Black Poets and their Power

thomasAs we begin Black History Month 2019, I cannot think of a more fitting time for me to take respite, flying out on the wings of Black Poets.  We haven’t featured much in the way of poetry here, at We Talk. We Listen. so we decided to do so this week. Not much needs to be said, except that we are featuring works by three of the great poets of 20th century Black America – Langston Hughes’ terrifyingly relevant “Let America be America Again,” followed by two works of Black resistance –“If We Must Die,” and“America”– written in the 1910’s  by the truly scintillating Claude McKaythen we conclude with two of Maya Angelou’s many reflections on the power of black women,“Woman Work”and “Mothering Blackness.”Fields of soil produce the best fruit when they lay fallow for a season. So, I say “adieu” for a season-turning to blog manager, Francisco Herrera as interim editor. He’s brilliant and will continue the exciting trajectory in which We Talk. We Listen.is heading toward.

With every blessing, 

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

 

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Langston Hughes (1902-1965)

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
The free?
Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
If We Must Die
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

America
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
Woman Work
I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.

Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
‘Til I can rest again.

Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.

Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You’re all that I can call my own.


The Mothering Blackness
She came home running
       back to the mothering blackness
       deep in the smothering blackness
white tears icicle gold plains of her face
       She came home running
She came down creeping
       here to the black arms waiting
       now to the warm heart waiting
rime of alien dreams befrosts her rich brown face
       She came down creeping
She came home blameless
       black yet as Hagar’s daughter
       tall as was Sheba’s daughter
threats of northern winds die on the desert’s face
       She came home blameless
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Increased Devotion: Reflections on Race and Religion from the Place of Gettysburg – Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel

black and white dr thomasAs we prepare for Black History Month Rev. Dr. Leonard M. HummelProfessor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology at United Lutheran Seminary  delves into some of the complicated history of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – both events that lead up to and during the famous Civil War battle in the city. Read, comment and share!

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


A Gettysburg Address was not delivered by President Barack Obama on Nov. 19th 2013.  President Obama had been scheduled to speak at the hallowed ground of the Gettysburg National Cemetery for the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s own address there—but his widely anticipated appearance was cancelled suddenly for reasons that never have been made public.

Much of the public responded—and with various emotions that mostly clustered around disappointment and sadness. 

But a few expressed anger and even disdain—especially conservative presses who proceeded to excoriate the President.  These groups ushered forth complaints derived from those they had promulgated throughout his presidency.  They said: The President was not a leader but a divider—and here evidenced his divisiveness by declining this special event to reflect on reconciliation between the North and South following the Civil War.  He was at best a fool—and was likely worse—for having passed over this opportunity to speak of supposed progress in race relations since that war.

I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on the enduring significance of the place of Gettysburg for race matters and freedom in the United States.  As Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care at Gettysburg Seminary (now, along with Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary, reformed as United Theological Seminary) in some ways this contribution to the blog at LSTC is a reflection on what has been in the place of Gettysburg and a suggestion for what might come to be there.

So, what is the place of Gettysburg?  Some have asserted that it is “The most American place in America” and “The most beautiful place in the world.”

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The Wikipedia site for the borough details much about this county seat in south-central Pennsylvania.

With its many particulars about things local, the link may unintendedly belie its significance for matters beyond the locale.

For, upon reflection, some have discerned many things that are transcendent to be abiding within the bounds of Gettysburg, 17325.  In her 2004 Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the poet Laureate, Helen Vendler, described how both the particular and the universal—both the finite and the infinite—somehow blend within the borough of Gettysburg.

A vacant stretch of grass becomes humanly important when one reads the sign “Gettysburg.” Over the grass hangs an extended canopy of meaning—struggle, corpses, tears, glory—shadowed by a canopy of American words and works, from the Gettysburg Address to the Shaw Memorial.

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The impetus for Vendler’s musings—the battle of Gettysburg, July 1 to July 3, 1863—is arguably the turning point of the American Civil War and is unarguably the most iconic event of that war and its many meanings.  In particular, Gettysburg has long both hidden and revealed racism in America—as well as being a well-spring of hope for unfinished work for freedom.

In the decade prior to the Civil War, a lively and, within white imposed limits, thriving African-American community comprised a sizeable segment of the borough’s roughly 2,500 residents who, along with a portion of the white populace, maintained a station on the underground railroad.  Gettysburg, then, was a first stop on the road to freedom—but, as a starting place—also was a holding-place of fear.  Whether they were resting or residing only ten miles north of the slave state of Maryland, Gettysburg blacks—whether transient or tenant—were beset by enslaving kidnappers who sometimes succeeded in carrying them back to old places of bondage.

