Recycling Trustworthy Servants – Rev. Steve Jerbi

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

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

recycle bottle

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

And this is problematic AF.

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

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

france.jpg

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

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


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

Advertisements

The Holy Revolution of Coveting My Ancestors – Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb

The Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb – pastor and director of the radical liberationist collective Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee – starts off this last week of Women’s History Month with the history of trans women and how so often their stories are lost under literal mounds of ashes. And as we near the end of Women’s History Month, it is a clarion call that, as much as they have been erased, trans women and femmes have always been among us and will remain. Please read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor


The first time I saw a woman like me was on Jerry Springer. There was no poetry in that and no grace, no poetry but the fumbling drunken poetry of a bar brawl and no grace but that of vinegar upon a sponge. Yet somehow, along with the harsh words of disgust and the sideshow antics, I saw hope.

I wonder what it means to me, to my soul, that my first image of hope was an icon offered up for mockery, shame, and derision. My Christ, my sacrificial lamb, was crucified with a thrown chair and a cheap wig. The crowd was surely chanting “crucify her” even though they only needed one word.

springer.jpg

Years later, just like her, I took up my cross and set my whole and holy self towards bearing the sins of our society knowing there was no hope but that which I wove together from the tattered edges of my faith. Like our early mystics I set my face to the emptiness of the desert and dared to believe there was a life to be found there, a life more closely tied to the divine.

In those early days I believed that there was no path set before me. No ancestors, no legacy, no saints to guide my way.  The narrative of my history, the history of my people, has been buried, burned, stabbed, gutted, and reburied so many times that dredging it from the past is a work of forensics as much as it is archeology.

Often we know more about what killed us than we do about who we were.

Even so, the tidbits that survive swell my heart to the point of bursting. Simple allusions to our existence are enough to set my pulse racing, to sustain me for days.

We are so starved of recognition, not just of our greatness or our accomplishments, but of our mere existence that even the subtlest glimpses of an ancestor reverberate like a thunderclap across the drought stricken plains of our hearts.

When I think of other women, cisgender women, I have a harder time considering them as ancestors. While I can connect with their experience of womanhood, it is with a constant mindfulness that they were often complicit in the erasure of my trans ancestors.

That is not an easy thing to overlook.

chains.png

When we first come into our selves, our womanhood, we often feel as if we are locked away from it by cisgender gatekeepers. We crave the recognition of our cis sisters, begging crumbs like dogs beneath the master’s table. But the more I live in cisiety the more I wish to lock the gate from my own side. To barricade my femininity against the thieving hands of those I once wished to join. My womanhood is a feast of my own making, the culmination of years spent working the soil out here in this desert, watered with the blood sweat and tears of my sisters. My table bears the names of our dead, and it is in their name that I welcome you to communion.

When I invite you in, bow low, for this is deep hospitality.

It is from that place that I want to speak to you. From within that recognition of our erasure and our resilience.

The only solid stories of my people, fully fleshed out and fully human, date back fifty to a hundred years. Not because we haven’t been a part of this culture. Not because we didn’t exist, persist, and resist. But because we have been erased with precision and brutal efficiency.

I remember talking with a friend of mine who is a scholar of ancient texts, and hearing her lament the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the loss of history, the tragedy of knowledge destroyed that we can never regain.

I was moved by her real grief at this loss so far removed from her time.

And in that moment of hearing her frustration I thought about the burning of the Hirschfeld Institute.

hirschfeld

The burning has become famous because of a well publicized photo of Nazis destroying books. It became a symbol for the Fascist desire to censor scholarship. I remember seeing that photo countless times in my childhood as my father watched the History channel and I always wondered what those books were. Oddly they never mentioned it, and almost no one can tell you what those books were, their loss overshadowed by the bigger picture.

But trans folk can tell you what those books were.

The Hirschfield Research Library and Institute for the Science of Sexuality performed the first modern gender confirmation surgeries, and was the first place to research and give affirming counsel to those with trans identities.

Those books were our history, our birthright; they were the first scientific texts dealing with trans people. The burning of those books was the beginning of our small fraction of the holocaust. It was the lives and courage of my people, become ash.

So what does this have to do with anything? What is the purpose of this lamentation, this recitation of misdeeds and loss?

