Monthly Archives: April 2013

TO PROTEST BY PERSISTING IN REMAINING by Paul Andrew Johnson, 2nd year M.Div.

This article has remained unwritten for far too long. Despite encouragement from classmates, there always seemed to be something else more important to do. I realize now how foolish that was. I do not want it to sound like I am such an insightful person, or that when I speak, everyone should listen—far from it.  It is the message, not the messenger, that needs to be heard.

I am an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America.  I cherish this title and am proud of what that represents.  I am also a homosexual. Same thing goes. But most of all, I am a child of God, and that alone makes me special. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have decided to uphold a policy which suggests that, because I publicly identify as gay, I am unfit to be a leader in this organization.

In recent months this has gained much media attention from both sides of the issue, both for and against homosexuals in scouting. One particular group, which seems to be growing ever-larger, is the group of Eagle Scouts who have turned in their badges to the BSA in protest of their stance. I definitely support these individuals in their personal decisions and am encouraged by their public statements in protest. But I will NOT be turning in my badge, and I hope they can respect that as well.

I do not want anyone to think this is because I believe the BSA’s current stance is correct, nor that I disagree with those who have made the decision to protest by turning in their badges.  Above all, I certainly hope no one thinks this stance is because I am not passionate about the Boy Scouts or do not care about the issue—quite the opposite.

My decision is both to recognize that I, a child of God who happens to be gay, have rightfully earned the rank of Eagle. It honors all those who have been denied this honor because of their orientation. Even more, I hold on to my medal because I wish also to honor all those who earned this rank before and after me. Turning in my badge would, for me personally, disregard all those who worked so hard to earn this rank. I wish rather to honor those individuals, who include, among others, my brother, cousin, friends and role-models.

I anticipate a day when I may once again proudly don that scouting uniform, hold my right hand up proudly in the scout sign and join my voice with all the others in saying “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent,” and “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Until then, I will stand not only with those who protest the exclusion of homosexuals, but also with all those who still believe in and are proud of this organization and its scouts.

BOOK REVIEW: THE NEW JIM CROW Reviewed by Alan Berndt-Dreyer

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (New York: The New Press, 2010 and 2012). Xvii and 312.

Reviewed by Alan Berndt-Dreyer, M.Div. Senior

It has been a long journey for me from the rural, yet diverse community of Western Nebraska to the streets of the Harambee neighborhood in Milwaukee and back to seminary. Along the way I have had the opportunity to encounter races other than my own and more importantly, my own aversion to defining race that has led to colorblindness. This colorblindness has not been helpful for me or for others.  Through the course of living a year in a predominately African American neighborhood I have seen the effects of my and the nation’s colorblindness in helping to create and maintain, as the author rightly calls it, a racial caste system.

Through her book, Michelle Alexander lays out argument after argument, fact after fact, to support her thesis: “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Alexander points to the very same constitutional amendment that abolished slavery as the one that allows the one who is a criminal to be a slave to the state. As we know; one must pay their debt to society.  Just 110 years after the emancipation proclamation and a decade after a successful civil rights movement, the start of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration moved in to redefine racial minorities, particularly African Americans, in terms of being a criminal. Being labeled a criminal puts every obstacle in the way  of reintegration into society. Who wants to argue on behalf of one labeled a criminal?

Michelle Alexander successfully argues that this “New Jim Crow” has been created through the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was started by President Ronald Reagan on the verge of seeing penal prisons on their way out.  The War on Drugs systemically has given police in our country the legal right to racially profile along with the financial incentives to do so. Moreover, prosecutors have incentive to pick all-white juries, as well as try to bring as many charges as possible against people of color. Though drug use and sales are equal across the races in America, blacks and browns are targeted unfairly, but legally, through many cases judged by the Supreme Court to be constitutional. Furthermore, drugs that are common to those who are white carry a much lighter sentence than those more common to those who are black. These are just a few of the hundreds of cases and examples that she brings forward to support her case.