However, on various occasions, blacks successfully resisted enslavers.  Most notably Mag Palm, herself a conductor of the railroad, fought off several . . . and some years afterwards posed for a photograph with her hands crossed just as they had been bound by her would-be enslavers.

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The devotion of others at Gettysburg for a new birth of freedom foreshadowed the central role that race, slavery and freedom would come to play at that place during and after the war.  Among such labors were those of the radical abolitionist, Thaddeus Stevens, (portrayed with a close likeness by Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln) who practiced law there and, after several terms on the town council, served as the borough president—long before his leadership in the years immediately before War, during the conflict and through the travails of Reconstruction.

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Thaddeus Stevens – Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens in the film Lincoln

Resistance to bondage and hopes for freedom pervade the early history of the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg.  Its founding president, Samuel Simon Schmucker, stood out within Gettysburg and among Lutherans elsewhere for his anti-slavery advocacy.  A clear summary may be found in Mark Oldenburg’s essay, “Scripture and More: Schmucker’s Persuasive Authorities in his Attack on Slavery.”

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He worked to show that the whole tenor of Scripture militated against the contemporary institution, forcing slaveholders to deny inalienable, God-given rights and preventing slaves from carrying out inalienable, God-given responsibilities. [1]

It is important to note the Pietist tone of portion of the text emphasized above: Schmucker lamented that enslaved blacks did not enjoy the proper bondage that whites had been permitted—that is, servitude to their God-given duties that ensued from their God-given talents.  Only as free persons could African-Americans fulfill their real responsibilities to all their neighbors—both black and white.

President Schmucker was also a mentor to someone who would become an educational president and church leader—Daniel Alexander Payne. 

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Daniel Alexander Payne

Although he spent only seven active years within the Lutheran Church and only two years on the campus of the seminary, Payne’s seminary experience was not only an experience in theological education but also an experience with the freedom to think, interpret and live. Payne stated it clearly with these words: “…see the Almighty Hand in the small and ordinary affairs of men. From that worm sprung up an acquaintance with that great naturalist who gave me those letters of introduction to the Lutheran clergy, who placed me in the theological seminary at Gettysburg, which prepared me for the enlarged usefulness of more than fifty-three years…”[2]

This above-mentioned “usefulness” included Payne’s becoming one of the most recognized leaders in education for African-Americans both after the war and for all time.

A clear summary of Payne’s life—and the meaning of that life for many matters including the African-American Church and anti-slavery work—may be found in Dr. Nelson Strobert’s work, Daniel Alexander Payne: The Venerable Preceptor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  And, in another work, Strobert provides this summary that reveals the influence of that place for matters beyond Gettysburg:

Before the war came, then, Gettysburg had primed to respond to issues of race/racism; slavery/freedom; suffering/consolation for suffering.

“And [in 1861] the War came” as Lincoln’s observed in his 1865 Second Inaugural Address.  And, along with these words, came his assertion (sadly belated, but by then, clearly fixed) of slavery as the cause of this carnage.

“And the War came” . . . to Gettysburg.  For, on the morning of July 1, 1863, pious Lutherans at the seminary awoke to watch the majestic rolling hills to the west magically transformed into a tsunami:

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into a rolling wave of troops rushing toward their holy ground:

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Main seminary building (Old Dorm) in the center-left of the background

This tide of fighting men pressed closer to those defending the seminary grounds:

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Old seminary dorm in the center-right of the background

And closer:

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Until this wave crashed over the seminary leaving behind a debris of wounded outside its main building:

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Who later were cared for inside of it—both during the battle and long after it ended on July 3rd:

 

 

 

Some from the seminary stayed to care for the wounded.  President Schmucker fled.  Schmucker did so because he had learned from a former student that his anti-slavery reputation was such that Confederate soldiers marching north had spoken of their intention to arrest him.

These soldiers did not capture Schmucker but they deliberately destroyed iron works west of town owned by Thaddeus Stevens—because they knew that this business belonged to that abolitionist.