The purpose is that I want you to understand. I want you to understand that this is the lens we bring to scripture. This is why we get so angry with those who accuse us of “reading queer people into ancient texts”.  This is why I parse the Hebrew with a fine toothed comb as I wash the pages with my tears, my hair, and spikenard. Somewhere in those pages are my ancestors, covered by the ash and soot and sneers of centuries.

Though their bodies, their selves, their identities have been stolen, covered up, put away, and destroyed.

I know they are in there.

Because I exist.

Because I refuse to be erased.

Because my people live.

live

Erasure is how we keep people oppressed. Erasure is how we keep people powerless. People need a history and a culture to build power, to believe their selves powerful. It’s the very reason my European ancestors destroyed the cultures they invaded. Why they separated people they enslaved from those who spoke their language.

Erasure is evil and insidious. It always is. But it works.

That is why we must fight against it.

We must grasp our history and wrench it free. Loving our hated ancestors is a revolution, it is the kindling on a fire set to burn the empires. But to love them we must first find them, we must suss them out, even if we must snatch them from the wispy fog of myth and rumor.

So when I talk about my history, about the history of women like me, I’m not looking for solidity. I’m not justifying every claim to those who don’t understand the pervasive nature of erasure. Instead I am loud and proud and firm when I rejoice with Rachel at the birth of her beautiful Non-Binary princess Joseph. I converse with joy in the fullness of intersex Ha-Adam. I revel in the feminine hospitality of the Trans Woman who hosted the Lord for his last supper. And I claim these as my birthright.

These are the Women and Trans Folk stolen from my history.

These are who I celebrate, who I cherish, who I have clawed from between the pages of a book used to justify the same erasure I stand against. So yes these belong to me, they are my people, and you can take them from my cold dead exegesis.


booooooooooooooooobsRev. Alaina K. Cobb is the Pastor and Director of Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center, Co-Chair of the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance, Tri-Chair of the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign, Founder of the Transgender Crisis Ministry Network, an Activist, Poet, Mystic, and Mom. I once ate a man’s hat just to see if he’d notice his head was cold. See darling I told you no one reads these.

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


ocean-pexels-300x200

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.

bible.png

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.

Christ_of_Saint_John_of_the_Cross
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.

cloudy night

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.)


Headshot 2017

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.

 

No Straight Lines in LGBTQ Ministry – Rev. Emmy Kegler

The Mainline Protestant churches of the United States have been a battle ground for the LGBTQAI+ community in recent weeks. Between the decision of the global delegation of the United Methodist Church to actively eject queer rostered leaders and queer affirming churches and the stumbling efforts of the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to create a sexual ethics document for its own rostered leaders (previous iterations of which were written specifically to marginalize queer Lutherans seeking rostered ministry positions in the church) – millions of queer Christians are genuinely asking themselves “Where can I go?” As her contribution for Women’s History Month Rev. Emmy Kegler, a pastor in Minneapolis, has some profoundly useful suggestions for anyone – pastors, lay leaders, even sympathetic friends – who want make their sanctuaries and their lives a refuge during this trying time for the LGBTQ community in the Protestant church in the US. So please read, comment, and share – our queer family is hurting and we need to help them.

Francisco Herrera, M.Div – LSTC PhD student and Interim Blog Editor


defeat
Queer Methodist leaders reacting to the decision of the General Conference to officially target LGBTQAI+ leaders and sympathetic churches.

In this article, I use the word “we” to encompass the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. I do this to describe the reality for the community as a whole, not for each individual within it. I do not, for example, belong to the circle of LGBTQ+ people with religious trauma, but I believe it is my responsibility to carry their stories for and with them.

In ten years pursuing ordained ministry in the ELCA as an openly queer woman, I’ve had many fellow pastors and church leaders ask: How do I make LGBT people feel welcome in my church?

I am tempted to answer: Are you sure you want to?

I don’t doubt your sincerity – I promise. I only doubt your readiness for how complex our spiritual needs can be.

Some of us need to be welcomed as we are.

We want to be welcomed – simple as that. We want our relationships celebrated and our children welcomed. We want to join the women’s ministry and chaperone the youth lock-ins. “All are welcome,” your website states, not realizing how many places we’ve been where “welcome” is meaningless. We’ve known too many places, churches or otherwise, with “welcome” eliding into “welcomeexcept…

At the majority of churches in America — including over ninety percent of ELCA churches, where there is no official statement of welcome — we live in fear of being welcomeexcept. We will need you to tell us what your “welcome” means, so that we may know if we are or not. Become a Reconciling in Christ church. Get a score on Church Clarity. Drop your pin on GayChurch.org.

