Shut up – Rev. Emmy Kegler

Our next post for Women’s History Month centers of how seminary is a blessing and a curse for many – a blessing in that it gives you the chance to intensely study your faith but a curse in that doing so you shake your spiritual foundation to its core. In a excerpt from her coming book, One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins last week’s author – Rev. Emmy Keglershares her struggle of how to talk about God when so many other’s God-talk is hateful, dismissive, and violent. Please read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Editor


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In my second year of seminary, I stopped speaking of God.

Talking about God seemed an exercise in futility. All I saw was philosophical babble that had, at best, stopped caring about application and practice, and more often, was fully culpable in the systems that had contributed to the suffering and death around me. The God of my Christian ancestors might have been rich in interpretation, but the God of American religion was distant, domineering, destructive—and male.

I saw God clothed in skin God never knew: lily-white, pure as snow. I saw that the God of America could not be the God of a black Democratic president. The God who had brought the Israelite children out of slavery in Egypt was coming to look far more like the Romans who killed the Son than the Hebrews who had borne him.

I saw God used to throw aside science, to ignore the cries of creation, to stifle the shouts of the oppressed. The American church proclaimed that faith was a self-alignment with right doctrine, a confession that switched the eternal railroad track from Hell to Heaven, but made no alterations in the journey here on earth.

I saw God used to manipulate and destroy. I heard that God was a God of righteousness, of expectations, of swift vengeance. This God would not tolerate insubordination. Those who could not obtain and preserve their own purity were already forsaken.

I saw God used to sanction the actions of men. I heard that God was trampling out the blood of the conquered, not only masculine but dominant, militant, eternally victorious. The American church promised that God would dress us in holy armor and guarantee the conquest of our enemies.

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I saw God turned from source of love to the reason for hate.

I thought I would not speak of God anymore. But then in me echoed the words of Jeremiah: If I say I will not mention the Lord, or speak any more in God’s name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones… I did not speak of the domineering and distant God, who meted out judgements from His throne on high. That God had no goodness for me. But that same word “God” that soured in my mouth in class and mocked me in every paper was the God who met me in the Scriptures, a God I needed and craved. That God, the real God, stood in stark contrast to all the offerings of the religion that devoured the people on the margins of life.

The God of the Scriptures came close enough to touch the earth. At the beginning of it all, the spirit of God was a wind that soared over the deep, a breath that stirred the waters into waves. God knelt in the dust and knit together a creature made of earth—the creature who would become our ancestor, we broken and beautiful creatures made of the same stuff as dust and stardust. Again and again God appeared: a voice, a messenger, a promise, a promise, a promise to us who had wandered away or been chased off. When the people cried out in slavery, God was close enough to act. God turned water into blood and dust into gnats and nothingness into frogs until the weight of God’s call for freedom hung in the air like death and Pharaoh said Get out. Get out, and don’t come back. And again a wind moved over the waters, and again dry land appeared.

God stayed close, too immense to be held and yet too loving to be gone. The God of the Scriptures pleaded until the divine voice cracked, begging our ancestors in the wilderness: I brought you out of slavery. Don’t chain yourself to other gods who will drain you dry. Don’t claim the reckless power of Egypt for yourselves, crushing your neighbor beneath the weight of your own supposed magnificence. I set you free. Try to stay there. Time and time again our cruelty cracked God’s heart, and time and time again God would not go. God had not set the world in motion only to disappear to the far reaches of the cosmos. There was no where, the psalmists found, that God could not be found too—not even in the seeming endless dark.

The God of the Scriptures, in fact, has met us clothed in darkness. God appeared not in a glorious golden tearing of heaven’s snow-white clouds but in startling places, fiery and dirty and shadowed. God burst into flame in the middle of a desert, an echoing voice from everywhere and nowhere: I Am Who I Am. God hid in cloud and lightning.

God has met us clothed in weakness. God stood on the side of the underdog, the minority, the slave, the oppressed. God cried out in the devastated voices of the prophets: The oppressed! The widow! The orphan! How have you gone so long and so far away from what it means to love the least? God closed the divine eyes and whispered a promise: the servant of God would be so tender that a bruised reed would not break under his feet, nor a dim wick be snuffed out by his hand.