Before the battle, most of the towns black residents fled (though, some hid in cellars and belfries) because the word had spread that, whether escaped slaves or freeborn, they were being seized by Confederates and sent south enslaved.  As Mag Palm had resisted before the war, so did some during this battle.  Unlike Palm, some did so unsuccessfully.  During the battle, a Vermont soldier reported seeing west of Gettysburg one recalcitrant black ” ‘grinding his teeth & foaming at the mouth’ ” after he had been stabbed and castrated by Confederate soldiers.[3]  As one Mount Holyoke Professor has clearly noted, “This horrific image summarizes the horrors of slavery and forecasts the rise of lynching in the postwar period. The carnage of Gettysburg looks backward and forward at the nightmare of American racism as a whole.” https://www.mtholyoke.edu/media/elizabeth-young-chicago-tribune-reviews-book

And the very climax of the battle on July 3rd—known as the Pickett-Pettigrew charge—reveals many ironies and enduring injustices in African-American history.  The acreage of this high-water mark of the final Confederate advance—which, if successful, may have ensured the endurance of slavery in North America—was owned by a free black, Abraham Brian, who had fled his property before the battle to avoid being enslaved.

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Thus, this may be said: the outcome of the Civil War itself hinged on/turned around the house and barn of a black man.  While Brian’s final freedom was aided by these events on his land during the war, he did not receive just recompense for his damaged property from the United States after the war.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves . . . to the enduring significance of the place of Gettysburg for matters of race, racism, religion and freedom following the war.  In the next installment of “Increased Devotion,” we shall hear more: of the depletion of the Gettysburg’s post-bellum African-American community and of its endurance despite continuous assaults; of the denial after the war of burial to black Union troops in the Gettysburg National Cemetery (where Lincoln gave his address and later Obama was invited to do so); of their interment instead in a segregated cemetery in the town; of the continuous haunting of Gettysburg by the Ku Klux Klan following the war and up to our time; of the clad-in-white Klan’s self-understanding of their garb to represent the original ghosts of Gettysburg—that is, to stand-in for slain Confederate soldiers returning for revenge; of the determination of African-Americans everywhere after the war to pilgrimage to this place where some white residents did not warmly welcome them—but, for the most part, did appreciate the money they spent there.

Of theological education about war/peace; church/state; suffering/consolation for suffering; slavery/freedom; race/racism—in one of the most public of seminary settings.

Of assassins who, in 1869, may have threatened Frederick Douglass in Gettysburg when he did not stay away from his scheduled presentation.

And more about an African-American President who did stay away from his.


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Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology at United Lutheran Seminary (Gettysburg/Philadelphia) and currently serves as an Interim Pastor in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the E.L.C.A.  In 2017-2018, he was the Visiting Professor of Religion at Augustana University and the Visiting Scholar at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  At Gettysburg Seminary, he was Co-Project Leader of the Templeton Foundation funded AAAS grant, “Science for Seminaries.”  His co-authored book, Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer was published by Wipf & Stock in 2017.  He is a co-editor of Gettysburg:the Quest for Meaning, (Seminary Ridge Press, 2015) and was the Faculty Liason to the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum.  A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he has lectured in South Africa and widely elsewhere on race and religion in the American Civil War.  Hummel is a graduate of Haverford College (A.B.), Yale Divinity School (M. Div., S.T.M.), and Boston University (Ph. D. in Religious and Theological Studies).


[1] Mark Oldenburg, “Samuel Simon Schmucker: Slavery, Scripture and More” in Gettysburg: The Quest for Meaning, edited by Gerald Christianson, Barbara Franco and Leonard Hummel (Gettysburg: Seminary Ridge Press, 2015), 106.

[2] Nelson T. Strobert, “Daniel Alexander Payne on Education and Freedom” in Gettysburg: The Quest for Meaning, edited by Gerald Christianson, Barbara Franco and Leonard Hummel (Gettysburg: SeAndminary Ridge Press, 2015), 120.

[3] Margaret S. Creighton, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle (New York: Basic Books, 2004) 132.

 

The Power of King and Comunity – Dr. Marvin E. Wickware

IMG_4512Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is upon us, and with it communities across the United States will be discussing the legacy of this – arguably the prophetic voice of the 20th century United States. My new colleague, and Assistant Professor of Church and Society and Ethics, Dr. Marvin E. Wickware has some rather insightful commentary as we get ready for Black History Month. Instead of simply looking upon, Dr. King’s legacy via his specific words and deeds, Prof. Wickware encourages the reader instead to keen in more on the life and times and peoples that comprised his prophetic formation, and then let those conditions influence us as much as does the legacy of the great man. Read, comment, and share!

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


“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968

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to see a video of the full speech, click here

The night before Martin King was executed by one of white supremacy’s more blunt instruments—the lone white male shooter—he gave the speech that ends with the above lines. From time to time, I listen to King’s proclamation, to the sound of his voice on the eve of his death, and it gives me chills. It makes my heart race. When I’m peaceful enough, it makes me weep.

