Identity Crisis – Rev. Mauricio Vieira

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

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


maxresdefault
Colorism in the Latino community – see video here.

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

Allow me to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

science.jpg

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

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

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

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

Whitewashed-Latino-4393.jpg
Latinxs talking about the pain and frustration of being seen as “white.”

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

Now comes the cherry on top.

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

One can’t make this up!

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

lovely.jpg
Me and my family

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

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

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

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

Amen.


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

Advertisements

Coal and Poverty – Robin Lovett, ​M.Div. student LSTC

fontIt is no surprise to mention how growing up in poverty can greatly limit the quality of one’s future life. There are reduced opportunities to pursue education, jobs don’t pay as well, and the many systems and cycles that make life hard for your seem to be insurmountable. What we don’t often talk about, however, is how pollution is also something that disproportionately impacts the poor. This week’s author, Robin Lovett, talks about this in today’s post – at the end inviting everyone to contribute their energies to the cause of renewable foods in the United States. 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.”


Tiny-toes-up-close-with-grown-up-hands.jpg

I spent the last summer as a hospital chaplain during one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. I provided spiritual and emotional care for patients and their families, and I was assigned to my hospital’s two pediatric units. As a chaplain for a pediatric intensive care unit in a non-trauma hospital, I gratefully did not see many of my patients die. I saw young people of all ages with a variety of grave illnesses, from the tiniest, premature babies recovering from open-heart surgery to twenty-something year-olds suffering from childhood cancers. In the three months I interned as a chaplain, I only witnessed the deaths of two children.

Both died of asthma attacks.

The first was a teenage boy named Alexander, but his family called him Xander. He suffered a major asthma attack, which led to cardiac arrest, which led to brain death. He was on my unit for nearly a week before life-sustaining care was ended. In the days leading up to his death, I learned so much about this boy. He was an athlete at a high-performing school in Chicago. He always had friends around him, and he was always making others smile and laugh. His mother proudly told me about how Xander would spend time with the kids no one else wanted to be around – the bullied kids or the new kids. Similarly, Xander would often bring home abandoned animals to take care of them, like baby birds or lost dogs. His heart, the same one that could not withstand his asthma attack, was big.

The second boy was only eight, and his name was Trey. He had special needs and was non-verbal at baseline. Though he didn’t use words, his parents told me Trey nonetheless would always make sure you knew how he felt – and he was generally happy and excited in his young life. He loved Sponge Bob; he loved to play with his sisters, who adored him. Trey was surrounded by love and tenderness and he returned love and tenderness to the world.

Xander and Trey were very different from each other in life, but their deaths have so much in common – both with each other’s and with thousands of Americans every year who die of asthma attacks. Both Trey and Xander were black and both were from the Chicagoland area, a fact which reflects that asthma rates are highly disparate between different ethnic and geographic communities. Namely, poor children are most likely to die from asthma, especially those children who live in monetarily impoverished areas or children of color, wherever they might live.

And while these two children remain foremost in my memory because of their deaths, I had dozens of children on my unit who were hospitalized because of their severe asthma, most of whom were black.

power-plants-e345b37659f6fd47.jpg
A coal-fired power-plant in South Carolina.

The disparate rates of asthma depending on where you live, your class, and your race reflect the reality that asthma is not a tragic happenstance – asthma is a man-made disease. Asthma, which kills more than three-thousand six hundred people every year, is created by our collective lack of regard for the natural environment. It is caused by our willingness to pollute the air we breathe. Xander and Trey didn’t die randomly and we, collectively, could have prevented their deaths.

So when I read the Trump administration’s analysis of its own proposed deregulations on coal-burning power-plants, in the so-called “Affordable Clean Energy rule,” my stomach sank. By their own estimates, these deregulations will cost 1,400 lives annually and result in up to 15,000 new cases of upper-respiratory disease. These numbers do not reflect the additional 48,000 cases of asthma caused by the Affordable Clean Energy rule, nor have I yet mentioned the additional deaths and illnesses which would be caused by other efforts of environmental deregulation by the Trump Administration. This was most assuredly predicted by the Trump Administration: coal plants are some of this nation’s largest emitters of mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide, so the fact that they’re deadly is no surprise. These efforts do not present a goodwill effort at reducing your home’s energy bill by the Trump Administration, but instead show a calculated effort to determine how many lives coal is worth.