God put on skin and walked among us, no less than perfectly human and yet so much more, his feet dusty with Judea’s sand, his cheeks a shining reflection of the desert’s heat.

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Christ of St. John of the Cross – Salvador Dali

When the Romans came to arrest him, he was indistinguishable from the Jews around him, and could only be betrayed with a kiss. When God died, the sky turned black and the curtain of the temple tore down the center. The body of God, forehead and feet, eyes and elbows, dreaded hair all wound up with dust and sweat and suffering—the flesh that had held the divine was empty, wrapped, hastily buried in a borrowed tomb.

And then God was up again, out in the world, untamed and uncontrollable. God walked through walls and cooked fish and held out wrists and feet still marred by nails. Resurrection had not taken away the pain, the wounds, the vulnerability. It had transformed them from death into new life. That was how Love had defeated Death; not in domination but in transformation. God was real, scarred, human—no lily-white perfection. This was no conquering force, no marching army. This was love at its finest and rarest and most raw.

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This was a scrabbly God, gleaning what was dropped, picking the losing side every time.

This was a brown God, dressing in skin rich and dark.

This was a God who worked not with a commanding voice but in a whisper that was best heard in sheer silence.


(Excerpt from One Coin Found by Emmy Kegler copyright © 2019 Fortress Press. Posted by permission. No further reproduction or reposting is allowed without the written permission of the publisher.)


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Emmy Kegler is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis and the founder and editor of Queer Grace. She is also a co-leader of the Queer Grace Community, an outreach ministry by and to LGBTQ+ Christians in the Twin Cities. She lives in Saint Paul with her wife Michelle and their two dogs and cat. Her first book, One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins will be published this April.

 

This is a Love Letter – Maija Mikkelsen, M.Div. student LSTC

Dr TWe are now nearing an end-game with the Senate hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. However it turns out, the impact will be jarring, and so I was most blessed to hear the following poetic reflection from a student at my seminary – Maija Mikkelsen – taking Paul’s body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12-26 as her inspiration. So as the country prepares for what is to come, please read this poem, share this poem, and know that you are deeply and fully loved by God.

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


 

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This is a love letter to Miriam, who led her people out of exile in Egypt.

This is a love letter to Ruth and Naomi, who cling one another in great devotion.

This is a love letter to Esther, who risked her life for a moment such as this.

 

This is a love letter to my mothers, my sisters, my aunts.

To my nieces, who are just getting started in this world.

To my friends and my neighbors and my classmates and my colleagues.

 

You, strong and resilient women and femmes,

who grasp each other tightly against the toxicity of this world.

You, who were all created in the image of God,

who makes all things, and sees that they are good.

—-

 

This is a love letter to the Egyptian slave, Hagar.

This is a love letter to Dinah and Bilhah and Zilpah.

This is a love letter to the unnamed Levite Concubine woman.

 

This is a love letter to the woman who is afraid to walk to the store alone at night.

To the femme who decides not to wear their favorite heels today.

To the man who is too ashamed to tell his story.

To the one who wonders, “does my story count?”

To the survivors who are not believed, who are silenced.

This is a love letter to the brave and the terrified,

to the loud and the quiet,

to the ones who speak up and the ones who cannot.

This is a love letter to all of those who have been affected by sexual violence.

Because #MeToo.

 

You are not alone in your suffering,

for as you suffer, we suffer with you, Christ suffers with you.

You are believed by Christ.

Your story matters.

You matter. You are loved.

——

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This is a love letter to Leah, forced to marry a man who did not love her.

This is a love letter to Jezebel, strong and defiant, whose masculinity threatened the men around her.

This is a love letter to Jael, who shed the role expected of her and became a warrior for her people.

 

This is a love letter to the ones who thought they were loved only to find out they were objectified.

To the 28th trans person whose body

was murdered and destroyed out of hatred and misplaced fear.

To the young girl who takes justice into her own hands, saving herself from her abuser.

 

You, my dear ones, you are holy and loved.

Your God bleeds alongside you, knows your pain, and promises you resurrection.

 


 

 

 

This is a love letter to Tamar, who creates her own understanding of righteousness.

This is a love letter to Ruth, takes it upon herself to initiate an intimate night.

This is a love letter to the women who are told that to be prude is not a choice,

yet to be sexual is not a choice either.

To the virgin bride, ashamed and frightened on her wedding night.