There was power in King’s commitment, and particularly in his ability to communicate that commitment to others, drawing them into his quest for the Promised Land. That power—passed down to King from ancestors who fought for freedom and loved one another through the struggle—has reverberated through the generations. Even today, King’s mere name has the power to inspire, to justify action and inaction alike.

This power—the power we witness in King’s voice, in his life, and in how he faced his death—is morally ambivalent, as is all power. It can be used for good or for evil.

In this short reflection on a prophet’s power, I want to point out two mistakes US Americans often make as we consider that power (whether in late January or whenever King’s name is invoked), and suggest a better way we might remember King.

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First mistake: using King’s power to assert our innocence.

We live in a time in which it could not be clearer that white supremacy is in the very bones of this nation, not only as the guiding principle of its many historical horrors, but also as an enduring corrosive poison in our body politic. But when we consider King, too often our instinct is to distance ourselves from responsibility for the reality of white supremacy. Whether we proclaim that we’re on the right side and point to our fidelity to King’s memory as proof, or cite King’s work in order to obscure contemporary racial injustice, it is a simple matter for us to use King’s power to assert our innocence.

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Second mistake: separating King’s power from the power of his community.

Perhaps we recognize that King’s prophetic power stands in judgment over our society, rather than acting as if King was simply perfecting a society founded by slaveowners and the destroyers of indigenous civilizations. Perhaps we are aware of our participation in white supremacist systems of violence and exploitation. Perhaps we have moved past the desire for innocence, and instead seek justice.

In looking to Martin King for guidance in that search for justice, there is a temptation to see him as a great leader whose work was to accomplish the deliverance of his people through his personal charisma and willpower. And, making that mistake in looking at the past, we might look to today’s prominent leaders—figures like William Barber—to take on the mantle of deliverer, or despair at the failure of such leaders to unite the nation in a single movement.

In reality, though, whatever power King displayed as a leader was dependent on the strength of the communities he led. Everyday acts of care and connection sustained the movement across the country. And as in the churches upon which the movement relied for much of its strength, the work of women was largely responsible for the power that has been too closely identified with a prominent man: in this case, Martin King.

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Black History Month 2019

As we move past King’s birthday toward February, I have a brief proposal. If Black History Month is something that matters to you—better yet, if you consistently seek to draw on the power that has been revealed in black history—learn from these two mistakes.

If you recognize within yourself or your community the tendency to cling to innocence, look to black history in search of judgment. For the white folks who are reading this, I’m not suggesting that you should wallow in white guilt. Rather, I’m suggesting that black history can offer something other than a defense of the status quo or a cathartic indulgence in guilt. Learn from the black history in your community. Look at the ways in which white supremacy has structured your life, your church, your school, your town or city. Look at how white supremacy has been defied or denied.

If you, instead, you or your community have overlooking the role of community in black history, turn to it in search of wisdom. Don’t settle for running through the major black figures, tossing in a couple women for good measure, maybe even looking for someone a little obscure. Instead, study one of the local communities that empowered and sustained the movement. Learn from their practices of care and connection. Ask what is needed in your life, your church, your school, your town or city.

There’s no doubt that Martin King was a prophet who tapped into—and passed on—great power. It’s up to us to show wisdom in drawing on that power today.

 


wickware picMarvin E. Wickware Jr. joined the LSTC faculty in July 2018. Wickware describes his research and writing as a way for him to work out the problems he has encountered while teaching and living in community with others. His experiences as a black man working in the predominantly white institutions of Duke Divinity School and a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation led to his dissertation topic of racial reconciliation in U.S. churches. He demonstrates that black and white U.S. Christians are enemies and explores the possibilities of love in light of that reality. His research draws on feminist theory and black studies and in his teaching he works to connect an understanding of theoretical and theological perspectives to the church’s engagement with pressing political and social issues.

Wickware is a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and his involvement in church leadership and community organizing in Durham, N.C., enriched his teaching and research.

Standing with Standing Rock Takes All of Us – Rev. Dr. Gordon Straw

ThomasLindaThe news of Rev. Gordon Straw’s illness and abrupt passing has utterly devastated not only my home institution, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, but much of it’s parent denomination as well – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A member of the Brothertown Indian Nation, Gordon had long been a leader and advocate for some of the most neglected yet vibrant voices in the church – those among the Native community and lay leaders. In honor of his passing, We Talk. We Listen. has reposted a reflection he wrote for our blog at the height of the conflict at Standing Rock. Centering around Dakota concept of metakuye oyasin, Straw speaks of how its insights go far beyond Standing Rock. These words are a classic expression of this wonderful man in all of his aspects – professor, husband and father, mentor, friend, and fellow worker in the vineyard – and we are proud to share them again in tribute.

