregon Synod, the New England Synod and the Greater Milwaukee Synod. If your congregation is in close proximity, let alone in the middle of, an immigrant community and you don’t have any mission outreach to them, start one. Any use of your power and presence in order to protect the innocent is always needed.

En la Cena ecológica del Reino – Cerezo Barredo

And if you really want to learn something from especially undocumented Latinos – often the first victims of these deportation frenzies –  take it a step further and do something to immerse yourself in the soul and context of Latinos in this country.

See  about signing up for the Spanish for Ministry courses available at an ELCA seminary. Go down to Austin, Texas and baptize yourself in the realities of the Borderlands between the US and Mexico through the auspices of the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest –  they have special intensive programs on specific themes in January and May and June.

And when you do this, do it as a labor of love, because though members of these communities may be wary of you and treat you with suspicion (and can you blame them?), working your way through their suspicions – even their indifference – will eventually reveal to you a likely never-before-experienced manifestation of God’s love and grace that will transform everything about you.

Everything about you.

And then when white people learn to struggle, sing, and dance with our immigrant kindred as they work through the obstacles of their lives – be they from Honduras or Libya or Venezuela or Syria or Mexico or wherever – they will eventually understand more fully why it is we keep going the way we do – and learn something about el aguante in the process – and why this resilience is so important to the faith of countless immigrants of countless religions all over the world.

*For that which was, and that which could have been

For that which is, when what we want cannot be

For what is coming, and right now in this moment

Lift high all your glasses! Raise a toast to our resilience!

Raise a toast to our resilience!

Praise Dancing – Charles Harvey (2008)

Because it is through the seemingly endless struggle, where triumphs are often few and fleeting, that all of the little ways that the devil preys upon our souls and our communities fall from us like parasitic bugs in the caustic gas of a delousing chamber. And it may burn a little bit, but since we’ve long learned to squeeze our eyes and our lungs shut, hold our breath a long time, when we come through – and we always come through – we are just that much stronger, that much braver, and that much more saturated with God’s love that even the longest march to freedom and righteousness seems but a pleasant stroll – relishing in the company of our loved ones, singing and dancing on the way to the cross and beyond.

421302_4275580040705_820243508_nBefore coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor at LSTC, Wartburg Theological Seminary, and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.

Charlottesville And The Truth About America – Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas

Linda Thomas at CTS eventFurther exploring the issues raised around Charlottesville, VA – and also in commemoration of this blog’s 100th post – this week we are going from out of the world of Lutheranism to talk with a long time friend of the blog, the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas. Generously shared from its original home on .base – the Black Theology Project –  Dr. Douglas wastes no time deconstructing the myth that what we saw last Saturday “was not America.” Indeed, she shows how the violence in Virginia has been fore-ordained and set in place since the earliest years of settlement in North America, as well as what we can do about it. 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.”


While the Charlottesville, Va. “Unite the Right Rally” is certainly alarming, it should come as no real surprise. For as disgusting as many Americans find the beliefs of these “alt-right” crusaders, their white supremacist beliefs reflect an ugly truth about this country. The truth is this country, even as it proclaims freedom and justice for all, was founded on an “Anglo-Saxon myth” of white racial superiority.

This is a truth that Donald Trump’s politics has tapped into and brought into clear relief. Simply put, during his campaign and now presidency, Mr. Trump guilefully exploited America’s defining Anglo-Saxon myth while dangerously revitalizing the culture of whiteness that serves to protect it.

Many Americans, horrified by the hate and violence on display in Charlottesville, exclaim, “This is not America!” But the truth we need to know to actually root out white supremacy is that this is integral to America, and has been, from the very beginning.

When America’s Pilgrim and Puritan forebears fled England in search of freedom, they believed themselves descendants of an ancient Anglo-Saxon people who possessed high moral values and an “instinctive love for freedom.” These early Americans crossed the Atlantic with a vision to build a nation that was politically, culturally—if not demographically—true to their “exceptional” Anglo-Saxon heritage. Theirs was a vision soon to be shared by this nation’s Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. As such, America was envisioned as a testament to the sacredness of Anglo-Saxon character and values, if not people.