And to the lovers who hold each other’s naked bodies,

blissfully falling asleep after knowing each other intimately.

 

Your bodies are made for feeling deeply.

Your legs bring you to the highest summits,

Your minds paint the most beautiful pictures,

Your mouths sing the sweetest songs,

Your backs arch in ecstasy as your fingers grip the sheets.

God made you so, and saw that this is good.

——-

This is a love letter to Eve, who walked through the Garden naked and unashamed.

This is a love letter to Mary, the mother of Christ.

This is a love letter to Mary Magdalene, who witnessed and was not believed, who loved Jesus the Christ and who was loved right back.

 

This is a love letter to the bodies torn asunder in birth. And the souls shattered at loss.

To those across the world who bleed and bleed and bleed.

To those who stand in the mirror convincing themselves that they are worthy of being wanted.

To those who starve and purge themselves in an effort to feel accepted.

To those whose bodies are stolen from them and dragged through the streets.

 

Your bodies are good and whole.

Your bodies that cannot see, hear, or walk are good and whole.

Your black and brown, thick and thin, curvy and straight bodies are good and whole.

Your bodies that exist here in this world. With all their parts and uniqueness.

Your bodies are good and whole and part of the great body of Christ.

—–

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The Incarnate One has become just like you,

because you are chosen by God and because you are loved.

 

Before Jesus was at the Jordan River,

he was baptized by his mother’s blood,

coating him with a carnal love as he made his way into this world.

 

Before Jesus fed the five thousand with loaves and fishes,

Mary nourished him from the warm milk of her breast.

 

Before Jesus cast the demons out from the afflicted,

Mary held him and comforted him in his fears.

 

Before Jesus healed the bleeding woman,

Mary tended to his cuts and scrapes with tender care.

 

Before Jesus rose from the tomb,

Mary Magdalene held vigil by his pierced and lifeless body.

 

Jesus lived in a human body. Jesus was human.

God came into a human body because human bodies are good.

—–

This is a love letter to all of you,

This is a love letter to all of me,

For we are all one body,

together and necessary and good,

in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus the Christ who became human,

Became ordinary –

Just like you and me

Not in order to make us sacred,

But because we are already sacred

You, my beloved, you are sacred.

Amen.

*original art – “Ruth’s Heart,” Hilary Sylvester / “Tiara and Eve Marie,” Kate Hansen.


43160331_170448727170143_9121484735304957952_nMaija Mikkelsen is in her third year of studies for her Masters of Divinity at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She works to serve refugee populations both here in Chicago and in Rwanda, while working towards a career in pediatric chaplaincy. Fueled by the women around her, mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces, and friends, she seeks to live a life filled with love, honesty, and art.

How Do We Keep Our Daughters, Our People, Safe? – Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan

thomas110_1027092Though many see the church as a place of healing and sanctuary, the truth is far more complex. Truth be told, often times, the church is the worst place for women to go to seek support when they have been sexually assaulted – and many, many women are working hard to change this. The Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan will be reflecting on this very reality as we begin the second week of Women’s History Month, and we know you’ll find her reflection insightful. Read, comment, and share.

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


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We were in a circle when we told our stories. It was an impromptu gathering of women, most of us clergy. Earlier we had all participated either as performers or audience during an evening of spoken word and music. And we were filled both from the poetry and from dinner. Into the wee hours, we told our stories. Woman after woman. Violation after violation. Stories of assault by next door neighbors and cousins, in our own homes and on public transportation. Experiences of broken bodies and broken trust. And as the stories poured out, I felt despair.

The sense of despair startled me. I was a new pastor then, energized by a greater sense of hope and possibility than I had ever known before. Anything and everything seemed possible. An established Baptist church had taken the leap and done something different: they elected a single woman to head their 120-year-old church. They were receptive to my leadership.

The world was changing. But not fast enough.

Not fast enough to heal the brokenness in the eyes of my sisters.

Not fast enough to restore the sense of safety a girl in my own church had lost when she was molested in our basement.

What shook me that evening was the sense that We cannot keep our daughters safe.

I recognized just how ineffective the church is, how disconnected from the substantial need of the women who make up the bulk of our congregations and who live with the aftermath of violation.