Many welcoming and affirming churches end here. But our spiritual needs do not.

Some of us need to go beyond the L and G of LGBT.

The ELCA’s sexuality studies have focused on the few clobber verses about same-gender sexual activity. There are no official resources on bisexuality and pansexuality (though there are more bi and pan people than gay and lesbian), or on transgender and non-binary people (though religious arguments against them are entirely different as are the social implications).

We need to go beyond whether you’ll celebrate our marriage. We need to know if you will hear “pansexual” and make jokes about kitchenware. We need to know if someone will tell us to “just pick one already” or mutter “so are you straight now?”.

We need you to not assume that bisexuality means we’re having threesomes or cheating on our spouses.

We need you not to worry if we never fall in love or get married.

We will write our name on our nametag, and we need you to not ask what our “real” name is. We need you to state your pronouns too. We need you to not argue with us about the semantics of “they”. We need you to just say “sorry” when you misgender us, and not go into a three-minute monologue on how hard you’re trying.

We need a gender-neutral bathroom. With a changing table.

blog-banner_MPW_Jan2018-1.jpg

Some of us need to change the church.

We come bearing gifts. We’re going to need you to make room.

We raise an eyebrow when you invite “all sisters and brothers,” because we’ve seen that language exclude intersex, trans, and gender-non-conforming people. We will suggest “siblings in Christ” or “family of God” and when you point out that “beloveds” just doesn’t rhyme with “water” as well as “daughters” does, we are going to rewrite all the verses. We’ve learned a lot about gender and we’re going to ask some questions. Is God male? What about biblical metaphors where God is female, or both, or neither?

We are in amazing, life-changing, heart-transforming, spiritually-nourishing relationships and we expect to see that reflected. We need a church who can join us in our expanding minds and hearts, who will walk with us in experiencing the beauty of a diverse creation.

Some of us need to heal.

We come with scars – a lot of them. We’re coming out of fundamentalism and biblical literalism, where the poetry of scripture was turned into a weapon against our very selves. We’re going to be irritable or hypervigilant or isolated. We’re living with religious trauma.

We wince when you easily toss out words like “purity” and “righteousness.” We aren’t consoled by the proclamation that of the entire forgiveness of all our sins. We’re not trying to make your job harder; we’re just used to the grace you think you’re bearing turned quickly into a cudgel.

We need a tender hand and a lot of room to flail (spiritually or otherwise). We need more than prayer to deliver us from anxiety and sleeplessness; we need you to know what therapists in your area have specialized in LGBT identity and religious trauma and work on a sliding scale. (And if there aren’t any, we need you to know about The Christian Closet.)

Some of us need to act.

Our minority status as LGBTQ+ people has connected us to others in ways we may not have been otherwise. We white suburban girls are suddenly faced with the fact that we get policed very differently than lesbians who happen to be women of color. We who know what it’s like to answer awkward questions about partners and sex with our health care provider are absorbing the testimony of disabled or chronically ill people. We’re dealing with sexual assault and systemic poverty and the school-to-prison pipeline because in connecting with others who are LGBTQ+, we’re witnessing stories unlike our own, but happening to people too much like us to ignore.

We need to get out of the pews and into the streets. We’re going to need you to come with.

hands

Most of us have no idea this is going on.

We don’t show up on the first Sunday we cross your threshold with a sign saying “I’m going to question how you address God” or “I just want to baptize my kid.” When we seek out a welcoming and affirming congregation, we don’t know what we’re actually looking for. We might belong to one or some or all of the above groups, or none, or one that I haven’t included. And while members of LGBTQ+ community can dwell in some or all of these groups at once, there can also be conflict between them. Do we keep the Men’s Bible Study and make sure trans men are invited (meeting the need for welcome), or do we do away with gender-based groups completely?

We’re a mess.

And we need you to know it. We’ve been hurt and we’ve hurt others, and we’ll get hurt again (probably when we least expect it) and we’ll hurt others (maybe, hopefully unintentionally, you), and we’ll change our minds about one thing and grow into something else, and we’ll be beautiful and broken children of God like everyone else but we have come in your door with a lot of needs you may never have seen before.