You are missed, Gordon – and we’ll be keeping an eye on your loved ones.

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


Just say the name, “Standing Rock,” in a crowd and see what happens.

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There are not many people in this country, perhaps the world, who haven’t heard that name and has already painted a picture in their minds of what that name signifies. But, do we really know what “Standing Rock” is? My guess is that each person you ask will have a different answer to the question. The most obvious difference in answers are found in opposing parties: the water protectors, the oil protectors, the Standing Rock Nation, Energy Transfer Partners and all the financial investors in the project, etc. These differences seem insurmountable and most likely they are. These differences are buttressed by decades (even centuries) of distrust, anger, hatred, and completely disparate worldviews. But, if there is to be any hope for a nonviolent resolution that most people can accept, these differences can’t be insurmountable. These are not the only differences of opinion or strategy about this phenomenon called “Standing Rock.”

There are differences of vision within the larger, binary parties of “for” and “against” the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL), too.

Within the “pro-DAPL” party, there are different views: those who are directly connected to the project and looking to profit from it; tribes who are “pro-oil”, but are appalled at the violent, disproportionate use of violent force against another sovereign native nation; much of the federal government who seem to be in favor of the pipeline, but want the route altered to honor the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Nation; law enforcement officers or entities who disagree over the use of force and what appears to be a “bending of the rules” regarding basic human and civil rights; church members who are divided over whether the biblical principles of justice and the preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged (not just Natives) take precedence over the economic context in western North Dakota, which is heavily dependent upon the oil industry.

Within the “anti-DAPL” party, there are different views: the Standing Rock Nation, whose lands and access to clean water are directly impacted by the pipe line; the environmental groups who want the whole project ended, at all costs; there are groups of activists who are focused more on the actual conflict and not on the issues of the conflict, and any number of “well-meaning” people who just want to help the Indians and don’t understand why Chairman David Archambault III is asking them to go home, not understanding the basic premises of tribal sovereignty. Now, I will admit immediately that listing out these differing positions is not comprehensive, are broad generalizations, and are probably not all that helpful at getting at the nuances of this phenomenon we call “Standing Rock.”

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Ditches dug for the pipeline.

But, here’s the thing: if we can’t ALL stand with the Standing Rock Nation in some way, this will not end well for most, perhaps all.

What “standing with Standing Rock” means specifically is that we stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Nation by honoring their inherent right to govern themselves and to take hold of their own destiny. So, when Chairman Archambault asks people in the camps to go home for the winter, we stand with Standing Rock by going home without second guessing the wisdom of that decision. It is not ours to make. When the Standing Rock Nation insists that the federal government and corporate interests honor the boundaries of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty as sovereign territory of the Sioux Nation, we stand with them. It also means, specifically, that we stand with the Standing Rock Nation and all other nations in declaring that Water is Life. No amount of tainting the earth’s fresh water supply with oil or chemicals is acceptable. Our nation’s dependence upon fossil fuels (that’s each and every one of us, folks) is threatening our Mother, the Earth, especially the waterways which bring life.

There is an important concept in the Dakota language and culture, metakuye oyasin (meh-TAH-kway oh-AH-see). The common English translation is “all my relatives” or “all my relations.” This phrase is used at the end of prayers, much like our use of the word, “amen.” The concept is a recognition that every aspect of existence is connected to every other aspect of existence, because all things have a single origin, the Creator. It’s not merely an acknowledgment that everything has an existence. It is a declaration that I am connected to everything that exists. I cannot do anything that does not affect ALL my relatives. I cannot pretend that I am not connected to the people, things or forces that I do not want to recognize or even that I hate. We are all related, period. Similar to Martin Luther’s notion of “neighbor,” this extends to all of Creation, not just those closest to us. For the Dakota, it doesn’t even end at the distinction between conscious/not conscious. I am related to all humans, all the members of: the winged nation, the plant nation, the buffalo nation, etc., etc. I am related to the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon, the seven sacred directions, and the forces that move the planets and stars.

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All Saints – Wassily Kandinsky (1911)

It literally takes ALL of us, creatures of the Great Mystery, to stand with the Standing Rock Nation, to stand with the people of Aleppo, with the unemployed and the uninsured, the disabled and the disaffected- with ALL my relatives. This is the intention of the Creator, that we stand with each other for the benefit of each other. There is no other reality, but this earthly reality. Even if you could build a spaceship, as some Westerners seem to think will make a difference, it would be the same reality. Metakuye oyasin is a recognition that I am one part of the great Web of life that rests in the Creator.

