Monthly Archives: December 2011

ISSUES OF JUSTICE, FAMILY, AND THE SINGLE PERSON By Jenn Collins, M.Div. Senior

“Now that I’m good at staying in the lines—I’m staying in the lines for you.”

My nephew, Ben, who is six years old, told me these words while he colored a picture that he called “grassy pickle.” What he drew looked nothing like a pickle, and the colors he chose were purple and orange. But I didn’t care. When he was done coloring the “grassy pickle,” he cut the picture in half and said, “you write your name on half and I’ll write my name on half.”

I don’t know what it is to be part of a couple. But I do know what it is to have relationships that are sustaining and meaningful. Ben stayed in the lines for me. My nephew Ben and I met when he was born—May 25, 2005. I held him and told him that I loved him. This was the first time I remember an instant connection with another human being. When I left for internship, Ben had just turned five and had started kindergarten. I told him that I was going to school in Colorado, so I wouldn’t see him until the first grade. Leaving him was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Over the year, I would talk to him on the phone and he knew exactly where I was. “How are you doing in Colorado?” he would ask. When I came home from internship, Ben called out my name and leapt into my arms for a huge hug.

Why do I tell you this? 

Throughout my seminary experience and into the ministry of the congregation, I have experienced a new kind of definition for family. I get the impression that the definition of family in the church is the family that is created through marriage. Specifically, a man and a woman who marry and have children. Here are some examples of statements I have heard and read.

  1. In the entrance form for candidacy there is an entire page labeled, “family information.” The only thing I needed to do on that page was mark the bubble for “single.” 
  2. When we say, “families are included” at Wartburg, what is implied is, “families who are here”—which in most cases includes only partners, spouses and children.
  3. In our society there is primacy in the spousal relationship. If you are not a spouse, your relationship with any given person is not priority. (This makes sense to me, completely. But it also means, for me, that I am no one’s priority).
  4. In my previous lay ministry experience, I worked the holidays because, “I didn’t have family.”
  5. I have been told/asked, “I don’t understand why you’re single. Don’t worry, you’ll find someone,” “You need to just jump back into dating—have you thought about meeting someone on-line?” And then the question that all single people in ministry are faced with, “Are you sure you’re not gay?”
  6. People assume that I’m lonely.

I feel like I need to apologize for even writing this because I don’t want to be perceived as another single person who is unhappy in life.

Seminary is hard for anyone—and there are different challenges to being married, being parents, or being single. But the single voice isn’t one that is often heard, understood, or given much real concern. I wonder where is the injustice in the church that comes about based on marital (or single) status? Where is the actual injustice that takes place for the single person? In the call process? With regard to financial aid, internship income, insurance, etc? And perhaps the macro question is, “How does marital status impact our life together here at seminary and in the church at large?” I’m hoping to spend January thinking about this in an independent study. 

But here is a call for now, beloved church: Please remember that just because I am not married—this does not mean that I am without family. After all, Ben colors in the lines—for me. 

100th ANNIVERSARY OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY by Mamy Ranaivoson, M.Div. Senior

This year the whole world celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. It is a big day in developing countries each spring. People can’t wait for this day to cry out for women’s issues, women’s rights, gender balance, gender equity, and empowerment of women because of the great injustices done to women in the world. We don’t hear much about it in the United States.  Is it because we believe the women here are treated with more dignity? Maybe…

I am from Madagascar and I would like to share a bit about our country. Many people heard about Madagascar from the Hollywood movie titledMadagascar . Basically, people know some facts about animals, like Lemurs, butterflies, and chameleons that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, but very few people know that before colonization, before Christianization, we already had queens in Madagascar. You can Google it on the internet by typing Queens of Madagascar in the search and it will give you the names and pictures of them. Our country was led by women until the French came and colonized our country. They made a law that no women were allowed in the high office and they deported our last queen to die outside of Madagascar. Since then, we went back to the patriarchal system of leadership. Too bad!