And we desperately need God. Not because we need to be turned away from our Lifestyles of SinTM but because we are dying of hunger for the sweetness of divine welcome, of being acknowledged as we are when we don’t fit in boxes, to follow the Spirit to the edges of the church and further out, to have our broken hearts bound up and our captive minds released from self-hate, to find in our discipleship the strength to work in a hurting and needy world.

Are you ready?


Headshot 2017

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.

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

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

Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera, Interim Editor


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

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 co-opted the name “American” and told us to speak English and adopt their values. Not paying much attention to the latest conquerors, my people created a culture separate from Mexico and the United States. We created our own food and music. We created our own spiritual beliefs and practices and so we lived in a world within a world.  

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

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

juan diego
Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego

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

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 her daughter’s memorial service. Diane knew the gift would be special because of my devotion to Guadalupe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Do Your Own Good Work – Rev. Enger Allen, United Methodist Church

When they began their General Conference on Sunday, LGBTQ leaders in the United Methodist Church knew they were in for a rough few days. They were right. By a firm margin, the more than 800 delegates – from all over the world – voted to retain language from their Book of Discipline that describes all queer sexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” forbidding LGBTQ Methodists from “be[ing] certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church,” along with adopting official procedures to expel LGBTQ leaders and communities who recognize them. Rev. Enger Allen was originally slated to be our first writer for Women’s History Month, but as she regularly speaks about and models allyship the Holy Spirit called her in a different direction and she does so now.

Please read, comment, share, friends – and pray for our beloved kin in the United Methodist Church.


calledout2.png
United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus – click here

Do your work.

My mother said these three words to me,

As a child around the kitchen table –

After school when homework was sprawled about.

Frustrated, tired, distracted at times.

“Enger, do your own good work.”

 

These are the words I hear now.

Echoing in my mind and spirit.

As I think about what just happened –

An aging denomination in which I pastor

Cannot decide how to love and fully include all.

But, with one vote, made Christ’s Church –

 

A church that loves and includes capitalism.

A church that loves and includes security.

A church that loves and includes power and privilege.

A church that loves and includes safety nets of all kinds.

A church that loves and includes jingoism and nationalism.

A church that loves and includes the status quo.

 

And still I hear my mother’s words.

“Enger, do your own good work.”

I also saw another story this week.

Time’s Up movement CEO resigns.

Amid allegations against her son of sexual harassment.

My brother gave me the heads up with a Facebook message.

 

I sat with all this on my mind and in my spirit this week.

I sat at my dining room table in my favorite chair.

Next to the kitchen window reflecting on –

A dead church as we know it.

A self-professed ally and leader of a movement –

Who had to step down to clean her own house.

 

What do I do now?  How do I pastor?

What do I do now?  How do I love?

What do I do now?  How do I do no harm?

What do I do now?  How do I do good?

What do I do now?  How do I stay in love with God –

The God that is for all, loves all, includes all, and ally-ship personified?

 

DO YOUR OWN GOOD WORK.

DO YOUR OWN GOOD WORK.

 

Those words again!  My mother’s words echo again in my spirit.

And immediately, I am transported back to my parents’ kitchen table.

And all at once I am frustrated again.

And all at once I am distracted again.

And all at once I am tired again –

Mostly because my mother’s words rung in my spirit, in my bed,

 

Waking me up at 4am – DO YOUR OWN GOOD WORK.

prayers-to-remove-evil.jpg

NO!  I do not feel like doing my own good work.

I want to burn it all down like Angela Bassett in the movie

“Waiting to Exhale” – set fire to everything in protest and go.

I want to leave my dead church and start a new one

To prove my ally-ship to all Jesus is on the side of –

The oppressed, the marginalized, the excluded, the hurting.

 

DO YOUR OWN GOOD WORK.

 

NO!  I do not feel like doing my own good work.

I want to remain to destroy systems and institutions

Not made for me, my kind, or anyone else who

Does not pledge allegiance to the ethics of jingoism and nationalism.

I want to remain to destroy every high place and seat of comfort

Claiming love for the oppressed, marginalized, excluded and hurting.

 

DO YOUR OWN GOOD WORK.

 

These words are direct, pointed, and scream in my spirit.

Reminding me of Courteney Martin and Parker Palmer

And their talk on the “Inner Life of Rebellion”

And how this work – doing our own good work –

Speaks of authentic ally-ship louder than the ethic

“Burn, Baby, Burn” ever could.