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Tarana Burke began the #MeToo movement to turn the realization of the ubiquity of sexual violence against Black girls and women from a source of despair to an opportunity for camaraderie and change. Rather than taking the fact that so many women can say “me too” as a sign of the intractability of the problem of harassment and assault, Burke understood a decade ago what women around the nation are coming to clarity about now, that there is healing and power in bringing the truth to light in community—healing and power not only for the women who speak together but also transformative power to change the environment in which we all live.

Although the work is just beginning, there are signs that the culture is shifting to take seriously the harm that has been done. Boardrooms and studio sets will be different because of the courage women have had in telling the stories of harassment and assault.

The question is what will happen in and to the church when the reckoning comes.

Frankly, the church is overdue for its #MeToo moment. Congregations and denominations, seminaries and parachurch organizations all are implicated in the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment. Too often the church is the prime location for attitudes that protect perpetrators to the continual harm of their victims.

After the conviction of serial predator Dr. Larry Nasser, Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse him, talked in Christianity Today about the toll that standing with victims took on her relationship with her own church by noting that “church is one of the worst places to go for help.”[1] The reasons for the lack of responsiveness are many, but at the heart of the problem is a theological one, that is, the failure to regard the well-being and dignity of women and girls as central to the message of abundant life that Jesus Christ proclaimed and promised.

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photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

As a participant in the progressive side of the Black Church, I am specifically concerned that we attend to this and get it right as a feature of our understanding of justice work. Too often we have been guilty of limiting the church’s justice labor simply in terms of its advocacy for racial justice narrowly defined. This tension became obvious after the Golden Globe awards when entertainment leaders invited women who work for activist organizations to join them on the red carpet to highlight the relationship between sexual violence and economic status.

Accepting an award for lifetime achievement, Oprah Winfrey, herself a sexual assault survivor, gave an epic address that made the connection between sexual violence, economic vulnerability, and racism explicit especially by invoking the memory of Recy Taylor, who was gang raped in 1944 by six white men while walking home from church.

Especially on social media, several Black preachers decried this association as somehow diminishing the horror of what Mrs. Taylor suffered at the hands of the white men who raped her.

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Recy Taylor, after touring the White House in 2011.

While all of us acknowledge that sexual harassment and sexual assault are not identical experiences—indeed that all kinds of abuse exist on a continuum—the refusal to recognize that sexual harassment is a form of abuse inhibits our capacity to proclaim a consistent justice message.

Rather than dismissing the capacity of rich white women to be abused, what we ought to proclaim is the insight of intersectionality, that is, that race and class intensify and exacerbate vulnerability to harm and violence. If privileged white women are silenced, then marginalized and poor women of color are only more so.

I fear that we have been slow to bring this to light because we know that some of our favorites will be exposed when the reckoning comes. Our churches too long have been harems for charismatic leaders. There are too many stories of revivalists being provided company for their week away from home, too many allowances for the bad behavior of great preachers. But just as the worlds of art and film have had to face that the actions of the creative perpetrators of harassment and assault are inexcusable, it’s now our turn.

We know that actors and writers and scholars and other creative women have left their fields after they have been harassed and assaulted by powerful persons in those fields.

We now need to wonder how many gifts in the church have been stifled because women have been treated as objects. How many great preachers have we lost because women whose gifts should have been nurtured were sacrificed to the great orators we had?

It’s our turn.

The conversation with my sisters years ago shaped my pastorate. It posed the question I feel compelled to answer in my preaching and pastoral care work: How do we keep our people safe? In the years since, I have heard many more stories, not just from women and girls but also from men and boys, about the injuries their bodies and minds sustained from perpetrators but also about the injuries their spirits sustained because the church would not hear them. The good news is that we can change.

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Believing that the life and ministry of Jesus sealed by his resurrection portend God’s new creation, we in the church can and must prioritize the healing of those who have been harmed by sexual violence and the transformation of the world such that that violence ceases.

The beginning of the work occurs when we make room for the stories of those who say “me too,” bearing witness to the love of the God who loves us and wills for us to be healed and whole.

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html


image1Reverend Dr. Leslie D. Callahan is the fifth pastor and the first woman to serve the 128-year-old St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Before being elected to the pastorate, she served on the faculties of the University of Pennsylvania and New York Theological Seminary teaching American religious history.