My hope is that the Malagasy Lutheran church will recognize the qualities of women in leadership and our church will ordain women soon. We need to keep the rights of women in the forefront in all the world, including the United States. Remember International Women’s Day

LIKE A NURSING MOTHER by Susan Friedrich, M.Div. Senior

Segments from a sermon preached Oct. 24, 2011 at WTS 

I Thessalonians 2:1-8 begins with an address to “adelphos.” Because Paul used this term to address both men and women, it is translated as “brothers and sisters.” Paul used “adelphos” often with the people to whom he wrote,  but Paul takes it a step further when he describes the ministry of Timothy, Silvanus, and himself as being gentle like that of a nurse, “tenderly caring for her own children.”

A nursing mother is one who gives herself to her child, physically providing the means by which the child will thrive and grow. It is an intimate relationship that is by nature mutual. A nursing mother will not forget her child any more than her child will forget her.

Having spent the better part of ten years of my life nursing my own four children, I have a pretty good idea of what it means to be in that kind of relationship. When I thought about it, though, I have to admit some surprise that Paul would even think to claim such a role for himself and his ministry team. Be honest now, how many of you of the male persuasion have told or would think of telling your congregation that you are like a nursing mother to them? Well, Paul had no gender bias in claiming any parental roles for himself because in a few verses later he will describe himself as a father, “urging and encouraging” (2:12) his children. Nursing mother, father… it all works for Paul. So, what is this all about? It’s about the gospel of God

The giving and receiving goes both ways. When leaders in the church are willing to give their own selves along with the gospel, a community can find themselves participating in God’s mission in amazing ways. In the book, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, Philip Hallie tells the story of how an impoverished French village with a population of 3,000 people saved the lives of about 5,000 refugees, most of whom were children, in the German occupation of WWII. As Hallie later talked to those who lived in the village during those years to try to understand why they did this when other villages around them did not, they told him, “It was Pastor Andre Trocme.” (Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, New York: Harper and Row, 1979, introduction in 1994, 46.) 

How did Pastor Trocme work such ministry in a village that, as the young pastor had described in his notes when he arrived, was moving toward “death, death, death, and the pastor was entrusted with helping the village die”? Well, Trocme  gave himself along with the gospel.

Hallie writes: “When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and by making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks—and even sometimes obedience as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded—in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. “When you give of yourself, the things you are giving, to use Trocme’s word, become fruitful. When the pastor in the village of Le Chambon gave himself along with the gospel, the result was new life.

Our ministry is to be shaped in the image of Christ. Our relationships with one another are formed in love and vulnerability. Gentleness is not a technique, but a commitment. Just as Jesus gives himself, Paul gives himself. In that commitment we see an example of servant-leader, pastoral care-giver, even nursing mother.  These are roles that bear God’s living Word in the context of community, images of living out the gospel in a world being made new in Jesus Christ.

“IT’S ONLY A SIGN” By Rev. Barbara Knutson, WTS 1995, Galesville, WI

It bothered me too much. I had driven through this town several times. So I parked the car, gathered my composure and went into the restaurant. No, I would not need to be seated for a meal. I asked to speak with the owner or manager. 

It was the large outdoor sign of the restaurant that bothered me so much. The sign depicted a nicely dressed woman holding forth a serving tray—only the woman was headless. What did I see? Degradation. Here was a public symbol of a woman deprived of all abilities to think, see, hear, speak, smell, and taste the God-given goodness of life. She was rendered sense-less in her headless personification. What heartless motivation could be behind such a sign?

In the conversation that followed, I was told that the sign had a fascinating history originating in a pub from a European country and that it posed no problem for local people nor other people. After listening to what in no way lessened my anguish, I replied that to me this sign spoke only of violence toward women in a world too full of violence. The words printed above the headless woman, which spoke of being silenced,  were not “just words.”  “Words bespeak reality,” I insisted “and in this case, a reality of oppression that needs to be persistently addressed, not ignored nor made light of.”  My only consolation was that I had at least raised my objection.

Some months later, what should appear?  A new name and a new sign graced the establishment! Yes, indeed I went in and asked to speak to the owner—a new owner. I thanked her for the inviting change and told her how distraught I had been for years over the previous sign. We visited cordially over pie and coffee. One can only wonder how many persistent voices had been heard to give a new owner the courage to change something that had been so acceptable for so long in this town.