In order to safeguard this vision a pervasive culture of whiteness was born. Why? Because simply put, not everybody that looks like an Anglo-Saxon in the United States is actually Anglo-Saxon. The perpetual vexing problem for the nation is that from its very beginnings it has been an immigrant nation with migrants—even from Europe, who were not Anglo-Saxon. Yet there was a mitigating factor, at least for those who came from Europe, they were white—and this whiteness made all the difference. To be white was to be considered Anglo-Saxon enough.


Put simply, whiteness became the passport into the exceptional space that was American identity with the rights and privileges of citizenship. From its earliest beginnings, therefore, America’s social-political and cultural identity was inextricably linked to a myth of Anglo-Saxon superiority. The “city on the hill” that the early Americans were building was intended to be nothing less than a testament to Anglo-Saxon, hence white, chauvinism. There is simply no getting around it, a myth of Anglo-Saxon “exceptionalism” has shaped America’s sense of self. It and the culture of whiteness that sustains it runs deep within the DNA of this country.

This is echoed, in a profoundly revealing way, by Donald Trump’s claim that his success is due to the fact that he has “superior genes.” This brings us to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

What happen in Charlottesville is another instance of the resurgence of bigoted hate that has erupted across the country since the November election. And, if we are going to come to grips with this resurgence then we must face the fact that Donald Trump’s vision to “Make America Great Again” is essentially a 21st century manifestation of America’s Anglo Saxon exceptionalist myth and the culture of white supremacy that protects it. His “mantra” of greatness has served as more than a “dog-whistle.” It has been a clarion call to action for those who have clung tightly to the Anglo-Saxon/white vision of America. No one made this clearer than past imperial wizard of the Klu Klux Klan than David Duke when he said, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”


Just as a “Unite the Right” rally should come as no surprise, neither should President Trump’s refusal to unapologetically and unambiguously denounce the violence that is white supremacy and religious bigotry (make no mistake about it, such ideologies in and of themselves are violent. For any ideology or system of thought that objectifies another human being and fails to recognize their very humanity must be recognized as violent. Moreover, such ideologies and systems serve only to precipitate more violence.) Far from rejecting the “alt-right” groups and their violent ideologies Mr. Trump has emboldened them with a “birtherism” crusade along with racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic campaign rhetoric: this runs smoothly into his wall-building, “Law and Order” and “nationalistic” immigration policies. Essentially, Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies have played into the bigoted fears and stereotypes that fuel white supremacy, thereby making various expressions of white supremacist violence predictable if not inevitable. To be sure, the politics of Donald Trump and “alt-right” beliefs reflect the inherent danger of America’s defining Anglo-Saxon myth: when it expresses itself it makes people the problem. Hence, “To make America Great Again” is to “take back the country” from the problem people—that is, non-white peoples. So again, it is no wonder that we are witnessing a resurgence of bigoted violence or for that matters presidential calls for bans, orders and policies that prevent “certain” peoples from enjoying the full rights and privileges of citizenship.

If it wasn’t clear before, the events in Charlottesville have now made it abundantly clear—we have reached a decision point as a nation. We must decide whether we want to be a nation defined by its Anglo-Saxon myth of exceptionalism and white supremacist culture or one defined by its democratic rhetoric of being a nation of liberty and justice for all. This question is even more poignant for people of faith. For we must decide if we are a people committed to a vision of a country that reflects an “Anglo-Saxon” God or a God whose image is revealed through a racial/ethnic/religiously and culturally diverse humanity.

If we are in fact committed to building a nation and being a people reflective of a God with a vision of justice and freedom for all, then we must do more than just counter-protest. Rather, we must proactively protest for the kind of nation and people we want to be.


Proactive protest first and foremost means telling the truth, even the harsh truth about who we are as a nation and a people. We continue to arrive at these “Make America Great Again,” moments of Anglo-Saxon chauvinistic violence because of America’s utter refusal to face the hard truths of it own story. James Baldwin is right, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Until America faces the truth of itself, the violence of white supremacy in all of its expressions will continue to plague our nation and prevent us from ever living into the rhetoric of being a place where there is justice and liberty for all.