A while back, at a theological conference that brought Lutherans from the Western hemisphere together, I shared the podium with one of my relatives and mentor in things spiritual. Albert White Hat, Sr. was a greatly respected Lakota spiritual elder of the Lakota people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. He was a professor of Lakota language at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation. He led a handful of Lakota elders who re-formed the Lakota language to restore much of the original meaning of the language, which had been lost through translation into English by the White missionaries. By chance (not really, in the native world, there is no such thing as a coincidence), I gave my presentation first. I spoke about the beauty of the concept of “metakuye oyasin.” How it binds all creatures together in a harmony of relationships. As a Christian theologian, I identified this as the work of the Holy Spirit. For 45 minutes I spoke on this theme. The group took a short break, then Albert got up. He thanked me profusely for my presentation, then said, “But, you’ve got “metakuye oyasin” all wrong.

Albert went on to explain what “metakuye oyasin” means to the people of the Great Sioux Nation, which include both the Rosebud and the Standing Rock Reservations. He explained that by virtue of our creation by the Great Mystery, the Creator of all things, each individual creature has the power to make one of two choices: to bring life or to bring destruction. “That is what binds all creatures,” he said. It isn’t a neat, abstract, “kumbaya” notion of “we all live in harmony and isn’t that great?” Metakuye oyasin is the understanding that each of us, at each point in our lives, has the power to choose to bring life to the world around us or to choose to bring destruction to the world around us.

“It is that simple,” he said.

Simple, yes; Simplistic, definitely, no.

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Joya Martin

Applying “metakuye oyasin” to your life today is about understanding the power you have, not only for your life, but for the life of the whole world. You have the power to choose self-interest, greed, parochialism, xenophobia, hatred and distrust of others (including your enemies), and the attitude that none of the things that are happening in our communities, our nation, or in the world apply to you. In that case you have chosen to bring destruction: of the earth, of relationships, of community. You also have the power to choose the common good, generosity, respect for all others (including your enemies), tolerance, love, and the attitude that everything that happens in my community, my nation, or in the world is directly connected to me. In that case, you chose to bring life.

No matter where you stand on any particular issue in your world today, including the issue of protecting the water and sacred lands of the Standing Rock people, you must take a stand.

You have no option.

No option other than to choose either life or destruction of life. Standing with Standing Rock, indeed, takes all of us. Metakuye oyasin.

Resources

“Standing Rock may be the new Selma.” –  Presiding Bishop of the Michael Curry Episcopal Church 


Gordon-Straw-150x150.jpgThe Rev. Gordon Straw brought years of experience in organizational development, development of lay ministry leaders, and experience and commitment to intercultural competency to his work for the church – culminating is his appointment to the Cornelsen Chair for Spiritual Formation at the Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC) in the Spring of 2017. Gordon is an enrolled member of the Brothertown Indian Nation. Prior to his work at LSTC he was in charge of Lay Schools for Ministry in the ELCA as well as functioned as their Director for American Indian/Alaska Native ministries . Gordon is survived by his wife Evelyn Soto and their daughter Amanda, a recent graduate of DePauw University.

Advent, Christmas, and Public Church – José F. Rodríguez Páez, MDiv student at LSTC

IMG_4512Advent is nearing its end and Christmas is upon us. The life of migrants and refugees, all who seek peace and freedom, is especially poignant these days. José F. Rodríguez Páez gives us his own deeply personal observation of what this means to us, as Christians moving from Advent into Christmas, giving us all reminder that even in the darkest days of displacement and fear, God is always with us. Read, comment, and share.

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


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Advent, which means “arrival” and precedes Christmas and then Epiphany, provides us with a very special opportunity to renew ourselves and prepare ourselves to receive the Christ and celebrate his presence in our midst. We know the prophecies about his birth, the announcement of the angel to Mary and Joseph, the census, the manger, the shepherds, the child wrapped in a manger and the visit of the Sages of the East; these are all important and well-known events in the Christian tradition. However, the Gospel according to Matthew tells us about a moment in the life of Jesus that we rarely hear about in our churches during Christmas, despite the fact that this story is very relevant for the Christian people of today. Matthew 2:13-14 says:

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.14 so he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.”

Currently thousands of men, women, youth and children are immigrating to this country. They are forced to leave their countries in search of a better future. Just as Jesus and his family had to flee to Egypt, these people come to the United States fleeing from the Herod who oppresses them in many of our Central American countries. The lack of work and health and education services, as well as poverty, government corruption, social inequality and weakened economies are some of the powerful reasons that motivate people to venture on an extremely dangerous pilgrimage to try to cross the border in search of better jobs that allow them to offer a better quality of life to their loved ones.