 It’s hard to imagine what those numbers mean when you read them from the comfort of your desk; it’s all too easy to imagine what they mean when you’ve met and mourned children like Xander and Trey.

This was not the first time I have encountered deaths resulting from pollution. As a native Tennessean who considers East Tennessee my home, I was already all too familiar with pollution-related deaths. While many Americans might see few connections between rural, (mostly) white Appalachia and urban, racially diverse Chicago, both areas suffer greatly from poor health as a direct result of environmental degradation. Progressive massive fibrosis (better known as “black lung disease”) is known as a coal miners’ disease; COPD, another lung disease, is far more common in Appalachia than anywhere else in the country, and the biggest contributing factor to this is air quality and exposure to coal dust. Finally, lung cancer is most deadly in Appalachia. Air pollution, caused significantly by coal, is literally killing the people of Appalachia.

Another similarity between my home in Appalachia and the black Chicagoan children I cared for?

Poverty.

poverty health.jpg

Though across the US the poverty rate hovers at around 15%, it is 34% among black Chicagoans. In Appalachia, the poverty rate is about 20%, and many of the nation’s poorest counties are situated in these mountains. Nationally, the people living near coal plants have an average income of less than $19,000 a year, and many of them are people of color.

The deaths of black children in Chicagoland may seem like a far cry from the deaths of white coal miners and their families in Appalachia, but they point to the same truth: the true cost of polluting our air is the deaths of the most vulnerable people in our country, whether they be children of color in urban areas or workers in the hollers of the Smokey Mountains.

It’s impossible to say whether Xander and Trey died as a direct result of pollution, and even more difficult to say definitively if these deaths resulted from our use of coal. Climate scientists have been reticent to ascribe climate change or pollution as the cause of any one death. But, we do know that the actions of the Trump Administration will cause more deaths like Xander’s and Trey’s, and that these same deregulations will cause more intense suffering in Appalachia. When we fail to protect our natural environment, we inevitably fail to care for the least of these among us.

The cost of coal – the deaths of both the urban and rural poor – is far too high. We must move away from this deadly and dirty source of energy if we claim to care for the lives of the poor and disenfranchised in our midst. We must begin to care about climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation of any kind. Fighting back against the Trump Administration’s deregulation of the coal industry can be a first step, but it must be the first of many steps towards environmental justice.

fossil

(Written public comments on the “Afford Clean Energy Plan” can be submitted to the EPA until October 31st. Submit one online here.)

_______________

photoRobin Lovett  is an M.Div. student and a Public Church Fellow at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her sermons and writings can be found at robinlovettowen.com

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.”


 

g9510-20_ford-cover

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.

——

Screenshot (13)

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.

—–

7118622.jpg.scaled500.jpg

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.

More Suffering Will Not Save Us: Survivors and the Community of Salvation – Katherine Parent

IMG_4512Last Thursday’s Senate hearings for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford put millions victims of sexual violence on edge – and understandably so. Therefore, in order to process what last week’s trauma and insight, “We Talk. We Listen.” has asked Luther Seminary PhD student, Katherine Parent, to share some of her thoughts on the testimony – which she does keeping a firm eye on not only Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, but also Dr. Anita Hill – the first, and arguably most famous, of women to confront another Supreme Court nominee (this time Clarence Thomas), as well as what last week’s furor says about our nation. Please 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.”


180927104516-10-ford-senate-hearing-0927-large-169.jpg
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford before giving her testimony last Thursday.

It’s been a hell of a week. For the nth time, survivors stand in a global spotlight to witness to a prestigious white male attacker’s acts of sexual assault. Once again millions of survivors relive our pain, powerlessness, fury and grief, in millions of individual and unspeakable ways. The outcome matters; the US supreme court is part of a government that currently holds powers of life and death over billions of people.

But the outcome, for many of us who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence, feels horrifically predictable.  Literally every person who taught me about support for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence has told me that justice almost never happens through our court system.

Every man who ever hurt me did so in a way that would have been virtually impossible to prosecute by our country’s laws and in our culture. They knew it would cost more, socially and financially, than I could afford; they knew how to not leave marks.

One even boasted to the mutual friends who confronted him, “at least I haven’t raped anyone.”

So when I see people name this week’s courageous accuser as a Christ figure, it burns like salt in an open wound.

Christine Blasey Ford is incredibly brave. I believe her and I want her truth to be publicly known, as that is what she has stated she desires to mitigate further harm.  As I watch her most intimate pain ripped open on live feed, subjected to the scorn of trolls and senators, I certainly see Christ crucified.  I’m too young to have watched the Anita Hill hearings, but friends have told me how, like last Thursday, everyone in the country stopped what they were doing to listen. To debate whether they believed her. Hill says at the end of her powerful testimony that it would have been more comfortable for her to remain silent. 25 years later, Ford wrote that she was terrified to come forward, that she hoped against hope that it would not be necessary.

christa
“Christa” – a female depiction of the crucifixion by Edwina Sandys

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus begging for the cup of suffering to pass; knowing that the powers of this world would not allow that mercy.

Like so many other abusive white men I have known, Kavanaugh had people jumping to his defense with Jesus memes. I heard a white man decry the hearing as a “crucifixion” of Kavanaugh. Of course, this doesn’t compute. Jesus wasn’t crucified on his way to being interviewed for one of the top establishment positions in the land. No, he knew he was going to court to lose, to be imprisoned, and literally executed. But this defender clearly saw Kavanaugh as messiah-like in his power to swing the balance of the Supreme Court toward what they felt was godly. They saw him as betrayed by cruel and jealous masses who wanted that power for our own.  My mind jumped back two years to the Christian radio hosts mourning the “harm” done the Trump family by the dozen-plus women accusing him of sexual assault. The editorials by church ladies comparing him to King David, an imperfect man who God would use as an instrument of righteous violence. The moment I acknowledged the intuition, burning in my dreams and bones, that this rapist would be elected.

christine-blasey-ford-anita-hill-senators-1538070873
Above – the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Dr. Ford’s testimony last week / Below – Democrat members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Dr. Hill’s testimony in 1991

I’ve known since I was a little girl that white frat boys were allowed to binge drink and rape women, and that many of the richer and more prestigious of those same men went on to become senators and judges. I was also taught as a white woman that my anger was only holy if turned inward, and downward, at those scapegoats powerful white Christian men deemed best–the projection of their own violence onto black, brown, native, poor, immigrant, female, queer and trans bodies. My dutiful young answer to WWJD was “turn the other cheek” — meaning, forgive the angry white men. I eventually realized that I had been recruited, as a white woman, not only to accept white men’s violent whims but collaborate with them in oppressing others.  I realized that following the rules of rape culture, being an obsessively “modest” and virginal white Christian woman, took a good deal of privilege and self-harm to accomplish and did little to actually protect me from sexual harassment or intimate violence.

That these powerful white men did not themselves turn the other cheek, but rained denial and scorn on their accusers and bullets and bombs on those who dared to fight back. And that in publicly believing and repeating the sources of those rules—white male pastors, politicians, community leaders—I was harming not just myself but the millions of people on whose exploitation our country was founded.

anita-hill.jpg
Dr. Anita Hill before giving her testimony during the confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991.

As a church historian who studies white Christian racism, I’ve been struck by the constant signs in my source material that people knew. European settlers knew we were committing unacceptable violence against native people in our colonial occupation of North America. White people knew that the enslavement and for-profit torture of black people was abominable and wrong. Men knew that rape and control of women’s bodies was harmful. White women knew that white cisgender men – not the black and brown ones people blamed and lynched, not the queer and trans people persecuted – were far more likely to harm us than anyone else.  We had prophets in every generation. And in every era of American history that I have searched, I’ve found accounts by white people who both publicly recognized, but excused, the violence of their status quo.  Incredibly often, they excused it on the grounds that forcing people to accept a purer, superior faith in Jesus was worth any price.