Gender, Pleasure, and God – Rev. Lura Groen

ThomasLinda sittingIn many, many Christian circles enjoyment is suspect and “pleasure” is a dirty word. This quandary even more problematic when you’re a woman (let alone any other gender-oppressed group), as society is often perpetually finding ways to force itself upon everything in your life – let alone your sense of pleasure. In response to this, Rev. Lura Groen provides a rather eloquent and affirmation that bodily pleasures are part of what it means to be created by God – and by extension are holy. It makes a wonderful addition to this months entries and we hope you enjoy 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.”


Like an apple tree among the wild trees,
so is my lover among the young men.
In his shade I take pleasure in sitting,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
He has brought me to the house of wine;
his banner raised over me is love.

Sustain me with raisin cakes,
strengthen me with apples,
for I’m weak with love!

His left arm is beneath my head,
his right embraces me.

(Song of Solomon 2: 3-6)

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God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,[b]
male and female God created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food.30 To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.

(Genesis 1: 27-30)

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Pleasure is good and holy and given to us by God.  Bodily pleasure, sexual and non sexual, food pleasure, touch pleasure, laughter and singing pleasure, they’re given to us.  

By God. 

And women, it’s given to US too.  Anyone who experiences gender oppression, (femme men, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people, transgender men, etc) it’s given to us too.  Sometimes we forget.  Sometimes we affirm, theoretically, that pleasure is good, but forget to give it to our own bodies, feel guilty when we do, or judge the ways in which we do or don’t receive pleasure.

This isn’t surprising, because it’s how the world teaches us to think. The world teaches us that men get to joke about how much they love to eat bacon, but we don’t.  The world teaches us that sex is about the pleasure of the (presumed heterosexual, cisgender) man.  The world teaches us that comfortable clothing isn’t for us, that looking professional means having an uncomfortable body. We walk through the world bombarded by messages telling us that our bodies deserve to be starved, pinched, and hated.

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But those messages are wrong, those messages are ungodly, those messages are demonic.  They are wrong when they come from the outside world, and then they are wrong when they make their homes inside our own heads, telling us we don’t deserve pleasure.

Other times the world commands us to have pleasure in ways we don’t want: the cool woman eats like a man, the desirable woman wants sex whenever her partner wants it, and the woman to emulate is always living life extravagantly.  This is a twisted way of telling us that even our own pleasure is for other people, not for us.  And it is another lie.  (Because the Song of Solomon also says “Don’t rouse, don’t arouse love, until it desires.”) Your pleasure is for you, and you feel it when and how and only when and how you want to.

And yes, of course there are caveats.  We don’t get to have pleasure in ways that harm someone else, or use pleasure for power over someone else, or break promises we’ve made, or live only for pleasure. 

But let’s be honest. 

Most of us aren’t doing that.

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The Lovers – Rene Magritte, 1928.

We’re so busy caring for others that we feel guilty when we get enough sleep, think it’s luxurious to eat a healthy, delicious meal, and experience it as a radical position that our sexual pleasure is as important as our partners’.  Those caveats about enjoying pleasure have been used against us in ways they haven’t been used against gender conforming men, as a way to prevent us from having pleasure that is seen as theirs to have. We have been held to higher standards based on gender oppression, and therefore these standards have become weapons. We have been taught to deny ourselves in gendered ways, and therefore in unjust and ungodly ways.

God gave us good food to eat. Maybe for you that’s bacon, but maybe its apples and raisin cakes. God loves it when food tastes good to us, gave us bodies that crave and taste buds that celebrate.   Yes, we have choices about the healthiest things to eat, and sometimes that choice means limiting certain pleasure, but that doesn’t make the pleasure bad.  The pleasure we get from eating good food is holy, and given to us by God.

God gave us bodies, and called them supremely good.  God created our bodies such that touching people we love gives us pleasure: snuggling babies, hugging a good friend, or kissing our lovers.  Yes, we need to take care to touch in ways that respect consent and the boundaries of all involved, and that honor the differences in how people like to be touched or not, but that doesn’t make the pleasure bad. The pleasure we get from touching each other (or our own bodies!) is holy, and given to us by God.

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Pleasure from food is good and holy, pleasure from our bodies is good and holy, but also, if you don’t get pleasure from these things, for whatever reason, and get bodily pleasure from something else, that is good and holy too. 