 

It hurts so awfully bad to do my own good work.

DO YOUR OWN GOOD WORK.

 

Because you realize that you are also complicit

In creating a dead church that values profit over people

That values passing pensions over pulling down strongholds

That values having a form of godliness while denying the Power

That values the values of the Empire rather than the Kin-dom ethic

That values making disciples of Jesus in the image of privilege.

 

It hurts so awfully bad to do my own good work.

DO YOUR OWN GOOD WORK.

 

Because I realize that I am also complicit

In participating in systems of oppression, dominance and power

Where leaders must stop engaging fights

They have devoted their lives to – to tend their own gardens

Clean their own houses because we are all sick.

Power and privilege – like all sin – is in the air we breathe.

 

Mom, how do I be Jesus with skin on now?

How do I pastor?

How do I love?

How do I do no harm?

How do I stay in love with God –

The God that is for all, loves all, includes all, and ally-ship personified?

 

ENGER.

DO.

YOUR.

OWN.

GOOD.

WORK.

many-children-holding-hands-together-in-the-center.jpg

You wanna show the oppressed, the marginalized, and the hurting –

Right where you are that you are on their side?

You wanna show a dead church that Jesus is alive and at work?

You wanna show a world sick from breathing in power and privilege,

Addicted to capitalism, greed, and status with the needle of comfort

In their arms?

 

ENGER.

DO.

YOUR.

OWN.

GOOD.

WORK.

 

You wanna know what it looks like?  Mama will tell you.

It looks like wearing Jesus’ love when you want to burn it all down.

It looks like standing in the gap with and for the oppressed and marginalized,

Speaking the truth to power when the Spirit moves, and being silent.

It looks like calling and messaging those with crushed spirits to check on them.

It looks like (and I so hate to even write this) loving our enemies.

 

NO!  LOVE MY ENEMIES?

ENGER!  Mom, I know.

DO.

YOUR.

OWN.

GOOD.

WORK.

 

You wanna know what it looks like, baby?  Mama will tell you.

It looks like taking care of yourself while you stand.

It looks like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,

Widening tables, flinging open doors, radically relating to all.

Yes. ALL.

It looks like killing your agendas and offering bread to your enemy.

 

I WILL DO MY OWN GOOD WORK.

 

You wanna know what this looks like in me?  I will tell you.

It looks like publicly standing up for and in the gap with

All God’s beloved children who have been harmed

And are being harmed in a dead church that vowed to do no harm.

It looks like risking my own power and status

And using whatever privilege I have to fully embrace and include

 

The hungry.

The dying.

The prisoner.

The naked.

Children at the border.

The abused.

 

LGBTQ+ siblings globally.

 

Victims of human trafficking.

The poor and poor in spirit.

The uneducated.

The nameless.

The voiceless.

Those grieving and mourning.

 

I WILL DO MY OWN GOOD WORK.

 

WILL YOU?

open


WKUcompsRev. Enger Muteteke is a provisional minister of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Greater New Jersey Conference. She has a passion for justice ministries, community-based outreach ministries, critical learning, and critical pedagogy. Enger has served in pastoral ministry in Severna Park, MD and Glen Burnie, MD. Most recently, she served as national program director at Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Washington, DC. Currently, she serves in a cross-racial appointment as Lead Pastor at Grace Union United Methodist Church and Winslow United Methodist Church. Enger holds a B.A. from William and Mary, two Masters’ degrees in Theology from Wesley Theological Seminary, and a Master of Arts in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities from Western Kentucky University. Enger lives in southern NJ with her husband, 4 daughters, and their dog, Belle. In her spare time, Enger loves exercising, cooking, writing, reading, and drinking great cups of coffee with good sister-girlfriends.

Black Butterflies Spreading Wings: A Sermon in the midst of African Descent History Month, About the Struggle and Where Jesus Stands – Rev. Kwame Pitts

Rev. Kwame Pitts is more than a pastor and a thinker and a fighter, she is also a poet. This week’s reflection for We Talk. We Listen. – a sermon she preached during Monday morning chapel services at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago – is her at her finest. Screams of pain from the oppressed may catch attention, but screams that transform into wails and then into songs are even more powerful and power is what Pastor Kwame shares with us this week –  a poetic riff on what it means to be black in America these days, and how Jesus never tells us to sit on the sidelines.