So I hold the bitter knowledge that even if Kavanaugh had lost this particular job because people in our government believed his victims, we would not be saved.

If all it took to dismantle patriarchal white violence in our government was the public truth-telling of one survivor, Anita Hill’s courage would have done it.

Furthermore, black women would have taken the entire system down hundreds of years ago. Indigenous women would have dismantled the foundations of the European colonialism long before the US Supreme Court was created.

As generations of survivors who speak out against oppression and white patriarchal violence have learned—public truth-telling is needed for healing, but it does not cause empires to fall.

Who will save us? 

I know from experience that I cannot trust our court system, our police, our government—or our denominational or seminary structures–to protect me and people I love from sexual and domestic violence. I see Christ’s suffering reflected in Ford, in Hill, in all survivors of sexual violence—both those who choose to speak out and those who want or need to remain silent. But I do not see salvation in those moments. We do not need another sacrificial messiah, one more hurting body presented for scrutiny to a devouring hierarchy that shows its power by using and discarding such bodies.

anita hill brandeis
Dr. Anita Hill today – tenured professor at Brandeis University.

After being believed, the most important thing for many SV survivors is being supported in choosing and leading our own healing process. So I was curious about what Anita Hill had gone on to do after Congress confirmed her harasser Clarence Thomas as a conservative supreme court justice. I learned that Hill is a scholar who continues to teach and speak out against sexual harassment. What I learn from Hill, and from other survivors in my life, is that we can create alternative communities that make the justice and healing we need more likely to happen in the midst of political structures that refuse to change.

In “Making a Way out of No Way,” womanist theologian and survivor Monica Coleman writes a Christology not of an individual messiah but of salvific communities. People in our country—especially indigenous, black and brown people, women and queer and trans people—have already been doing this work for generations.

There are vast numbers of beloved wounded who have already created our own saving communities of harm reduction, restorative justice, mutual support and care.

 It’s never enough, it’s vulnerable, it’s messy and hard work.

But it is already happening, and we do not need to wait.


parentKatherine Parent is a young adult and PhD student in religious history at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. She is a multimedia artist in residence at Redeemer Lutheran church in Minneapolis. She has been a frequent guest artist at local kids camps and protests, and a performer with the Carnival de Resistance and with her folk band the Lacewings. She lives in intentional community and enjoys catching up on all the cartoons she didn’t watch as a kid.

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

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

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


151125191857-laquan-mcdonald-exlarge-169.jpg
Laquan McDonald in a family photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

marshal hatch
Rev. Marshall Hatch, Sr.

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

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

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

Are we talking about Jesus yet?

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

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

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

maxresdefault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe-Natural-Hand-Sanitizer-Picks-for-Kids-e1470720347764.jpg

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

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

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


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

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

IMG_4512For the third post as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Nicole Garcia – candidate for word and sacrament ministry in the Rocky Mountain Synod – shares a painfully poignant reflection on her life as a Latina in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Her family tracing its roots to the southwest in the 16th century – she shares how the rich guidance of her family’s Roman Catholic roots gave her direction, but how this latinidad of her background can often be at odds with the ELCA. Please read and share lovely friends – stories like hers are common in our church, and we must respond.

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


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

hernan-cortes--644x362.jpg
Detail of “The Conquest of America,” by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

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

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

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

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

juan diego
Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego

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

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

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

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

I was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church and was fiercely Roman Catholic in my teens and 20s. In my 20s, however, I learned how my people became Roman Catholic due to colonization and not because of faith. I realized didn’t want to be colonized anymore. I left that denomination in my mid-20s and stayed away from any church until my early 40s when I had an awakening of my faith, but I had no desire to return to the church of my youth. I discovered Lutheranism and fell in love with the theology. I discovered a rogue, excommunicated German priest who read scripture the way I read scripture and I learned I was saved by grace through faith and not through my own merit and works.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

Vigil Elizondo, Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1997).

