Category Archives: Feature Articles

WARTBURG SEMINARY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY CONVOCATION 2014

Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament:

Welcome to our first convocation of the academic year. “Convocations” happen here at Wartburg at various times on topics that require—not simply disseminating information—but face-to-face conversation. These topics are typically not cut-and-dry issues, but matters of evolving, ongoing, dynamic conversation.

For many years Wartburg has hosted a convocation on “inclusive language.” This convocation is similar, but broader in focus. It entails not only concerns pertinent to inclusive language but also concerns pertinent to behavior and actions that foster genuine inclusion of “the other.”

Our language and our behavior do things, especially in community: by our words and actions, we consciously and unconsciously assume certain norms, characterize ourselves and our community ethos, and establish what is “normal,” acceptable, and appreciated. Sometimes we are deliberate about our words and actions, sometimes not so much.

This morning we have 6 individuals who will each speak for about 2 minutes on a particular issue that pertains to becoming an inclusive community.

- Hannah Benedict (concerning gender)
– Norma Cook Everist (concerning disabilities)
– Mack Patrick (concerning transgender)
– Stan Olson (concerning inclusive language for God)
– Gus Barnes (concerning race and sexual orientation)
– Susan Ebertz (concerning denominational backgrounds)

Afterward, we will dialogue with each other at our tables.

Hannah Benedict, Final Year M.Div. Student: 

I don’t think much about my gender. I don’t have a constant internal track going, “I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman.” I say this fully aware that as I say that, I wear a particular piece of attire typically attributed to one gender–yep, high heels, those tortuous devices woman can wear. But I don’t wear high heels because of my gender. I wear them because of my 5’3″ height. It’s logistics folks! I truly don’t pay attention to my gender much, until a moment about which I’m going to tell you:

At the end of internship, a congregation member came up to me with what she thought would be a compliment. She said, “At first we didn’t know how a lady intern would do, but you did great, honey!” Her pleasant surprise was my harsh realization. Not only might I need to consider my gender, but that others could see my gender as a detriment.

She wasn’t the first to share such reactions. Others, mostly women and women my age, shared similar reactions, “You wanna be a what? Sweetie, don’t you know you’re a lady?”

It’s not that I don’t know my gender. I am fully aware of it and others of my kind. I’m one of three sisters, (an aunt two nieces; women outnumber men in my family). I attended a women’s college—go Suzies—and chaired the feminist group. I got that I was a woman, through and through. But what I didn’t get was how this somehow made me any less effective or valuable.

Being a woman never stopped me from doing all that God called me to do. Being a woman never stopped me from being compassionate, courageous, strong, determined, and dedicated. Instead, being a woman, surrounded and supported by them, taught me how to be all these and more. My gender provides a particular perspective, one no less important than any other. From this vantage point, I can see who God makes me through the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In Christ, we are no longer male/female, gentile/Jewish, enslaved/free. We are God’s.  Gender may be part of my identity but it is not all of it. Yes, I’m a lady—and a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and, occasionally I wear heels.  But I am first and foremost a child of God.

Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration and Educational Ministry: 

I’m Norma Cook Everist, addressing living together with our abilities and disabilities. We are all differently abled. Wartburg is a caring community where people try to live thoughtfully, respectfully and in solidarity with people with disabilities.

How can we do this even better?

By really seeing each person, rather than pretending not to notice. By asking, rather than presuming a person’s need: “What is helpful to you?”

By using person-first language: Not “a blind person” but a “person who is blind.” I have a disability; I am not my disability.

And by using inclusive language in worship. Our ELW does not say, “Please stand,” words hard to hear for those who cannot. Thomas Schattauer and Melissa Waterman encourage us to motion with our hands when the congregation is to stand. People with disabilities who were on the hymnal planning committee encouraged, “The Assembly stands,” an inclusive phrase which means the congregation stands for those who cannot. We’ve been doing pretty well this fall. It is important we remember as we are formed as leaders for an inclusive church.

Inclusive language matters: So we motion, or we say, “The assembly stands,” or we say, “Please stand as you are able.”

Nicholas Rohde and I conferred, discovering we’ve both been tempted to respond when we hear, “Please stand”: “No thank you, I can’t.” Let’s try that. I’ll say, “Please stand,” and you respond, “No thank you. I can’t.” [The people at tables did.] Now say after me: “The Assembly stands.” [“The Assembly stands.”] “Please stand as you are able”   [“Please stand as you are able.”]

Thank you very much.

Mack Patrick, 1st Year M.Div. Student:

To start this conversation off, one must understand a few basic things about transgender. The first is that transgender is commonly spelled as trans*; this is an important piece in the trans* experience. The asterisk represents that trans* is a spectrum covering a wide variety of experiences. Some are a bit more clear-cut than others. There is the complete change over: Female to Male or Male to Female, but there is also the non-conforming, non-identifying side of gender.

Along with recognizing that trans* is a spectrum—and you may not always know how someone fully identifies—it is important to realize trans* are still people. Asking if they have surgery, or inquiring more about their chosen gender, is not cool and rather offensive. No one cares about your private parts. You should not ask those questions of those who are trans*. That is a private matter.