Read, comment, and share.


thumb.jpg

Clearly,

Jesus is telling us

In this Gospel

Whose Side,

He

Is

On.

(pause)

Last summer,

I was invited to be a part of a caravan,

That was engaging all people,

To see

What they were fighting for

Because sometimes,

We as followers of Christ

Can be well meaning when we pray,

Think that we are well informed

When we sign up to be a part of a movement

But,

Until we see

The disparity

With our eyes,

Our chanting

And protesting

Will mean,

Nothing.

(pause)

Even when,

Because of our culture

Heritage

Ancestry

That collectively we represent,

The ongoing survivors

Of oppression

Marginalization

Subjugation,

When an escape route suddenly manifests before us

A breather from the harshness of life,

As we run,

Sometimes instead of regrouping,

Plotting

Planning

To overturn inequity

We hide.

(pause)

Hiding behind the crumbs of privilege assigned to us,

The status of class begrudgingly afforded to us

And,

The appearance of acceptance,

By the dominant culture

By our oppressors

Painted on masks that we are required to wear,

As an entrance fee,

To get beyond and inside that wall of comfort

And complicity

All the while, still struggling

Ignoring

The torment about where we should be rooted

And who we should be uplifting,

And fighting

For.

(pause)

It’s clear the line that is drawn here,

In Jesus’s time

And in ours.

As one womanist theologian and Catholic nun,

Sr Jamie T. Phelps proclaims:

“Human beings

Are valued

Or

Devalued

Not on the basis

Of their identity

As children of the Creator,

But based on what

Humanity has deemed to be priority-

National identity,

Race

Gender

Class.”

(pause)

Therefore, that means

Those from Western culture are deemed to be more civilized

Than those from developing nations.

Persons of European descent

Their lives,

Are more valued

Than those

Of any other culture.

And therefore

Access to education,

Employment

Sustainability

Is only based

On how society,

Has categorized

You.

(pause)

pin
Art by Ken Davies

 

And,

for Peoples of the African Diaspora

this means constant questioning

about their value

and worth

especially,

in an U.S context

feeling ashamed

about who they are

and opting

to assimilate

for their own self preservation.

(pause)

So,

They become confused

About how other skinfolk continually suffer

From hunger

Homelessness

Poverty

Depression

Mental anguish

Despair.

(pause)

They equate this sometimes,

With not having enough faith-

That they are in these situations,

Because they didn’t accept Jesus

And this sort of distortion of the Word,

Has unfortunately

Permeated many aspects

Of our spiritual journey

(pause)

It is this type of thinking

that stymies us

from getting involved

from doing work beyond our walls.

(pause)

It is this understanding

That we are in another phase

Of the Civil Rights movement

That brought us

On that caravan.

Last July,

(pause)

Witnessing many places

Where suffering is not contained

In a 1 minute clip on social media

But is a part of the human experience

Unending,

Unyielding

Unrelenting

With pain.

(pause)

PPC_Logo
Link to the campaign…

The Poor People’s campaign,

As they are working towards

Economic

And

Sustainable

Liberation,

Took busloads of us,

Whether we were immersed in the movement

Or whether we were moved to join,

Because this was a continuation of Dr. King’s work

Around various parts of Chicago-

Places that sometimes,

We just drive by.

(pause)

Did you know,

That on a block in Englewood,

There is an empty lot,

Filled with crosses

These crosses that have been hand carved

And painted

With the names of those victims

Of violence

Of police brutality

Young and elderly

Bodies of Color.

The neighborhood is reminded,

Of their sisters, brothers,

Mothers, siblings,

Fathers,

Children

Whose lives have run through their hands,

As fleeting as rainwater.

(pause)

But until I saw that-

I didn’t even realize

That this monument

Even

Existed.

(pause)

Dr. William Barber,

Who has taken on the mantle

Of Dr. King’s Poor People Campaign,

Got out of the car which was carrying him,

Walked up to this memorial

And stood,

And prayed

And then joined us on the bus,

To give us a WORD.

(pause)

And even though I was listening,

Thankful to be in his presence,

That image

Of the only representation of these lives, gone

Remained with me.

How can someone not be moved,

To do

Something

For people they may never, ever meet

But because of who they are,

How the Creator has connected them,

Through language,

Through history

Through identity-

We are clearly called to announce,

Proclaim

Whose side

We

Are

On?