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The refugee ‘caravan’ making its way through Mexico last month.

The events that Matthew describes lead us to reflect on the fact that, in a literal sense, Jesus Christ began his life as a refugee and foreigner in another country.

As an immigrant, Jesus lived in his own flesh, together with his family, the harsh reality of having to leave his country and move to a strange land in search of safety and well-being. When we contemplate this aspect of Jesus’ life, then his name takes on a broader and extremely hopeful meaning for immigrants.

Amidst the atmosphere of hatred and persecution that currently prevails in the United States, against the immigrant community, it is extremely encouraging to know that even today, Jesus, the immigrant, is walking along with all the people who are pilgrims and foreigners. More comforting is knowing that Jesus Christ not only knows and understands our suffering as immigrants, but also suffers with and for us.

The presence of God and the certainty of this love and solidarity, as they are incarnated in our lives through Jesus Christ, strengthens us and gives us hope that a better day is coming for our people. On that day, our people will no longer be “invisible” or considered “illegal”. There will be just migratory laws that will treat all people with dignity and that will promote the unity of the family. The security of knowing that Emmanuel is walking by our side is what allows us to work hard to build communities where discrimination, racism and classism are not are tolerated in any of the spheres of government, society and church.

God says: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”

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I may raise my voice when discouragement, frustration or nostalgia robs us of the joy and desire to move on. Let us raise our eyes to heaven and seek to be enlightened with the comfort, healing and strength that Jesus Christ gives us. Remember that the light of hope, which emanated from the humble crib of Bethlehem, still continues to shine in our favor to give us true freedom, salvation and hope. This freedom is key. As Christians—and as Lutherans—we are called to live in the freedom of Christ. I believe that there is no contradiction between freedom and the call to service of the human being because each of these faculties is given by different natures. We live out God’s freedom by also living in service to one another.

With a loving voice, today Jesus continues to encourage us with the same words that the angel pronounced to Mary and Joseph. It tells us: “do not be afraid”. The churches, which proclaim Jesus the immigrant, the churches that serve the immigrants who come to our communities with love, are the ones who receive the words of Jesus “do not be afraid”, as a call to continue raising their prophetic voices against discrimination, racism and unjust laws who oppress our people. For me, Public Church means connecting with the community with the needs of community member.

The Public Church is in the street, wherever it is located. It means walking with the people, as Jesus walked with people. In this situation, it means walking with immigrants, as Jesus walks with them.

To be with those whom are often regarded as the classic “other,” who do not belong. Such constructions of the “other” may be based on legal grounds, physical appearance or race, (perceived) cultural and religious differences, class characteristics, or on any combination of these elements. Such constructions have been used politically, e.g., by the anti-immigrant movement, and express themselves in discriminatory practices, deteriorating inter-ethnic relations, and weakening of social cohesion in communities, cities, and states.

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And it is for the sake of the least of these beloved ones, the least of these, to whom the cries of the baby Jesus summon us. 


14991307_1483363748347244_1499329586401493230_oHaving spent most of his career as an attorney, José F. Rodríguez Páez emigrated here to the US as a consequence of the political unrest in his native Venezuela. Currently, in addition to completing his divinity studies at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago he also works coordinating Hispanic ministries at San Andres/St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in West Chicago, Illinois.

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

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

Read, comment, and share.

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


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

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

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

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

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

He was killed sometime afterwards.

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John Allen Chau in 2017

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

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

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

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Pakistani Christians protesting against government harassment and public killings

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

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

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

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

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Francisco Herrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dwelling in the Word – Rev. Dr. Benjamin Stewart

thomas110_1027092In every day and age, in good times and bad, in peace and in war – truth-telling can be a dangerous business. Yet we know that as Christians – let alone teachers, religious leaders, or activists – this is part of our call, and that for the joy and wonder this call takes, sometimes it exacts a high price. This week’s author, my colleague the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Stewart, reflects on this interaction between call and sacrifice. This is a particularly poignant note, too, coming off of the 29th anniversary of the martyrs of the University of Central America in El Salvador. Read, comment, and share.

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


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Times when the School of the Americas has been thwarted.

In the fall of 2002, a small group of us from Holden Village traveled to Columbus, Georgia, to participate in an action at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, a training facility for mainly Latin American military officers, many of whom returned to their home countries as graduates to commit and oversee torture, executions, and war crimes.