Now, a few years later, there is again new ownership. The old name and sign are back! Upon seeing it, once again I went in to speak to the owner. Her first word to me was, “I am a successful business woman.” She continued to say how she intends to honor the illustrious history of the establishment. Again, this owner also said that words were “only words.” Again, I had to reply, “Words speak a reality and that the reality of violence is never tolerable.” She conceded nothing of what I said, only thanked me for expressing my opinion.

As we finished and turned toward the window, she smiled and said, “Oh, see there’s someone taking a picture of the sign!”I only hope that person will use the photo to join all persistent voices speaking against all that degrades the preciousness of human life—life that comes only from God. Since God never gives up on us, let us never give up or grow weary as long as we have a voice to raise.

Afterword: The Sunday after writing this article, after worship at my church I was sharing this experience with our coffee roundtable. It evoked very strong emotions. One woman, who works in a man’s world, as she puts it, as a delivery truck driver, was ready to organize a church road trip to tear down the sign! I urged them instead to go inside and voice their objection to this depiction of violence toward women whenever they are going through that town. We need to exercise a holy persistent pestering.  

25th INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION by Rod Wiese, second year M.A.; forward by Norma Cook Everist

The Wartburg Seminary has addressed the topic of the use of inclusive language in a community-wide convocation each Fall for 25 years. That in itself is a milestone to be celebrated, and yet a sad commentary on society that it is still necessary. Some parts of church and society have been slow to learn and yet the seminary is persistent that the full use of inclusive language for humankind and expansive language for God is good, right and healthy. Once again the Wartburg community gathered and heard male and female voices address this topic, followed by much table conversation. Here are the words of Rod Wiese, second year M.A. student:

Before seminary, in the words I chose to speak about God, I defined God in a very narrow and convenient way that made sense to me. It was a little like putting God in a box. Now, it was a nice box; not too much decoration and just the right size. It was a good Lutheran box. It stored quite nicely on a shelf or in a closet. I could even bring it out on those occasions when I needed God. I could get that box, put God in the midst of my trouble and say, “Go to it God!” This was “my” God inside “my” box. The problem was that in my language for God, I not only defined God, I confined God, and God will not be confined by my thoughts, words, or deeds.

I realize now that my language about God matters. Through inclusive language, God breaks open the box in which I tried to keep God, or more accurately the box in which I tried to keep God to myself. Inclusive language reminds me that God, in Christ Jesus, came so that all might be saved, not just all people, but all of creation. For my words to properly proclaim the Gospel of Christ, I need inclusive language so that all people are part of the conversation. For when truly all are welcome, the kingdom of God begins to come here, in this place and in this time.

LUTHERAN PEACE ACTIVIST WINS NOBEL PRIZE By Roberta Pierce, M.Div., Senior

Leymah Roberta Gbowee, A Lutheran Liberian peace activist, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the non-violent peace movement in Liberia. Her beginnings in this movement began in 2002, when she sat daily with thousands of women praying for peace. The war in Liberia has raged on for 14 years and these women were tired of being raped, while their men died and their children were taken by soldiers.

Gbowee is trained as a trauma counselor and worked with ex-child soldiers. It was this work that led her to become a spokeswoman for the peace protest. She said, “If any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers.” The women kept coming and their voices were finally heard. In 2003, hundreds of women, including Gbowee, went to Monrovia’s City Hall demanding an end to the war. They continued to protest until their voices were heard. They gave the three warring factions three days to deliver an unconditional ceasefire and begin peace talks. They got what they asked for and the Accra Peace Accord was signed in Ghana.

Gbowee’s story is told in her recently published memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. A documentary about her work has also been produced, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”

The Nobel Peace Prize website lists this as the prize motivation, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for the women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Leymah Roberta Gbowee knew in her heart that something had to be done to save her people. She was not afraid to stand up for what she knew was right. As it says in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV) Gbowee has done just that, along with hundreds of women who knew it would take the mothers to bring about peace.