(pause)

jesus-ethiopian-orthodox-art

This is where

We find Jesus

Healing,

Comforting

Empowering

With both His actions

And

His Words.

(pause)

Jesus proclaims,

Where He stands

Where the Creator

Where God STANDS

With those that society decides,

More importantly,

What the Empire has ruled,

Both then

And

Now

Are not important

Because their bodies

Their existence

Is

A

Waste.

(pause)

And these are not just powerful WORDS

This is a statement

Because being this public with defying the social norms laid down

By an Empire

Disrupting the social order so carefully crafted

Seen as belligerent

Or rebelling

Could get one tortured

Banned

Ostracized

Targeted

Or even

Murdered.

(pause)

Jesus was telling those gathered

Regardless whether they were poor

Hungry

Depressed

Ignored

THAT INDEED

GOD STANDS WITH THE OPPRESSED

That their lives MEANT SOMETHING

AND THAT STATEMENT

Was EMPOWERMENT!

(pause)

When we as clergy,

And faith leaders

Show up in many spaces

Combating poverty

Inequality in education

Sustainable living

Access to economics

Employment

Clean WATER

AND WE TELL PEOPLE

YES,

YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN

And

When we put our own lives,

Reputations

Regardless of what our denomination thinks

Or what those in power think

On the line,

Through our singing

Through our demanding

Through our votes

Through our actions

WE ARE CLEARLY SAYING

BLESSED ARE YOU,

Because we ain’t about to let you remain in poverty

What we gonna do,

Is give of ourselves

Our resources

Use our place in this society

To kick down doors

To make room

HERE AND NOW

So that YOU, BELOVED

Can be seen

And

Heard.

That those who have been forgotten

Are empowered

To transform not only their lives

But also

That we see the Gospel in motion

In their hands.

(pause)

The executive director of SOUL

Tanya Watkins

Was in my office recently,

And saw this sticker that said

“Sin Boldly”

What does that mean,

She asked?

(pause)

black and white luther

Well, as Lutherans we spout this nonsense

But we refuse to do anything

About actually turning tables upside down,

Of actually doing anything-

Or as Paolo Fierre stated

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict

between the powerful

and the powerless

means to side with the powerful,

not to be neutral.”

(pause)

Whose side are we on?

Christianity,

In an U.S. context

Has yet to make up its mind,

About whose side

Is it on?

(pause)

But because of Jesus’s presence

And His commandment

And His Love

I have no problems turning over all the tables

I have no problem echoing His words here

In the face of systemic racism

That I have found both in the institutional Church

In this denomination

In this city government

In higher educational structures

Anywhere,

Where they are trying to eradicate people

Simply because of who they are

Who they love

How they connect with the Creator

And who they are fighting for

Woe to you,

Who hoard money

Because you are going to lose it all

Because we are going to disrupt the norms

Woe to you,

Who price out neighborhoods

With high end grocery stories

Because we are about to turn that upside down

With our voice and with our vote

Woe to you,

Who find our situations hilarious

And comical

And dismiss our existence

Because,

One of these days

You won’t be able to ignore us at all

We will be right there

And we will be asking

Whose side

Are you

Willing

To

Be

On?

(pause)

Thanks Be to God.

 


kwameThe Rev. Kwame Pitts understands her role in the scheme of things as a weaving of both academics, theology and the practical. Currently she serves as Associate Pastor for Campus Ministry at Augustana Lutheran Church, Hyde Park, where she is redefining Campus Ministry as a resource for public theology and an example of Public Church. Graduating from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 2015 with her M.Div, she is continuing her academic and theological journey as a student in the Master of Theological Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary, where her focus is embedded in both Womanist Theology and Ritual Studies, posed to finish her STM thesis this Spring; concurrently, she is also pursuing an Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry degree from Catholic Theological Union focusing on Interreligious Dialogue and Interfaith Engagement as a Womanist Theologian, studies she plans to complete in 2021.  A native Chicagoan, Rev. Pitts has been outspoken, vocal and involved in social justice movements concentrating on food/hunger issues which has culminated into founding a non-profit called The Betty Pitts Project, a hunger initiative targeting areas which are struggling with access to health, fresh produce and striving to revolutionize the local economic and educational environment with regards to people of color. She is also a Clergy board member of SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation)  and was a co-founder of Seminarians for Justice during her seminary journey at LSTC.