Monthly Archives: February 2014

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Paula Carlson Elected President of Luther College

Dr. Paula Carlson has just been elected President of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Her husband, Dr. Thomas Schattauer, is Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel at Wartburg Seminary. Thomas and Paula have long been a part of Wartburg.  Paula will assume the office of president July 1. She is currently in her 6th year serving as Vice President of Mission at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Previously she was Associate Dean and then Director of the Wendt Center at the University of Dubuque.

Paula is a graduate of St. Olaf College. She earned her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in New York City. She has taught in many positions at various institutions through the years.

Karen Bloomquist Begins Her Leadership of PLTS

The Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist is the new dean and Chief Administrative Officer of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, having begun January 1.  She replaces Rev. Dr. Phyllis Anderson who was president of PLTS and is a Wartburg Seminary graduate. Karen taught Ethics at Wartburg Seminary before spending 11 years as the director of the department for theology and studies at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland.  She served in a similar position for the ELCA before and while teaching at Wartburg.

Karen is a graduate of St. Olaf College, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and earned her doctorate in theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

JOURNAL ENTRIES FROM PALESTINE By Jon Brudvig, 2nd Year MDiv

As I read Christians and a Land Called Holy by Charles Lutz and Robert Smith, both ELCA pastors, I am shocked to discover that much of what I know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been filtered through the lens of western media outlets that fail to present a balanced or objective view of Middle Eastern affairs.  Sadly, I, like many other Americans, have unwittingly developed preconceived images of Palestinians as terrorists who intentionally targeted innocent Israelis citizens for attack during the second Intifada; a perception further reinforced by media coverage of Hamas and other radical Islamic groups (Muslim Brotherhood) resorting to violence in the Gaza Strip.  Why, I wonder, don’t we hear about the apartheid-like efforts to separate Israelis and Palestinians from one another?  Why don’t we hear about the actions of people who are advocating for peace and justice?  Why do major news outlets fail to report on the Israeli government’s provocative building of settlements on Palestinian land or its ongoing illegal activities throughout the West Bank?  Why the silence? 

Sadly, the silence is killing people, crushing dreams, engendering hatred, and slowly strangling hopes for a lasting and just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.  How, I wonder, can well-intentioned Christians advocate for justice in light of these challenges and political realities?  In my opinion, we must shed our initial apathy and begin to take action, however insignificant our first steps may be, and advocate for justice for all of people in the Holy Land.  I also realize that I have a choice.  I can live in blissful ignorance of the suffering of fellow human beings, or I can listen and learn from the “living stones,” the people of the Holy Land that I will encounter during the trip.  Only then will I be able to speak prophetically and to stand in critical solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis via a hermeneutic of justice (p. 55, 60).

Why does this place matter? Why does it matter that we have come to this place?

“Cities that can’t grow, die” noted Reverend Mitri Raheb during our brief conversation with him shortly after arriving in Bethlehem.  At the time, I really did not understand the complicated nature of Palestinian-Israeli relations.  Nor did I fully understand the powerful truth of Pastor Rehab’s barbed comment.  Everything changed for me; however, when our group had the opportunity to visit the Wi’ am Center, a Palestinian advocacy organization committed to promoting conflict resolution, citizen diplomacy, youth advocacy, women’s empowerment, and peaceful transformation in a land battered by hatred and violence.  Here, in the shadow of a monstrous wall that encircles the town of Bethlehem I am suddenly struck by the realization that Bethlehem and other Palestinian settlements choked by this ghastly structure have become veritable human prisons.

Even the defiant graffiti brings to mind images of Eastern German dictators who ultimately failed to hold back the tide of liberty and democracy in Europe.  Perhaps justice will someday reach this place too, even in the midst of the Israeli government’s military might.  While Bethlehem and other Palestinian settlements in the West Bank find themselves encircled by the “Separation Barrier” and frequent military checkpoints, the Israeli government continues to build settlements throughout the West Bank, including a modern outcropping of well-kept homes and apartments that are snaking their way perilously close to Bethlehem.  It’s almost as if the Israeli government is building these structures in the West Bank both to taunt the Palestinians and to daily remind the Palestinians of their status as an occupied people.

This place matters because it is here that we have the opportunity to see firsthand that Israeli politicians and military leaders seem intent on “making a land without a people for the land.”  It also matters that we have come to this place in order to bear witness to the humiliation of physical separation barriers and checkpoints based solely on a people’s ethnicity.  Instead of making the state of Israel more secure, such near-sighted policies only create fertile soil for engendering hatred and spawning the rise of radical extremists who seek vengeance with rockets and random acts of violence directed against unidentified oppressors.  Yet, it is also here in a Bethlehem neighborhood situated in the shadow of Goliath’s wall where a dedicated staff of people affiliated with the Wi’am Center cling to a belief in the transformative power of hope by advocating for restorative justice and peace.  This place matters. In the midst of oppression it defiantly stands as a visible symbol of sustainable development, empowerment of the oppressed, and hope for a better future.  It also matters that we, Christian pilgrims hailing from a land that cherishes democracy, personal liberty, and equality have the opportunity to bear witness to what we have seen and to take seriously the Christian vocation to actively seek peace and justice for our oppressed brothers and sisters.

2) Describe a specific and significant encounter with a person or people from our pilgrimage.

During our time in Bethlehem I had the opportunity to visit with Rony Tabash, Epiphany Tabash, and their father.  The Tabash family operates the Nativity Store, a third-generation family-owned business located adjacent to Manger Square.  Rony and Epiphany were very eager to engage our group once they learned that we were seminarians from the United States.  Although it was late in the evening, Rony called for his father to come to the shop to spend time with fellow Christians.  While we waited for him to arrive Rony explained to me that his father was Catholic and his mother was Eastern Orthodox.  After his father arrived, Rony and Epiphany busied themselves assisting the influx of newly-arrived tourists eager to spend their money on olivewood nativity sets and chalices while I spent the time engaged in conversation with the family patriarch to ascertain his opinion regarding the current situation in Palestine.  According to Mr. Tabash “no one can know what it is like to live here (Palestine) until they have spent several generations in Bethlehem.”  Only later did I recognize the wisdom of Mr. Tabash’s statement.

Given my residency in the United States of America, I have never lived under the yoke of foreign occupation.  My security and personal liberties have never been threatened.  Far from it, we have laws in place designed to rigorously defend our personal liberty and religious and political rights. Yet, here in the land that heralded the birth of the Prince of Peace, countless Palestinian families have known only oppression, war, and the constant threat to personal freedoms that so many of us take for granted.  Mr. Tabash informed me that his father experienced life under Turkish, British, Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian rule.  Although he has permission to travel anywhere in Israel, he remarked that he is treated as someone who is less than human when he does, due to the searches and endless queues that he must endure any time that he leaves Bethlehem.  Like other Palestinian Christians, most of his family has left Palestine because they cannot put up with the treatment.  In fact, Mr. Tabash informed me that his two sisters now live in the United States (San Antonio and San Francisco).  Sadly, both women are afraid to return home to Bethlehem.  Although Mr. Tabash may travel freely throughout Israel, he told me that he “feels like a free man” only when he visits his two sisters in America. When I asked Mr. Tabash if he still had hope for a peaceful resolution to the current situation he replied, “Hope? What hope is there? We pray and we hope.”

Although his response contained elements of both remorse and skepticism, I also sensed a belief on Mr. Tabash’s part that he had not lost faith in the power of the Almighty to bring about change in this part of the world.  As long as people like Mr. Tabash have faith that a peaceful solution is possible, perhaps peace is possible.  As we left the store Mr. Tabash presented us with small gifts in token of his appreciation of our visit while encouraging us to remember what we see in Palestine and to tell others about it.

My encounter with Mr. Tabash, although relatively innocuous at the time, has left a deep impression on me.  While I thoroughly enjoyed our opportunity to interact with highly-regarded Palestinian activists (Mitri Raheb, Zoughbi Zoughbi, and Archbishop Elias Chacour), the person-to-person encounter with Mr. Tabash helped me to connect with an ordinary person who shares the same hopes and dreams for his family, aspirations that many of us in the United States take for granted.  As I think back on this encounter, especially in light of my own context, I cannot help but recall Elias Chacour’s admonition that it is high time that Christians who hunger and thirst for justice must “get their hands dirty” for “peace does not need people to meditate on it but to take action for it” (Faith Beyond Despair, 49).

Although I had ventured to the Holy Lands to visit sites connected with the origins of my faith, I came away realizing that Christianity is a living faith.  Our most precious monuments are not the excavated remains of places associated with our Lord and Savior, rather it is the “living stones,” the people for whom our God took human form and willing suffered and died for on our behalf that we must remember. It is for these people, our brothers and sisters around the world, that we must be willing to live lives of authentic Christian discipleship.

A POEM by Carina Schiltz, 2nd Year MDiv

This was written in response to taking the Wartburg J-term course ‘Responding to Issues in Domestic Violence’, particularly contemplating the stories of survivors of domestic violence.

self-less

my bruised and broken body
is nothing compared to my
chewed-up and spit-out spirit
self? i have no self.
Savior?
He hangs on a cross and you
tell me to be like him–
to suffer.
To hold the family together.
But most of you tell me nothing.
Your eyes tell me to be
ashamed. To feel guilty–
and again I am a victim.
The worst is the silence,
a silence I have learned to
keep because no one will
believe me,
a silence that i keep
because i know my voice isn’t
worth anything to anyone.
It’s in the silence the voices scream
“YOU ARE NOTHING”–and
point to the man hanging on
a cross. Is that my fate, too?
A call to the cops
a cold corpse–
i’m already dead, can’t you
see that?
This is no way to live–
in fear, in isolation, in
punishment for my self-less-ness.
i am no self.
i am silent.

ME & MY COLLAR

Submitted to The Persistent Voice by Rebecca Crystal, Unitarian Universalist MDiv Intern, written by one of the women clergy with whom she works in Houston, TX.

You may run into me on a Friday, in my neighborhood, so it’s time I let you know what you might see.

When I was doing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my supervisor suggested that any of us who came from traditions where a clerical collar was an option, take one “collar week,” to see how we were treated, as opposed to wearing regular professional clothes.

After a couple of days, I joked to the Catholic priest, “How do you manage the power?”

In regular clothes, I would walk into a patient’s room, and it would take about 5 or so minutes of introductions and pleasantries before we could really get down to talking about their feelings, their fears, the deep stuff.

With most people, as soon as that clerical collar walked in the room, with me attached, they began pouring out all the heavy stuff they were carrying.

I was riding the bus back and forth every day, and though not quite so dramatic, the collar effect was alive there, too. More people would chat with me, and they’d get “real” faster. Rarely was “How’s it going?” answered with a polite, “Fine,” as normally happened. People spoke about having a stressful time at work, or how they couldn’t find their cat, or their joy because someone special was coming in town.

It was great … and it was exhausting. At the end of the week, I confided to my CPE team that I was glad to take off the collar. As long as it was on, I was “on.”

I never expected to wear one as a Unitarian Universalist minister, unless I was doing social witness.

That’s the norm. We wear it in those situations because it’s important to give a message that religious professionals are there, especially when so many times, (LGBTQ issues, reproductive health), the impression is that religion is only on the conservative side.

A few of my colleagues wear it, though, especially my good friend Rev. Ron Robinson, who wears it around Turley, where he runs a missional community. And the Humiliati wore it as part of their practice.

It Started As an Experiment.

There’s a lot of “conventional wisdom” about the collar, among UU ministers. One that I heard many times is that it will turn people off, it will be a barrier. So after I was ordained, I decided to experiment. I would wear it out in my neighborhood, and keep a log of my interactions. I was just curious.

The first two or three times, I noticed some small things — it seemed that people, especially among the more economically or otherwise marginalized communities — were a little friendlier, a little more open to talking. But the collar has its effect on me, too, and perhaps I was just being friendlier myself?

The more definable result were the conversations I had with other women — especially younger women — about the collar. Was I a priest? No, a minister? A woman … how did that work? What did people call me?

Well, I do live in the Bible Belt.

And Became An Act of Social Witness.

I wasn’t doing it on any regular basis, I must admit. In regular clothes, I have the privilege of being invisible. But these questions, about being a women and a minister, prompted me to occasionally go out in my collar, in the community.

One day, I had to run several errands, including a trip to the post office. I kicked my rear (not literally, I’m not that flexible), put on the collar, and went about them.