On the night before the action, in a budget hotel, we gathered in a stuffy little conference room with a low ceiling to hear some reflections from Father Roy Bourgeois, Daniel Berrigan, and a number of Jesuits from around the world, especially from El Salvador. I remember vividly that some of the Jesuits showed necklaces they wore that had small vials of the bloody earth they had gathered from where their brothers, the Jesuit martyrs of San Salvador, had been found after they were massacred at the University of Central America on November 16th, 1989, twenty-nine years ago.

These martyred priests had had all the connections they needed to flee El Salvador as the violence increased. But they stayed. One of them, Segundo Montes, had made it clear, “This is my country and these people are my people… The people need to have the church stay with them in these terrible times…. God’s grace does not leave, so neither can we” (quoted in Ellsberg, All Saints, 500).

A few years earlier, before he himself had been martyred, their bishop, Oscar Romero, had said in shocking language: “I am glad that they have murdered priests in this country, because it would be very sad if in a country where they are murdering the people so horrifically, there were no priests among the victims” (Ellsberg, 500).

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Martyrs of 1989: Julia Elba Ramos, Celina Ramos, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno,  Armando López, Ignacio Ellacuría, Armando López, and Joaquín López y López.

But the priests martyred 29 years ago were primarily scholars of religion: academic theologians and administrators alongside two women who had taken refuge from the violence at the university. Ignacio Ellacuría, the rector of the university, had put at the center of his scholarship what he called the “the crucified peoples” of history. Jon Sobrino wrote about these Jesuit martyrs: “let us not forget that what was most feared in [these academics] was their serious and reasoned word, their theological word” (Companions of Jesus, 51).

Sobrino continues, writing about the martyrs but with wider contemporary resonance: “Telling the truth does not just mean dissipating ignorance but fighting lies. This is essential work for a university and central to our faith…. As Paul says, the world imprisons the truth with injustice. These Jesuits wanted to free the truth from the slavery imposed on it by the oppressors, cast light on lies, bring justice in the midst of oppression, hope in the midst of discouragement, love in the midst of indifference repression and hatred. That is why they were killed.” (Sobrino, 26-27)

Sobrino’s words are resonant with the Psalm text appointed in Evangelical Lutheran Worship for the commemoration of martyrs. Psalm 5 sings about the life-and-death stakes of truth telling. The psalmist speaks first here about the violent oppressors — and we can think about the ways in recent years, from Mother Emanuel Church to Tree of Life Synagogue, that lies have led to violence. First, a word about the oppressors:

There is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction;

their throats are open graves; they deceive with their tongues.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.

Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you.

For you bless the just, O Lord; you cover them with favor as with a shield.

(Psalm 5.9, 11-12)

Lies beget violence. Truth begets sanctuary, and singing for joy.

This year, on the anniversary of their martyrdom, the annual memorial action is not being held at Fort Benning, but is a procession to the U.S. Southern Border, as a kind of prayer for protection and reverence for all who are seeking shelter in this country, as in the psalm: spread your protection over them, cover them with favor as with a shield, let them sing for joy. Some of those same vials from 29 years ago will lead the procession toward the border. All these years later, the commitment of the Jesuits still rings true: God’s grace does not leave, so neither can we.

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Communion of the Saints – Elise Ritter

Perhaps the ongoing witness of these fellow academics can be a bracing reminder of the high stakes of our work as theologians, the power of the word to cast out lies, to unsettle the powerful, to uphold the vulnerable, and to put into words a way of solidarity known most deeply as it is broken and poured out for others. That’s the vial we carry in procession.

It’s a word that creates space — sanctuary — for the world to sing for joy.

So perhaps our prayer today is simple: that our teaching — what Sobrino called our “serious and reasoned word, [our] theological word” — might accomplish what the Psalmist prays: “let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the just, O Lord; you cover them with favor as with a shield.” For the sanctuaries our students will serve, for our own bodies in need of shelter and care, for those seeking refuge everywhere, and among us:

Amen.


stewartBenjamin Stewart, PhD, is the Gordon A. Braatz Associate Professor of Worship and Director of Advanced Studies at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where he has taught since 2009.
A frequent conference speaker and a Lutheran pastor, Ben previously served as pastor to a small, Appalachian community in Ohio, and as village pastor to Holden Village retreat center in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington. In addition to articles in a number of journals including Worship, Liturgy, and The Christian Century, Ben is author of A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (2011). He is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy and serves as convener of its Ecology and Liturgy Seminar. He is currently writing an ecotheology of natural burial practices. Ben and his wife Beth live in Western Springs, near Bemis Woods and the Salt Creek, and are parents of two sons, Justin, in high school, and Forrest, in college. Twitter: @bstewLSTC