This brings us to another aspect of what is required of us if we are in fact committed to building a nation and being a people reflective of a God with an inclusive vision of justice and freedom. We are required, as Mahatma Gandhi said, to “be the change we want to see.” This is indeed at the heart of proactive protest.

Practically speaking this means that we should be people of sanctuary and witness.

To be a sanctuary means that wherever we are present no one should feel diminished or unsafe because of who they are or are not.

It also means that we must work to make our communities safe spaces for all who are made to feel unsafe by the various policies, bans and orders of exceptionalism in our society. More specifically, it means creating spaces free of bigotry or intolerance of any kind and resisting at every level of our society any efforts to reinstate 21st century versions of Jim Crow Laws like “Stop and Frisk,” or poll taxes like Voter Id’s, or LGBTQphobic orders, or ethno/religiously-centric “travel bans” and immigration policies. This leads to what it means to be a witness for the kind of change we want to see.

Proactive witness means, in the least, calling out racism, xenophobia and any other ism or bigotry for what it is, even when it mask itself in the “politically” correct language of “greatness.” It further requires calling out the racially biased social economic policies, laws, systems and structures that traps certain peoples in a dehumanizing culture of poverty and feeds the prison industrial complex. We must refuse to be silent until these systems and structures are dismantled. Audre Lorde has reminded us that our silence will not save us,” and she is right.* Our silence has not and will not save us from the violence of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism—therefore we must proactively witnesses against it.


In 1961 James Baldwin declared, “The time has come, God knows, for us to examine ourselves, but we can do this only if we are willing to free ourselves of the myth of America and try to find out what is really happening here.” The events of Charlottesville make clear that the time has come for us to decide who we want to be: a nation that is defined by racialized “greatness” or by justice and freedom for all.

headshot_kelly-1-700x430Kelly Brown Douglas, MDiv, PhD, is currently the Dean the Episcopal Divinity School in Manhattan. Before that, she was the Professor and Director of the Religion Department at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a leading voice in womanist theology and has served as an Episcopal priest for over 20 years. Widely published in national and international journals, her groundbreaking book Sexuality and the Black Church was the first to address the issue of homophobia within the black church community. Her most recent publication is Stand Your Ground, where she writes, “There has been no story in the news that has troubled me more than that of Trayvon Martin’s slaying. President Obama said that if he had a son his son would look like Trayvon. I do have a son and he does look like Trayvon.” Other publications include, The Black Christ, Black Bodies and the Black Church, and What’s Faith Got to Do with It? She has also received the Goucher College Caroline Doebler Bruckerl Award for outstanding faculty achievement, and was honored as “Womanist Legend” by the Black Religious Scholars Group.

*Paraphrased from Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action* Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series) (p. 40). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.

Reading Lists and White Supremacy – Marissa Becklin; MDiv student

Picture 002Reading – what a wonderful activity, yes? Reading is important to how we explore new ideas, deepen ideas we currently have, not to mention deepen our faith as Christians. But sadly, even here, what we read – and more specifically how we choose what we read – can just as easily be a tool of white supremacy, and the forces of this world that seek to keep us divided up and primed-up. Marissa Becklin, MDiv sudent at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, shares her personal epiphany of how even something so simple as her personal reading choices entrenched her biases and privilege, and what she is doing to address it. 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.”

I love reading.

books.jpgI have loved reading for as long as I can remember—as a child I used to stay up late (long past when my parents had thought I had gone to bed) in order to finish the book I was currently immersed in. At that young age I read to hear the stories of others, to learn about their experiences, their joys, their challenges—to feel connected to others in a way that felt somehow more vulnerable and real than the interactions that I watched adults around me engage in with one another. Reading was a way for me to seek understanding—it was a way for me to practice listening.