Though Alexander’s book is devastating in example after example of racial discrimination and the effects of that discrimination, she remains hopeful and determined that this new racial caste system should and will fall. The core of the book comes not in the first five chapters where she builds the case that a new racial caste has been created, but in the final chapter where she addresses colorblindness. Colorblindness to an issue doesn’t mean that the issue isn’t there. As we are made aware of the issues of race that still pervade our society and will continue to as sinful human institutions it becomes clear that colorblindness to racial disparities equals endorsement. It becomes increasingly important to focus on race, not because we want to endorse racism, but because race is a factor in how a person is treated. It is a responsibility that a person act on behalf of brothers and sisters who are put most at odds with society. By naming the evil in our society, even if that means giving up our illusion of a colorblind society that has moved past racism, we are able to continuously be concerned with those who are often positioned as the least. By becoming aware of our false colorblindness we are able to discuss frankly the welfare of not only our neighbors, but ourselves as well. We are all affected when one is affected. This is the crux of the book and the hope that this new Jim Crow will be the last.

THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE by Tera Lowe, 2nd year M.Div

How many times did I hear “Oh, you’re getting married in Jamaica? How exciting!” No, not exciting at all. Not the way you think. Exciting because I was  marrying a man I fell in love with eleven years ago, with whom I had lost contact but never forgot.  Now he has three children and I’m excited because I have no children and now I am able to be a step-mother. But not exciting, because I was able to spend only six weeks with them before I came back to school alone. We won’t all be together permanently for about five years. Not exciting because I was not having a “destination wedding.” I, a privileged white American, while I was there,  would be staying in the bush with no indoor plumbing with people who know what it is like to go to bed hungry.

In my world, I usually don’t receive a second glance when I’m out shopping, in a restaurant, or just walking around. I can go around as if I am invisible, only attracting attention and initiating conversations when I want to. But in Jamaica, I was the opposite of invisible.

In the span of six weeks, from the time I left the airport upon my arrival to the time I hopped in the taxi to return to the airport for my departure, I saw about five other white people. When I walked from shop to shop in the middle of Montego Bay, everyone looked at me because I wasn’t supposed to be there. When I stood still long enough, the store security guard usually came to stand next to me. When I paid for our purchases, the cashiers looked to my husband before looking at me, as if waiting for him, a Jamaican, to say that it was ok to interact with me. I was a female, white, American, and everyone knew that someone like me didn’t shop there.

No one was rude to me, but no one talked to me. People would stare at me, but nobody really made eye contact. This was the way it was not just in the inner city, but also in the bush where we lived. The house was not located on a major road that would lead from one tourist area to another, so there was no reason for a white person to pass by, even in a vehicle.

Children wanted to touch me and hug me, but adults would not speak to me unless I was introduced. I walked the same road a few times each week, and every time I would have to wave and say hello before anyone would acknowledge me. I was a sight to behold, I gathered by the response of people walking by to reach the river. If I was outside, heads would turn to look at me in the yard. If I was hollering to the kids I really drew the attention of a passersby, and even more so if I was outside hanging up laundry. I was doing the things a woman there would do, but I wasn’t a woman from there.

Jamaicans speak Patois, and they speak fast. Not knowing all of what the words mean, I could pick up on some of the conversation because it is mixed with a lot of English words. People having conversations with my husband would sometimes be particularly kind to me and speak English so I could be included.  But more often, as if I wasn’t there, they would speak in a way that I could not understand. I don’t think they meant to be rude; however, it made for some very lonely times when I would be standing in full view of the person speaking to my husband and not be able to participate in the conversation.

I thought long and I thought often of those who say things like, “If you are going to come to America, you have to learn the language.” I was in a country where, for the most part, I could speak the language, yet could not understand what was being said. The same can be said for those who speak English as a second language. In America we use words that do not carry the original meaning or have multiple meanings, and we have made up words by melding some words together. Speaking English doesn’t necessarily mean that you will understand me just because we are both in America.