ELCA Boundaries Workshops Are an Issue… A LatinX-Caribbean American Lutheran Priest’s experience – Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala

Boundaries – arguably one of the most important skills that many of my pastor-to-be-students have to learn. This week’s author – Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala – shares his culturally nuanced take on the matter as our second post celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. A Latinx ordained pastor in the whitest Christian denomination in the United States – the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America – Pastor Ángel writes about how his denomination’s zeal for boundaries trainings are insufficiently nuanced to accommodate cultural and ethnic differences, and that this lack of nuance is yet another barrier for people of color within the denomination – both those who are simply members of its churches, as well as those who feel called to purse word and sacrament ministry. Read, comment, and share.thomas110_1027092

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


Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.  (Colossians 4:5-6, NET)

fancy mosaic elca

On January 1st, 1988 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) came into existence creating the biggest, financially strongest, and most culturally diverse church within the bounds of the Lutheran tradition in North America. For many, it was a dream come true; after decades of conversation about a unified mega church body, the ELCA had become a covenantal enterprise full of promises for the future. The expectations were bold for a predominantly white middle class church: within the first 10 years, 10% of the denomination would be people of color and people with first languages other than English; the ELCA had a commitment to adopt an organizational philosophy providing for the representation of cultural diversity in every decision making body; and proactively work against racism.

Thirty years after envisioning these dreams, they lie shattered at the clay feet of a complex, bureaucratic, and largely culturally insensitive denominational behemoth.

One of the places within the ELCA in which this dynamic becomes more evident is in the practices surrounding professional ethics and boundaries workshops.  After the revelations about cover-up, corruption and sexual abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, many synods decided to enforce boundary trainings for everyone, with the ultimate hope of fostering a safe church culture. Seminaries have follow suit to the point that it is impossible to graduate or be ordained without going through the required educational contact hours of training.

Underlying these public intentions is also the silent recognition that most of these initiatives come out of a place of fear: a way to protect the institution against possible legal liabilities when there is sexual misconduct and the perpetrator is a member of our community. In the context of a church predominantly lead by white people, professional boundary workshops are an incarnation of this dread of financial loss. This becomes problematic due to the centering of white culture within these trainings.

27881292982_340a7c60e8_b.jpg

Since my entrance into the candidacy process for ordination into the Lutheran priesthood, I have participated in 4 boundary trainings: one as a seminarian and three since ordination. Throughout these conversations, many tips and tricks for a safer church were shared: background checks for church employees, orientations for the community, statements/policies against sexual violence, and the use of mental health professionals as communal resources.

Furthermore, it has become a topic of every seminar to discuss physical boundaries: when and how to hug, the no-no squares, eye contact, how to approach social media, personal space, and the ever present principles that parishioners are not friends and that if something feels “icky” it is “icky”.

If after reading the above paragraph you cannot see what is missing or what makes all of this culturally incompetent and incomplete, ¡felicidades! You are likely part of the majority white and Anglo-Saxon culture or have been deeply shaped by it.

As a Puerto Rican Lutheran priest in the ELCA, I experience these boundary trainings as a “how-to-behave-around-white- people-in-order-to-not-get-in-trouble” class, and I struggle with the absence of Latin American sources that can provide the nuance of latinx cultural experience.  

latin@

The first problematic assumption of the ELCA approach to professional boundaries is the belief that there is a universal set of rules that are translatable among cultures. This is not the case: white people, black people, latinxs, Native Americans, Asians, they all have different notions of what is appropriate. Naturally, each sub-category is even less helpful, because they encompass a variety of nationalities with deeper nuances and customs. Take, for example, Latin Americans: a community in which there is no solid unified idealization of the latinx identity outside of the United States. We think of ourselves as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorians, Chileans, Uruguayans, Costa Ricans, Indigenous, etc.

I, for one, was not informed that I belonged to the latinx community until I arrived at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. Yet in spite of the variety of backgrounds, the experience of being a brown, Spanish/Portuguese speaking foreigner in the United States fosters a sense of an imposed super diaspora that shares, at times, an antagonistic view to the ethical boundaries in question.