SACRED SPACE by Rita Augsburger, M.Div. senior

The Lord speaks to us in many and varied ways. At times this voice may be a thought or a quiet, persistent pulse that continues to oscillate in intensity until it is addressed in some concrete way. Sometimes the persistent voice calls to engage with others and something new is created. Barb Otten is a member of St John’s Lutheran Church in Sterling, IL., and a junior at WTS. She had completed a two year program of Spiritual Formation and was feeling the persistent pulse to share, with her congregation, what she had learned about spiritual practices.

When I came on internship at St. John’s in the late summer of 2010, Barb mentioned this desire to me. Within moments we had a plan and a schedule to run by the pastor. Sacred Spaces, a five week Lenten series on Spiritual practices —Mandella, Stretch-N-Pray, Praying in Color, Lutheran Prayer Beads, and the Labyrinth—became the concrete way of addressing the persistent pulse.

Evolving out of this series, and another community event, a group of congregation members felt the need to create a place for people to go to pray, read scripture, contemplate, and meditate. The East Room of St John’s, formerly just a pass through, was a perfect choice. This room has now become a Sacred Space for spiritual refreshment.

From one pulse to another to others, the work of the Spirit carries on. 

POETRY by Jenn Collins, M.Div. Senior

Untitled

Please. Please. See me. I’m not hiding.
See me deeply. My walls are thick. Please.
What shall I show you? I don’t want to wave.

Please. Please. Hear me. I speak plainly.
What I’m saying is clear. Soft. Simple. Please.
What shall I say? I don’t want to scream.

The D word
I would like to be many things…
An author-either a poet, a novelist, or a journalist.  A professor of theology. A student life worker.  A pastor.  A campus pastor.  A camp director pastor.  A singer-a lounge singer, or a Broadway star, or a diva.  An actress.  A social activist.  A social worker.  A politician.
Also, a wife.  A mom, maybe.  A soul mate.  A strong example.  An independent woman.  A free thinker.  A faithful servant.  A hard worker.  Not bitter.  Not angry or fake.  A genuine person.
Currently waiting for the person I will be to find the person I am.
Hide and seek?
No.  Discernment.

Book Review: MEETING GOD ON THE CROSS: Christ, the Cross, and the Feminist Critique

MEETING GOD ON THE CROSS: Christ, the Cross, and the Feminist Critique
By Arnfridur Gudmundsdottir
New York: Oxford, 2010, 175 pages
Reviewed by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

There is a broad spectrum of views on the possibilities of retrieving and reconstructing nonpatriarchal Christologies. “Is the cross of Christ a symbol of hope or a sign of oppression?” asks Gudmundsdottir, Lutheran pastor and Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Iceland. In Meeting God on the Cross, she presents a clear, straightforward historic overview of Christology and feminist approaches.

She begins with Lutheran laywoman Rachel Conrad Wahlberg’s books, Jesus According to a Woman and Jesus and the Freed Woman. She gives overviews of the work of Daphne Hampson, Carter Heyward, and Mary Daly that encourage readers to seek out their original works. Gudmundsdottir identifies with Elizabeth Johnson whose feminist Christology serves to redeem the name of Christ from domineering oppressive uses for the healing of humankind. (Eastertide 2011, over 75 Lutheran women in religious studies, theology and pastoral ministry, including Gudmundsdottir, wrote an open letter of support to Dr. Johnson whose recent book has been criticized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Gudnumdsottir goes on to give substantive and succinct perspectives of the cross as a hermeneutical tool, from Paul to Origen to Luther to Moltmann. She draws a distinction between use and abuse of a theology of the cross, believing a feminist retrieval of this doctrine must unveil the distortion of patriarchal Christology, which still exists, and avoid making suffering, particularly women’s suffering, a virtue. God participates in the world’s suffering, bringing hope into hopeless situations.

Gudmundsdottir, who so clearly presents many voices, has found her own. I look forward to her future work showing that the cross and resurrection liberate and empower women and men to share power for the transformation of theology, ministry and the church itself.  This book would be very useful in a colleague study group or college or seminary classroom.

FIRST FEMALE CHAIR OF ELCA CONFERENCE OF BISHOPS

Bishop Jessica Crist of the Montana Synod of the ELCA has been elected chair of the ELCA Conference of bishops. This is the first time that a woman has held this position. She will serve a four-year term.

ELCA News Release: Jessica Crist elected chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops