Monthly Archives: November 2013

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE AND PRACTICE CONVOCATION By Stan Olson, WTS President

Opening:

Language and practice do things. They are performative. They have an impact on others. Think of words like “I love you!” or “I forgive you,” or “I don’t like you.” All such words, and accompanying actions change the people addressed.

Christians are called by God to see and hear the needs of our neighbors—the needs of all those we should treat as neighbors. One of our neighbors’ great needs is that we treat them as children of God, equally children of God with us. It is part of our Christian vocation to consider how our language and our practices will include or exclude those around us. Our calling is to seek to be sure that our words and actions have effects in accord with our belief that God’s community includes everyone.

My five colleagues will give us glimpses of how this concern is expressed in particular arenas of language and practice.

Closing:

These five areas of life are important ones for attending to whether our language and practices follow God’s inclusive love or create exclusion. We should think and talk also about other equally important areas such as age, sexual orientation.

I invite you now to discussion around your table. As often in life, there is no assigned leader, so I ask you each of you to take responsibility for assuring that everyone at your table is included in this conversation about inclusion.

GENDER INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE By Carina Schiltz, 2nd Year MDiv

“Gender inclusive language”. I know what you’re thinking. “HEY, WE’VE GOT A WOMAN BISHOP. WE’RE GOOD TO GO! The ELCA is all about being gender-inclusive, not only in language, but in the life of the church.” Good point. We do have a woman bishop. However, not everything in the world is gender-inclusive. There are some pretty powerful messages out there about gender that still have to be exposed, acknowledged, and talked about. So to illustrate all this, here’s a little story from the top 10 most awkward moments from, “The Life and Times of Carina Schiltz”.

This past summer I was hanging out with two of my CPE colleagues at a department store. They happened to be men, Catholic, and soon to be priests. We’re all about the same age, and we were on a very important mission: find some Packers stuff. We found what we wanted and then just wandered around. But then, it happened: the moment of awkwardness to end all moments of awkwardness.

As we came around a corner of the department store, we saw the men’s’ sport coats, and suddenly our retinas were scorched by the most neon bras and underwear I had ever seen in my life. I mean, it BURNED. These unmentionables were placed conveniently across the aisle from the suit coats. Can you imagine that image? Suit coats. And scanty, lacy, neon lingerie facing each other across the aisle. And there we were IN THE MIDDLE. ME AND TWO CELIBATE YOUNG MEN. ARGH!

Instantly I went into defense mode. What should I do? Should I distract the guys? “Hey, uh, look over here. These suit and tie combos sure are spiffy, huh?” Or should I pretend like I don’t see the undergarments? Or should I make a joke out of it? Or should I just run away screaming? Or should I just stand here and let my face get red?

Then the ontological questions started coming. What is this telling me about who I’m supposed to be as a woman, and who they’re supposed to be as men, and how they’re supposed to view me and how I’m supposed to view them?  What does this tell us about our identity?

Then my theological brain kicked in: thank you, Wartburg Seminary. What is this, what’s the angle here, what is this playing to? What does this say about the human condition? Ok, I see neon bright colors…where have I seen these colors before? I’ve seen traffic cones that color orange, and that green/yellow color I’ve seen road construction workers wearing so they don’t get hit by motorized vehicles….Oh, I get it! LOOK AT ME! SEE ME! THAT’S what this is saying. SEE ME. Please tell me that I’m worth something! SEE ME! INCLUDE ME! Look, I bought these clothes, please tell me I’m worth at least that! Include me! Look how hard I’m trying to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman. See me!

We’ve all said this. We’ve all looked for inclusion.

We’ve resorted to so many things to make people see us. Here, it was the promise of salvation through clothing that appeal to people who feel passed over by the world. At least they’ll be seen. And so the stereotypes of what women and men are supposed to wear and notice about each other continue…and they were right in front of our faces.

How do we see people? Do we expect them to be “clothed” as society would have them? NO. We’re taught something a different here. When people say SEE ME, INCLUDE ME, we say “yes, we DO SEE YOU. And you are clothed IN CHRIST. You don’t need to wear neon, or suits….WE SEE YOU. You’re worth it because Christ makes you worth it.” That’s the language we use when we’re being inclusive.

We know our identities aren’t found in any of this stuff, it doesn’t make us a woman or a man. We know we don’t have to live up to society’s expectations of beauty, power, etc to show that we’re “worth it”. We are worth it because Christ makes us worth it.

But the world still catches us in that image of awkwardness, standing between those racks of clothing. In our society, the message of the gospel is often drowned out by the message of consumerism, success, and accumulation of wealth/beauty/power.  We speak inclusively to combat those misleading messages.

Inclusive language isn’t just about speaking. It’s about seeing. Do we dare to see beyond the stereotypes and expectations of the world of what it means to be a man or woman? And then, to we dare to speak it to the world, through our words and actions? Do we speak of others’ dignity and worth?  I pray that the Holy Spirit gives all of us the gift of sight, and also the gift of courage and speech, that God’s will may be done, and the church is a place where every woman and man are SEEN, and welcomed, and included. NO NEON NECESSARY.

WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY LOOK LIKE? By Rhia Fry Wilkin Strohm, Final Year M.Div.

There are words that are common among all yet can bring about many different images and definitions.  Words such as “single,” “married,” or “family” are common enough but I am reflecting on how these roles or categories are changing and the inclusiveness of who identifies with them, and the importance of hearing the stories behind them.

I have identified myself with all of these labels:  single, married, family but maybe in different ways than one might expect. Sharing my own story may help others pause and think differently, and possibly celebrate their own identities.

When I began my seminary experience some three and half years ago, I believe I was the only person on campus who was a single parent.  My three children were ages fifteen, twelve, and ten.  We had gone through a painful divorce four years before.  It is a strange, almost in-between identity.  Single but yet divorced. When I would fill out the forms at the doctor, the options were: single, married or divorced.  I would often stop and wonder, “Why the difference?”  I mean if one is single he or she is not married? And if one is married, he or she is not single—so why the option of divorced?  What about widowed?  Why are only some “sub categories” included?  Is this being negative or inclusive?  This place of single, divorced parent—there really wasn’t a place that I felt I fit.  I was invited to attend FWS (Fellowship of Wartburg Spouses) which I did, and I met some lovely people, but I clearly still felt I didn’t fit into the “normal” categories.

I remember a time when my sister who lives in San Diego and her family came to visit us in Colorado for Christmas.  We all piled into the vehicles to go to Christmas Eve service, my three kids and me, my sister, her two boys and her husband and our parents.  After worship, my sister was asked if her children were adopted.  This may seem harmless in itself, but it was painful for my sister.  You see, my sister’s husband is Chinese-American and their two boys are of Eurasian descent.  So many times well intentioned people express themselves in ways that are exclusive, primarily based on cultural stereotypes.  It is painful for the one who is labeled.

I had instances where well-intentioned people would ask about my absent husband.  At the school parent-teacher conferences, teachers politely asked if we should wait a few more minutes for my husband.   I replied politely, “There is no husband.”  Financial aid advisors asked what my husband’s gross income was. Again I would politely say, “There is no husband.”  Sadly enough, there was a time at church when my children were young and quite energetic, when, although no direct words were spoken, looks of frustration and judgment seemed to be saying, “Those kids need a father to keep them in line. . .”  All were very painful times for me, because you see, I worked very hard to raise my family on my own.  I supported “my family” all by myself. There was no help from this mysterious husband and to imply that this single parent could survive only through someone else was painful.  My family looked different, but I would have to think that once one heard our story, we really were not much different from any other family.

Now three and half years later, my family has changed again.  I have been blessed by God to be married again.  Now I have three biological children, two step children and a step grandson.  My children have three sets of grandparents.  My children have different last names than I do.

The most important point I want to convey is how important it is to take the time to listen to the stories of other people.  Situations are not always what they may look like on the outside. I guarantee there is always a story.  Not everyone will fit into the same “normal.” Not everyone fits into the categories that society creates, but it does not make their identity any less.

Single, married and family these days come in all kinds.  As in all relationships, what is important is how we care for one another, how we love each other, who we are because of each other.  I invite and challenge people to open, to broaden formerly stereotypical categories of families and single and married people.  Invite all.  Include all. Welcome all.   Take the time to know the person and hear their story.

INTERVIEW WITH NICHOLAS ROHDE By Michelle Kanzaki, Final Year MDiv

People are viewed in so many different ways in today’s world. Every Christian is called to reveal Christ’s love in how they see people in this world. I am focusing on inclusion for people who live with disabilities.  We automatically know that someone who wears glasses, a hearing aid, uses a cane, crutches, or wheelchair requires some consideration. But there are also invisible disabilities such as a heart condition, cancer, colitis and migraines. Yet, none of these conditions make a difference in who the person is on the inside.

My disability happens to be a Muscle Disease called Myasthenia Gravis. I try not to let it slow me down, but for me to play basketball, run a race, or even jog is an impossible challenge. During class, sometimes my eyes will cross and it will be difficult to see even with my glasses. If I am writing or typing for an extended period of time my hand will lose it’s grip or my fingers will stiffen leaving me unable to continue. Having fallen down a flight of fifteen stairs to a cement floor more than once, I avoid stairs at all costs. So today, I will clarify some important ways you can view me and another Wartburg student, Nicholas Rohde a little more inclusively.

Michelle: What brought you to Wartburg?

Nicholas:  “Here is the first place where I have lived where my disability is not a significant portion of who I am…yes it is still part of me, but I am accepted for who I am and not for who I appear to be. People at Wartburg see the essence of who I am. I’m 99% sure that they describe me as Nikolas Rohde, MDiv First year student from Rochester, Minnesota. My disability would not be a necessary part in their description of me. It would be more like an afterthought or at the most one of the last things people here would say about me. I like that the people of Wartburg talk about my personality and how they see me as a whole person.”

Nicholas went on to say that the most important thing is the way you respect him. “Treat me the same way you would treat anyone else. Don’t placate me. Be authentic and genuine with me. I can tell the difference. Be natural, it’s ok if you do something for me, like open a door if you have a free hand and I will help you when I can. Sometimes people on campus will forget that I have a disability and it becomes invisible to them. Then they say something or ask me to do something and all of the sudden they are embarrassed because they forgot.

Michelle: So do you appreciate it when people forget that you have a disability?

Nicholas: “It is not a simple yes or no answer. I want people to forget about my disability, but the reality is that it is still there and I still need help at times. I might require something different from 99% of the people in the room but, in that moment, do what is necessary to assist me as you would any other human being. Don’t make a big deal of it, just do it. In all the other moments when my disability doesn’t matter, then IT DOESN’T MATTER!”

Michelle: Is it all right with you if someone asks questions about how to be authentic and respectful of you?

Nicholas: “Yes, if you don’t know then ask, otherwise, if you assume the wrong thing you may appear to be disrespectful. This does not mean that you need to ask me about every little thing that comes up, but be authentic. If I don’t like what you are asking or implying by the question, trust me you will know. (He says with a wry smile.)

Michelle: How do you feel about people asking you about your disability?

Nicholas: I don’t have a problem with people asking about my disability, but I do struggle when a child might ask their parent about my disability and their response is shhhhhbe quiet, that’s not nice. This reaction makes the subject of disability a taboo. It’s interesting, I have two nephews who just know me as Uncle Nicholas. They are really young but they haven’t seemed to notice that I am different from them. So I wonder when they will realize our differences are more significant than my being just Uncle Nicholas. I wonder if it will change our relationship in any way.

Michelle: What else would you like people who read this know about you and other people with disabilities?

Nicholas: First, let me give you my disclaimer. (Perhaps this should have gone at the beginning of this interview) How people treat me is how I want to be included. I cannot speak for every person with a disability, I am just one of many. People have their own ways of viewing what is inclusive and respectful. Now on to my answer to your question. It is important for people to know that a person with a disability is not just taker but is also a giver. I believe all of us have needs. Some needs are physical, some emotional, some are mental, whatever. A relationship is something in which two people give and receive from one another, whatever it might be. In what I consider a friendship there is no I.O.U. involved! It is not a relationship where it is assumed that you do something for me. PERIOD. I do something for you. PERIOD. Friendship, relationship is built on mutual respect and trust and that is what I want in a relationship/friendship. Maybe just in an acquaintance/passerby that is not even a relationship. I just want to be seen as who I am Nicholas Rohde. Jesus sacrificed everything for us. Period. If there is a because, it is because of the wanting for a relationship, which all humans have and this could be the same thing, but a different word because of love.

Michelle: Thank you so much for your time Nicholas. I am looking forward to many more conversations with you.

For further information on how to include people with disabilities into your life check out these websites. http://www.tolerance.org/article/disability-awareness-were-it-together or http://www.uni.edu/equity/disability-etiquette.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE By Eric Grayvold, Final Year M.Div.

Inclusive language itself is a broad topic. When we start talking about global inclusive language, it opens us up to another grand amount of issues with our use of language. At times it can be even overwhelming to think of how to say something, especially when in another country and one is trying to be mindful of the multitude of culture intricacies that are present in the context. Overall, being mindful of global inclusive language means learning more about the contexts and self-identities of the people we encounter across the world and in our own backyards.

One should use geographically generalizing terms. Avoiding general terms such as “African” or “Asian” and instead using specific terms such Tanzanian or Hmong can help give voice to a particular group of people with a particular national or cultural identity. Even in this example we need to be careful because sometimes using only “nationality” as an identifier can be hurtful in places where people are suffering from political oppression. In the same way, using nationality can be affirming in places where people are by the rest of the world denied having a specific national identity. What is often useful is having an open and honest conversation with the people one meets, and being open to the possibility that such people may completely disagree with oneself.

Also one should be mindful of acknowledging social justice issues.  What one says about a situation can be particularly affirming or offensive to the people one meets. In Israel and Palestine, I have met some people who will call the whole land simply “Israel” or simply “Palestine,” and yet will never acknowledge the presence of the other due to the conflict. In this case, I felt it was not my place to correct or comment on these individuals’ lack of distinction between the two, but instead I moved to listen to their stories as people who were living within the conflict. Often times we can walk into these traps without knowing it, and what becomes helpful is then listening to the stories behind the social justice issues so that one can inform others of what was learned.

Finally we need to be mindful of how we speak about ourselves. In the local dialect of Arabic in Palestine, people from the United States are known as “Ameirican,” which is obviously derived from “American.” This is problematic, because people from the United States are not the only Americans in the world, but yet people across the world have picked up on our use of identifying ourselves with the term “American.” Canadians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Jamaicans, and many other countries are a part of the land mass known as “America,” which itself is divided into two (and according to others, three) sections. This also does not acknowledge the many First World Peoples who struggle to maintain their cultural identity apart from the colonial identity. Also, calling ourselves “Americans” denies the uniqueness in the identity and history we have in being citizens of the United States of America.

Like all things in understanding inclusive language, we will always fall short. It is a struggle in which we gain insight on how we use words and their impact on others by walking with our brothers and sisters in Christ across in the globe, and even in our own backyard. Understanding the issues of colonial oppression on the identity of people and the struggles of maintaining cultural identity in an ever globalizing world can go a long way to help people speak in terms that lift up the humanity in the global neighbor.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE FOR GOD (IN WORSHIP) By Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament

Using inclusive language for God is a matter of characterizing God—to use narrative theory language—and characterizing God as accurately as possible.