Perkins MAP Brochure.jpg

Let me get specific. My experience as a mission developer working with latinx people has given me some experience that I find valuable to share with you. Here are the problems I find every year in attempting to reconcile mandatory church boundary policies and the realities of the mission field:

1. Background checks are often a source of fear, because many undocumented latinxs see it as a way of giving personal information to law enforcement agencies that might one day come to deport them.  Why should they so willingly give information to agencies of the state that generally wish them harm? Many are also afraid because, as victims of racial profiling, their pasts can be peppered with arrests and minor criminal records (i.e. pot possession, an arrest after a speed ticket, shoplifting) which they have intentionally tried to leave behind and feel ashamed to share.

2. Orientations about safe-church that are not conducted in Spanish, or with English only resources, are unhelpful, because some latinx individuals cannot speak/read the language. When working among marginalized immigrant communities, one has to always consider that, as a result of economic inequalities, they might not be proficient in the mechanics of reading. Presenters who are unfamiliar with latinx ways of learning (specifically regarding the juxtaposition between paying attention and eye contact, time management, the use of pedagogical storytelling, etc.) are also not helpful.

3. Public statements about sexual violence are usually unavailable in Spanish, nor are they explained in simple terms. Also, its important to know that latinx culture is unapologetically patriarchal, and customs that might seem like harassment for white spectators are not necessarily interpreted the same way in a first-generation, immigrant, Spanish-speaking context. Although this paradigm is changing among second- and third-generation latinxs, it is still quite common for us to speak, even to strangers, using words that might seem to outsiders as inappropriately affectionate or sexually charged.

4. Many latinxs are uninsured, and it is still a taboo in many of our countries to seek out mental health professionals. It is also hard for us to trust strangers solely based on their expertise; relationships are key. Latinxs tend to prefer polite and friendly conversations before sharing a problem.

5. While informality is often a sign of trustworthiness in an Anglo context (i.e. “No need to call me pastor, I am Mike”), deference for older generations, manifested in the use of titles like Señor (Sir) and Señora (Ma’am), is a cherished value within the latinx community.

6. Boundaries around the comfort level of body contact are also different. It is not uncommon for latinxs to hug, kiss, touch and be in close personal proximity, including strangers. Even as a priest, people of all genders and ages come and touch me, hug me, kiss me, or physically pull me aside. When a white person is on the receiving end of these customs, it might seem like a boundary violation for them.

15November36b
A Latinx ELCA congregation in Racine, Wisconsin – Emmaus Lutheran Church -with their then-pastor, Rev. Jhon Freddy Correa.

The ELCA cannot become competent in fostering and welcoming latinxs until it becomes aware of cultural differences and how they play out in local churches. Bishops and the churchwide organization should avoid the sin of laziness; they must learn to approach education outside the bounds of white American perspectives. The percentage of people of color within us is small, but we are here and willing to help. We can do so not as a prop but as integral partners in the conversation.

Everyone deserves respect for their cultural norms. Doing ministry in the ever-growing, multicultural communities of the United States requires that everyone learn about their neighbors’ cultures in order to better assess safe-church needs.  Change cannot happen until people of a variety of cultures are present and substantially represented (that is to say with power to caucus and veto) in every decision making body of the ELCA.

When considering boundary trainings, it would do us good to consider the ways in which boundaries differ amongst the various cultural groups located in our communities.  Approaching boundaries, and having experts from those communities as partners in these conversations, is vital. Perhaps it is time for all of us to dig deeply into cultural competency educational programs as conversation starters towards a more egalitarian beloved community.

Then we can truly begin to speak about a church that one day might be safe for all.

 

 

 

 


17884061_10154507112768225_8871700682864564831_nThe Rev. Ángel David Marrero-Ayala (Padre Ángel) is a young adult, first generation Puerto Rican immigrant and a priest in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Padre Ángel is the mission developer for Santuario Luterano, the progressive latinx church of Waltham, Massachusetts. He also works as coordinator for latinx ministries in the New England Synod. Padre Ángel is the first openly gay latinx ordained after 2009. He has worked as secretary to the ELCA Latino Association and board member of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Padre Ángel lives with his husband Zachary and their spoiled dog-son Pepe Thor.