It is a holy thing, a spiritual thing, to enjoy the gifts given to us by God, and give thanks to God for them.   And so, I make a modest proposal for Women’s History Month: explore pleasure for your body as a spiritual discipline.  If that makes us a little uncomfortable to think about, it might be exactly because we have been taught that pleasure isn’t for us.  But you still get to pick: the pleasures, and only the pleasures, that your body likes, that you want to enjoy, that you consent to.

I know Women’s History Month falls in Lent this year, as it often does.  And that we aren’t encouraged to embrace pleasure during Lent.  Perhaps you might decide you’ve been living Lent too many seasons of the year, and might skip it this time.  Or perhaps you might decide right now that we are encouraged to feast for the 50 days of Easter, (longer than the 40 days of Lent!) and that celebrating God-given bodily pleasures is your way of celebrating God’s love, God’s triumph over sin and death and judgment.

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Dear sisters, dear siblings, God gave us our bodies, and created them to feel pleasure.  You’re allowed to feel it when and how and in which ways you desire.

Thanks be to God. 

Amen.

(Thanks to Dr. Irina Greenman for editing assistance)


16195119_10154258760571662_4424052491010862736_n.jpgRev. Lura N. Groen attended St. John’s College in Annapolis MD, studying the Great Books Program.  Prior to seminary, Pastor Lura was a two-year member of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, serving as a case manager to homeless people in Baltimore, MD and Washington D.C.  Lura continued her social service work as an employment coach before attending seminary at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and was admitted to the clergy roster of the ELCA in 2010. Currently based in Cumberland, MD with her husband Jess and pit-bull – Clara – she is also blogs at luragroen.blogspot.comand is a chaplain for #decolonizeLutheranism.

In the Midst of the Garden There Is a Snake – Rev. Katie Hines-Shah

Linda Thomas at CTS eventYesterday marked the First Sunday in Lent, and I was honored to be the lead presenter of an Adult Education Series at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hinsdale, Illinois. Titled, ‘The Beloved Community: Christian Conversations on Race,’ LSTC Intern, Vicar Marcus Lohrmann, invited me to talk on the theme of ‘Womanist Perspectives on an Ever-Reforming Church’ and I was very excited by the opportunity. I offered some reflections that were followed by very engaging conversation among the members and pastoral staff at Redeemer. I stayed for the second morning worship service and heard an exceedingly engaging sermon by the Senior Pastor, Reverend Katie Hines-Shah. We share Reverend Hines-Shah’s sermon during Women’s History Month to celebrate the ministerial leadership of a woman pastor who lifts her voice, sermonizing upon each of the lectionary readings in an extraordinary way – demonstrating her Lutheran voice, and proudly reforming one at that. 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.”


I heard a story once about a professor on book tour trying to get congregations to understand the true meaning of Revelation – specifically the concept of the New Jerusalem.

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As she went from church to seminary to synod gathering she would ask people to describe the New Jerusalem as depicted in Revelation.  Her audiences would respond with popular images of heaven – pearly gates, clouds, angels and the like.  They would reference Revelation itself – all tears would be wiped away, the gates would never be closed, no temple for Jesus would be in its midst.  After a time she would ask them to describe how their hometown would change with Jesus’ second coming.

Some would describe an end to crime, or a fair justice system, or housing and food for all.  Everyone could think of something until one fateful adult forum in an affluent suburb.

The adult forum was at a suburban church in a good school district where crime levels were low and quality of living was high.  People were polite. Folks seemed to get along just fine.  Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that they were mostly white, mostly wealthy, and mostly voted the same way (or at least didn’t talk about it.)

When the professor asked her question in that forum, she was shocked when someone responded, “Nothing would change.  Our town is perfect.”   Which, of course, isn’t true. 

Not even Eden was perfect.  Not even before the fall.

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In today’s first reading from Genesis we heard the familiar story: that of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.

We skip some verses, but I think you can fill them in with your Sunday School memory.  How Adam and Eve were literally made for each other. How all the plants and animals are at their disposal.  How they are “naked and unashamed.” It doesn’t get better than this.

We fill in more details from popular imagination.  Eden is a second-heaven.  A leafy, green, perfection where it is always summer but never humid.  Where lion and lamb, wolf and kid, and even dogs and cats live in harmony.  Where the peaches and asparagus and strawberries are always at their peak.  As are the apples…

And there’s the rub. 