Language wasn’t the only thing that caused me to feel invisible while in full view of all of Jamaica. My white privilege definitely caused me to stick out while also causing some distance between me and others. When I arrived, we had to buy a shower curtain for the outdoor bathing room so that the neighbors couldn’t see me out there. When the water stopped running in the drought conditions, I was not expected to go bathe in the river because I wasn’t used to being naked in front of strangers. Plates were purchased shortly after I arrived, but I was the only one served on a plate. These are just a few examples of ways that I was set apart from others because of who I am.

I would like to tell you that I would happily agree to give up all my modern conveniences and move to Jamaica to be with my husband and kids, but I don’t think I could. It was ok when I knew it was temporary, but the idea of living that way all the time is frightening. There would have to be some changes in their lives before I could move there, changes that would bring them out of their way of life and start to move them into mine. Like into a place with indoor plumbing, which would mean moving out of their home. They would do that for me, and in fact have agreed to move to the U.S. when they can, which means giving up everything they know and love. Could I do the same?

No matter if I give up everything I know or not, when I am there I could give up all but one thing: I cannot stop being a female, white, American. Even if I changed my citizenship, people would hear me speak and know where I’m from. They would see my skin and there would be expectations: they would think I expected certain actions and behaviors from them, and they would expect certain actions and behaviors from me in return. No matter how long I were to live there, no matter if everyone in the bush got to know me, no matter if I learned all the Patois and could keep up with and be a part of all conversations, I would still be the opposite of invisible. But maybe that’s just the way I would feel because when I’m there I am always going to be different.

PART 1: HEALING, HOPE. RESILIENCE: PROUD TO BE (EAST) GERMAN! by Jean E. Peterson, WTS

By Jean E. Peterson, ELCA Region 5 Archivist Volunteer, WTS

Our tour guide told us candidly that there was a time when his fellow citizens were so beaten down and shamed, with very little opportunity for self-realization, taking pride in one’s work, or developing any dignity or healthy self-respect, that they could not want to admit to their national identity as Germans.  He reminded us that only in the last quarter of the past century  have the East German people been able to say, not only, “I am Proud to be German,” but furthermore “I am Proud to be East German.”  Our guide, Christian Eggert is owner-operator of Christian Tours Europe and of College Wittenberg which was home for ten nights of our Wartburg Seminary J-term trip to Germany, “Germany:  Luther, Pietists, andBonhoeffer.”

Germany 1914-1932

To understand the significance of German people’s resilience and newfound pride in their present achievements, one must take into account the history of these people since 1914.  For 75 of those years, East Germany was under oppression of war or foreign domination.  As strongly as U. S. President Wilson was opposed to U.S. involvement in World War I., when it did eventually happen, Wilson was just as adamant that Germany should be punished for this war.  The Versailles Treaty demanded that all Germans take responsibility for that war. It made them pay heavy reparations to other nations for war damages, leading to excessive, impossible inflation for individuals and families.  This period of degradation, designed to suppress and humiliate the German people, gave birth to and facilitated the growth and domination of the National Socialist party, led by Adolph Hitler, who took office as Fuhrer in 1933.

1933-1945

Many times and in many places throughout our trip, we encountered signs or banners reading “1933-1945.”  The most impressive of these to me was a “broken” marker in the Herrnhut Cemetery, a stone carved in two pieces with a “crack” running diagonally through these numbers.

Of course, the ubiquitous display of 1933-1945 was meant to denote the rise and power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Regime (Third Reich) in Germany.

1933-1945 also marks the emergence of the Confessing Church, and the German Resistance movement.  These years mark the span of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s significant ministry – from his speaking out on the radio against the Hitler Regime in February 1933, to his execution in April 1945.

Running concurrently with all these things, across the ocean, the years 1933-1945 define the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) administration in the USA.

For me, every time I saw “1933-1945,” I felt a strong personal twinge.  These were the first 12 years of my life!   Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only President I had ever known.   He was elected in 1932 and inaugurated in 1933 before I was born.  I was almost 12 when he died on 12 April 1945– a day I clearly remember.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged just three days prior to FDR’s death.

 

More of Jean Peterson’s reflections will follow in future blog posts.