Today, as an adult, I still love to read. I enjoy all sorts of genres, and benefit greatly from hearing about the world through the eyes of another. Reading has become a spiritual practice for me during seminary—when I am overwhelmed, exhausted, bored, and am about to turn to my phone, computer, or TV, I turn instead to a book. When people I am friends with find out how much time I spend reading, they are often astonished—they wonder how I find the time, and sometimes imply that my time spent reading must equate to a habit of laziness. In fact, reading is not a silly habit that I need to actively make time for in my life—it is a practice of quiet time and reflection that I depend on in order to function holistically. Through hearing the stories of others, I feel closer to God.


But as a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman, born in the United States, who grew up middle-class, if reading is my spiritual practice and my reading list only privileges the voices of those who have been historically privileged, I am worshiping the false idol of white supremacy instead of God.

I have been guilty of this on so many occasions—of reading books primarily by white authors, by male authors, by US authors, by straight authors, by cis-authors. Of, as a student, buying into the narrative handed to me in a public high school in Iowa that the “literary canon” is made up of white men because they “write the best stories.” Of tending only to see or perceive as esteemed and worthy those authors who the narrative of white supremacy names as esteemed and worthy. Of letting the voice of white supremacy ring in my ear in the stories that I chose to read.

As summer begins in the northern hemisphere, this is the season of blog posts about summer reading list recommendations.


Though it is not shocking, many of the posts that I see pop up on my Facebook page are lists of white authors, or are fluffy stories deemed appropriate for ‘reading on the beach.’ These are lists of books to help privileged folks deny the pain of the world, avoid the reality of oppression that they participate in, and ‘escape from it all.’ The ability to ‘escape from it all’ in books is a sign of privilege. The ability to, in one’s free time, choose not to think about the hardships that others face (and the ways in which many benefit from that hardship), is a sign of privilege. It reminds me of what a white congregant once told me when we were talking about Islamophobia in the United States during an adult education session—“Do we really need to talk about this? I don’t come to church on my day off to get bummed out.”

This existence in a literary vestige to privilege brings me no joy. As I continually reevaluate my reading habits and watch for sinful patterns in my choice of books, I ask myself the question—why do I read?

Do I read to feel good about myself?

To ‘get away from it all’?

To deny reality?

The answer is no.

I read to hear the stories of others.

collage books.jpg
Links: Farewell to Manzanar, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Borderlands/La Frontera, Midnight’s Children, Between the World and Me, Our Lives Matter.

I read to listen—to hear what another person sees in this world, to seek understanding. I read to hear in someone’s own words about their history, their experiences, their life. I read to feel closer to others, and subsequently to feel closer to God, and when I read only or primarily the voices of those historically privileged, I grant power to the idol of white supremacy. I sinfully ignore the voices of so many who have stories to tell, truth to speak.

In this sinfulness, I feel separate from God.

Hearing the stories of others, in all of their intricacies and complexities, makes me a more whole person. In the insidious world of white supremacy, the propagation of oppression and violent narratives about the ‘normativity’ of white culture depend upon all of us—all of God’s beautiful, unique, intricate people—not hearing one another’s stories. When we don’t hear one another’s stories, it becomes so easy to buy into false narratives of scarcity—to believe that we are in competition with one another, that our liberation is not interrelated and interdependent. The onus is on those who have privilege—on me, as a white, cisgender, heterosexual, married, Christian, U.S. citizen—to do the work of listening for the voices of those we have wrongfully and sinfully deemed unimportant or lacking in esteem.


The onus is on people with privilege to seek out the stories of those whose oppression they have wrongfully benefited from, and to amplify their voices.

So, during this season of book lists, why do you read?

Who do you read?

ATT00001..jpgMarissa Becklin is a final year semianry student pursuing her Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of The at Chicago, and is currently as an intern at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Waukesha, WI. Her passion for gospel-centered justice was ignited at Luther College in Decorah, IA, and further fostered during her summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Sinai Health System in Chicago. Marissa lives with her husband Hans, who is also a seminarian completing his internship year in Chicago. She loves reading, playing the saxophone, and traveling.