At the post office, I futzed around awkwardly, looking for the right size box. The clerk at the counter waved me over, asked if he could assist me. He advised me on a cheaper way to ship, and helped me assemble the package. His co-worker joked, asking if I could give him holy water. The clerk said, “I don’t need that, but would you pray for me?” I smiled and said, Yes, and asked his name. His co-worker said to pray for her, too. I asked her name. When I left, I said, “Thank you, Ray.” And came home and prayed for Ray and Naomi.

So, It Developed Into A Spiritual Practice.

The spirit was willing, but the self-consciousness made me weak. It’s just so much easier to be invisible. I’d go out sporadically,  have an experience that made me mentally promise to be more regular about it … but life just keeps happening, busy schedules, things to make happen, ministry to do …

And then I heard about a teen in my area, who was gradually coming out as gay, exploring trans*. Hadn’t told their parents, don’t know how they’ll react. Someone told this teen about Unitarian Universalism – they went online, read about it, and were blown away that not all faiths are anti-gay.

In some places, this is still a shockingly new idea that people have never heard of.

There is a Starbucks across the street from my kids’ high school, where they often congregate after school. I decided I’d collar up with a rainbow flag pin on my shirt. I didn’t expect any teen would talk to me — I’m still an adult, after all. But I figured I could sit by the door, just taking care of some work on my computer, and maybe, just maybe, the juxtaposition of the collar and the pin might introduce the idea into some teen’s head that “Hey, maybe religion and gay aren’t enemies.” Maybe even, “Hey. Maybe Goddoesn’t hate me.”

So, I didn’t expect any confirmation. But sometimes we do things, even aware we’ll never know if it made a difference. That’s faith, I guess.

I was waiting for my lime refresher when the girl standing next to me said, “I like your flag pin.”

She said it, but her face looked doubtful. It was one of those rare times when I’m pretty sure I could read her thoughts. Does she know what that pin she’s wearing actually means?

I smiled at her. “I think it’s important, especially in this area, to send a message.”

I watched her eyes bounce back and forth between the pin and my collar.

“Are you a priest?”

“I’m a minister, a Unitarian minister. We’re an LGBT-friendly church.” I rethought the words. “Mmm, LGBT-welcoming?”

“LGBT-friendly is a good term,” she said. She squinted at me. “You mean, your church is okay with gay people?”

“Mmm-hmm. Some of our ministers are gay, too.”

She blinked and it seemed apparent this was a brand new idea. We had a conversation of a couple of minutes as she clarified that yes, I really meant it, it was fine to be gay at a Unitarian Universalist church.

“What’s the name of your church? My mom has been wanting to go to a church.”

I told her, and mentioned another in the area.

She repeated that her mom wanted to find a church. “We’ve been to a couple of churches … but the kids were mean to me. Because I’m gay.”

Deep breath.

I told her that I was so sorry. That that should never happen at a church. That it would not be tolerated at one of our churches. Not at my church, I emphasized, conscious of the collar I wore, conscious that it represented, to her, an authority far beyond me.

She asked if I could write down the name of my church. I handed her a business card. She read it slowly, standing there.

“I’m Joanna,” I said, shaking her hand.

“I’m —-,” she said, shaking my hand, looking me straight in the eyes.

That’s When it Became a Discipline. 

Every Friday afternoon, that’s where I am. I take my ipad, catch up on emails and whatnot.

What makes that a spiritual discipline? my mentor asked.

Presence.

Awareness.

As I mentioned, when I started my St. Arbucks ministry, my only thought was about presence. And I still think that’s important. It’s not about me being there. I am merely representing something — church, God, religion, spirit. With a message of inclusion.

But my experiences have taught me that it’s not just enough for my body to be present, I have to be fully aware. Which frankly, is not always one of my strengths, especially if I’m working on something else. I can have deep conversations with someone and after they leave, if you ask me whether they were wearing glasses, or wearing a red shirt, I’ll look at you blankly. Not very observant.

It’s like an exercise in spiritual peripheral vision. Being casual, certainly not staring at people as they walk in … yet being aware, so that if someone wants to begin a conversation, I’m open and willing. It’s not easy. My own teen was sitting near me one Friday and hissed, “MOM! That guy just said he liked your pin!”

I missed it.