Because even in this perfect garden, even in this paradise, even in the greatest hometown ever there is a snake…

Did you see that?  In the midst of the garden there is a snake – the very personification of evil.  And what does the snake do?  How does the snake entrap Adam and Eve?  How does evil lay hold and mar paradise?

He lies. 

And these aren’t just any lies. The snake’s lies are beautiful lies.  Lies about knowledge. Lies about power.  Lies about privilege.  As the Devil’s lies always are.  (Just look at our Gospel reading.)  The Devil’s lies suggest that paradise is just within our grasp, but it isn’t the truth.  Not in Eden. 

And not in our hometowns either.

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Don’t be fooled by the beautiful lies.  We would like to believe that here as in Lake Woebegone, “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  Our hometown officials would like us to believe this too – because believing this is good for home values, it’s good for school ratings, it’s good for our community’s reputation.  But there’s this one problem – believing the lie isn’t good for the people.

It’s only a matter of time before we start wondering why our lives don’t measure up to the perfect hometown’s standards.  It might seem like you are the one who can’t keep the weight off.  Or the only one who isn’t getting a promotion.  Or the only one whose kids aren’t going to a good college.  Or the only one who has cancer.  These feelings can be so guilt-inducing that we turn to alcohol or drugs; we fall into depression; we seek relationships outside of our marital bonds.  We are so afraid to look behind the shiny façade of the beautiful lies.

Behind shiny façade there are hard truths.  There are hard questions we might ask about how this lie of perfection is maintained. 

We live with the illusion of the normalcy of a two-parent family.  Do we ever think of the cost? Our town librarian told me that single parents head only 3% of this village’s homes.  This is unusual based on national norms.  But in this hometown he cost of living and social stigma tend to push other kinds of families out.

We live with the illusion of healthy kids in our local schools.  Do we ever wonder how that comes to pass?  I have heard the experience of families here in our area.  I have heard of districts trying to force children with mental illness or depression to drop out, lest they mar the school’s good reputation.

We live with the illusion that we have no major crime in these suburbs.  But is this true? I know stories of arrests and incidents that somehow don’t make the police blotter in the local papers.

We live in communities where most people are mostly white, mostly wealthy, and mostly vote the same way (or at least don’t talk about it.)  Do we wonder why?

Maybe we should.

If anyone can do it, it is Christians.  And if there is any time to do it; it is Lent.

Jesus shows the way.

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If ever anyone was perfect it was he God’s very self come do to live among us. Jesus had every right to claim power and privilege.  In fact we might even think that would have been the best way for God to enter the world.  And yet Jesus does not do this.  Instead Jesus empties himself, he humbles himself, he enters into our particular suffering.

In other words – Jesus does not go to Eden.  Jesus goes to the wilderness.

Maybe we should too.

For all the hardship, there is a clarity in the wilderness.  You don’t have to dig through the foliage to see the snakes.  They are right there; out in the open.  The ancient disciplines of Lent – fasting, almsgiving, prayer – are ways of getting rid of the trappings of paradise and discovering the truth.  We might also try modern disciplines – study, service, listening to those who differ from us. If it makes us feel uncomfortable, we might be getting close to something important.  I am told the tempter’s way is always easy.

Through these acts we discover something true, and maybe even more beautiful than the tempter’s lies.

The truth is God always stands with the marginalized and oppressed. The truth is God meets us not in power and privilege but in weakness.  This is good news for our hometowns.  Beyond the shiny façade, when we get to what’s real, God is there with is.  The truth is God overcomes our fears God enters our struggles bringing us new life, resurrection life, through the power of the cross.

Thanks be to God,

Amen


16427220_10154597911698445_4662945834727006080_nThe Rev. Katie Hines-Shah holds degrees from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota (Classical Languages) and the University of Chicago (Masters of Divinity) where she received the Elsa Marty Entering Ministry Fellowship, and completed her Lutheran studies at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkley, CA. In addition to being the senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hinsdale, IL (since 2011) Rev. Hines-Shah also serves on the boards of HCS Family Services in Hinsdale and the Bishop Anderson House at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and was also recently elected dean of the Near West Conference of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the ELCA.