In my experience, using inclusive language for God is something that may well not necessarily earn you praise from many. But some do notice it, and it does send a message about who we believe God is.

Two people from my congregation stand out:

One was a young mother of twin daughters, a part of our church staff. One day she asked us pastor: “Can you please work harder at using inclusive language for God? …I don’t want my daughters growing up unnecessarily with the idea that God is male.”

The other was a retired gentleman from my congregation. Shortly before I left, he pointed out to me: “I notice that you use inclusive language for God in worship consistently. And I think it’s a very good thing.”

The most straightforward ways we do this is by simply using non-gender references to God:

  • Instead of “he” and “him,” we use “God.”
  • Instead of heavy use of “Father” (which we use a lot), we make a point to intersperse it with “Heavenly Mother” and “Creator.”

At the end of the day, simple gestures of this kind enable us to act in ways that do not continue to foster the idea of God with which many of us grew up: that of an old, bearded, white male in the sky.

It feels awkward at first. But with time it feels very natural. It felt just as awkward to the church people who first started to use “fishers of people” (vs. fishers of men). It probably felt just as awkward to those who changed from using “Thou” and “Thee” language in the Psalms to “you” language. But they made the change, and we are grateful.

I remember a good friend of mine who grew up in church hearing a non-gender inclusive Bible (as many of us did). She remembers one day then asking her mother: “Mom, is Jesus interested in having women disciples?”

It’s remarkable the things we say, without necessarily trying to say them. …as church leaders, we do well to consider more intentionally beforehand what we say, so that our words convey better what we mean to say.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE RESPONSE By Jean Peterson, Region V Archives Volunteer

I appreciated the Inclusive Language and Practice Convocation and related to the dilemma we encounter when filling out forms asking for “marital status” that do not provide appropriate options to fill in.  This has been a source of irritation to me for several years.  It’s like trying to find the correct answer in a “multiple choice” exam – when the correct answer is not provided as an option.  You flunk if you don’t fill in the blank; or the computer refuses to accept your test or application if you don’t fill in an answer, even when no answer is correct, or none of the information requested applies to you. So you’re floundering, trying to find the correct answer when that is a non-option! I realized that if we are to be truly “inclusive” we would need six – no, maybe 7 or 8 categories – at least!  As this teased my brain, I realized that to be truly inclusive, the number of choices is infinite!  What are some of the possibilities?

1) Single

2) Betrothed or Engaged. (How about “Spoken for?”)

3) Married

4) Partnered

5) POSSLQ

(In the 1970’s, and 1980’s the U.S. Census Bureau invented the label POSSLQ  for what was otherwise known as cohabitation, or Common Law Marriage (Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters.)

6)  A counterpart of POSSLQ might be PSSSLQ, for those of same sex                         sharing living quarters.

7)  Divorced

8) Legally Separated

9) Annulled

10) What do we call broken relationships of partnered couples who have been living together for a number of years, but have now separated?

11) Widowed

How about Roommates or Housemates who live together, but not in a sexual relationship.  Are they “House Companions”?  Then I think of people who live in a Group Home, or in a Commune. I wonder how the Census Bureau handles single adult siblings living together, such as siblings who have inherited the family farm (or house, or business)?

When I file my income tax, the IRS offers me five marital status options, none of which applies accurately to me.  So, like an election form, I write in the word “widow,” and then proceed to the tax tables for “single” to calculate my tax.     My health insurance now lists me as both the retiree and as spouse of the retiree!  Remember the song “I’m my own grandpa”?  Apparently I am my own marital partner.   As the retiree, they do not pay me any benefits, but as my own dependent spouse, the insurance company does pay my medical bills. I am grateful to my deceased husband and his employer!  Of course, this also precludes my ever re-marrying, if I were ever so inclined to do so.  If I did that, the form-maker would need to add one more category, spelled (12) “FOOLISH”  (or “crazy”!) To keep the list from becoming unimaginably ridiculous, the form-makers should include categories (13) “OTHER” and (14) “None of the Above.”