And that’s usually how the conversation begins. “I like your pin,” they say. Sometimes, that’s the end of the conversation. Sometimes not. “I like your pin,” said a boy the other day. “Thank you,” I said. He turned to a girl sitting by him. “She’s a minister, but she likes gays.” The girl smiled at me, and with a British accent told me that in her country, gay marriage was legal now. We talked a bit, the three of us.

I often wear the pin on regular clothes. I get smiles, but it’s not the same.

It’s the collar and the pin. Religion and inclusiveness. God and gay.

MANDELA REMEMBRANCE NOT OVER By Rev. Dr. Peter Kjeseth, WTS faculty em.

The way I see it, the Mandela period of mourning, remembrance and re-dedication is clearly not over.  Several of you have asked about how we, now heading into our 13th year here in Cape Town, experienced Mandela’s death and burial.

To my surprise the most moving part of the drama for me was watching thousands of ordinary South Africans in the line that moved silently and slowly to view the body of the icon.  This came toward the end of the long week of mourning that had seen ceremony, stirring speeches, farcical mishaps and the biggest international gathering in my memory.   Amid all the comment and long-prepared set pieces about Mandela, the TV cameras kept returning to the line, solemnly snaking its way toward the coffin.  Of course it recalled the long lines of voters in the first free election that had brought Mandela to the presidency.  But there was something different this time.  For me at least it spoke of Mandela’s achievement in reconciliation. Several times I choked up.  Once I actually cried:  a fifty something white heavy-set man was followed by a thin township black; behind him a white grandmother holding hands with a pre-school granddaughter, behind them an obviously affluent small family, then what seemed a group of taxi drivers. The reality of the rainbow nation!

There were other, more sobering, moments of reality.  In the huge, prestigious, rain-soaked memorial service which saw the stirring speech by Barak Obama and the farcical hand-gibberish of the man who was hired to do the sign language for the deaf of the world, the ANC as it stands today experienced a raw wound and an unforgettable embarrassment.  President Jacob Zuma was booed by a large proportion of the black audience. Top ANC officials walked the unruly crowds trying to quiet them.  They could not.  In fact, a large number of the crowd walked out on Zuma’s final remarks.

The endless reminders of Mandela’s strength, courage and integrity threw cruel light on Zuma and his rule of corruption, cronyism and incompetence.  Now a few more people call for his resignation.  Even struggling heroes who could never vote for any party but the ANC now talk of not voting at all in the big elections of 2014. And some ANC figures have broken rank and gone public with specific criticisms.

Some argue that Mandela, in his relentless struggle against apartheid, was actually carrying forward Jesus’ mission of good news to the poor and release of the captive.  And this at a moment when Pope Francis makes a stunning swing away from the pomp and circumstance of the papacy and speaks out against today’s form of global capitalism that turns its back on the poor.

This has led to some interesting tweaking of the Mandela image, in my view.  On the one hand, Mandela becomes a more ‘Christian’ leader than I can recall him being painted before.  He thus joins Jesus and the Pope in condemning heartless, greedy, poor-despising present day capitalism.  On a lower level of significance they are joined by Barak Obama who drew the greatest applause at the Mandela memorial service.  Obama asserted that the Mandela image brings out the best within each of us. So when Obama calls inequality the defining image of our time, he goes along with Jesus, the Pope and Mandela.

This however leads to the most substantial problem in the Mandela legacy. In the crucial transition from apartheid to freedom, when it came to the South African economy, Mandela chose the way of status quo capitalism rather than the ‘socialism’ called for in the Freedom Charter.  Apologists say he had no choice; critics argue that he sold out.  So now in the mourning period the apologists stress the temporary necessity of the move and emphasize Mandela’s over-all commitment to equality and the values of ubuntu.  But the reality on the ground looks like it could turn bloody. The passionate struggle over the path ahead for the South African economy threatens the unity of the ANC and its ruling alliance with labour.  And the powerful labour movement itself might well fall apart.  There is competition for membership in competing unions.  There is widespread fury at the ANC government not only for the Marikana massacre of unarmed demonstrators but also for the supposed betrayal of the goals of the Freedom Charter.

The Mandela period of mourning, remembrance and re-dedication is clearly not over.  It has demonstrated that great and irreversible progress has been made in reconciliation.  But the shining image of the icon has revealed deep wounds in the body cultural and politic, wounds that will be a long time in healing.