Pronouns identify who we are on a paper form, but correct use of pronouns is also a good way to show someone that you care about them and want them to be included in a community. While society has focused on the popular pronouns of male and female, there are yet two other known sets of pronouns that someone may identify with. One of those other sets is the gender neutral set. It is commonly used with individuals who do not identify with a specific gender. [This set includes:] Ze (zee) commonly referred to as the subject, Hir (here) known as the object and possessive adjective, and Hirs (heres) for the possessive pronoun. While these are not commonly known and used, as the popularity and acknowledgment of the gender-neutral pronoun grows, they will be used more often. It is completely acceptable to ask people what pronouns they prefer.

For someone who identifies as trans*, asking about pronouns is a great first step. Admitting that you have no clue what to do or say is good, but first and foremost ignore their gender and focus on the person. I know that hearing the correct pronouns being used when talking about me, is huge, as acceptance is growing. Even though I identify as trans*, I feel full included and accepted in the Wartburg Community. Inclusion starts with the ability to recognize you may encounter individuals in your community that are different from you. Take the first step and get to know them as a person.

Rev. Dr. Stan Olson, WTS President:

My privilege today is to talk with you a little about language for God. The topic of this convocation is inclusive language. I could talk about inclusive language for God, pointing to the importance of speaking of God in ways that allow all to be included.

I’ve given that talk. However, over the years I’ve concluded that it’s far better to speak of expansive language for God or, simply, appropriate language for God. Speaking appropriately of God is an expression of faithfulness.

Sixty years ago, J. B. Philipps wrote a book titled, Your God Is Too Small. He challenges the reader to think more expansively about God as made known in Jesus Christ, to embrace the depth of meaning. The book was very important in shaping my early thinking. I recently reread it and can’t now say that I commend the book to you. I do, however, commend the title. Let that title push you firmly as you do theology, preach, teach, counsel, write, and pray—your God is too small.

To embed this push in your thoughts, I invite you to shift from the second person pronoun and use this as a response: Our God is too small. Say it with me now, Our God is too small, and then in response.

If we speak of God using only a few of the words and images available, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the New Testament, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the Hebrew Bible, Our God is too small.

If our talk of God uses only masculine images and pronouns, or only feminine images and pronouns, or only combinations, Our God is too small.

If we limit our language for God only to words actually used in the Bible and neglect the church’s rich history of devotion and thought, Our God is too small.

If we casually and carelessly use familiar hymnic and devotional language that conveys limited or false images of God, Our God is too small.

If the God we convey seems distant and unknowable for any to whom we speak, Our God is too small.

If we think that God is ours alone, Our God is too small.

If we ever allow ourselves to think that we have arrived at language that is finally and completely appropriate, Our God is too small.

God is not too small!

Gus Barnes, 3rd Year M.Div. Student: 

I am Gus Barnes Jr. I am one of a kind, created by God and my parents. I am a fifty-three year old man in seminary. I am a tax-payer. I am a product of the sixties. Here is the shocker surprise: I am an openly Gay African American man. In my time in this temporal place we call earth, I have had many doors shut in my face because of the things that describes who Gus is. Here at Wartburg Seminary I assume when people speak of Gus being Gay, it’s because often I am happy as Gus; I am welcomed here as Gus.

I am thrilled to have lived a lifetime to see a Black President in office, and this week I met the ELCA’s first openly Gay Bishop. The ELCA has struggled with sexuality issues. And after its decision in 2009 to be more open to gays and lesbians serving in ministerial leadership, it has lost many congregations. Sadly I am reminded daily when I look in the mirror as I prepare my day that I need to ask,”What doors will be opened, and which doors will be shut because of who Gus is?” Spend some time to get to know me and others. I promise if you stay out of my closet, I’ll stay out of yours!

Susan Ebertz, Director of the Reu Memorial Library and Assistant Professor of Bibliography and Academic Research:

I’m speaking on inclusion of a variety of denominational backgrounds. I think that there is only one student here who is not Lutheran and she is a TEEM student. I think I am the only faculty member who is not Lutheran. There are a number of the staff who are not Lutheran. I mention this because sometimes it is easy for some of us to forget that not all of us are Lutheran.

At one time we had more non-Lutherans here. The other faculty member and the students would talk with me about some of their experiences. I’m not at liberty to share those stories. It wasn’t a secret club but it did create a bond between us.

I don’t think that the difference in denominational backgrounds is as hurtful as other sorts of discriminations. If we all realize that not everyone speaks Lutheranese and not all of us believe Lutheran theology, we go a long way into including those of other denominations.

I know that some of you grew up in a different denomination and the transition to Lutheran theology may be difficult. I think it is important for you to know and understand Lutheran theology and to live into that. That is okay. That is not what I’m talking about.

Many of you will be ministering in communities where you will need to work with ecumenical partners. Understanding what they believe or how they “do worship” can be an important learning experience while you are in seminary. Figure out ways to experience that.

If you want to talk more, I welcome conversation with you.

Table Question for Communal Conversation:

  1. When have you experienced “exclusion” in a community or church setting?
  2. What practices have you observed to be some of the most helpful for facilitating authentic inclusion and openness in faith communities? How have they worked?
  3. As leaders, how can we go about being allies or advocates in the communities we serve for inclusion concerning some of the issues named this morning?
  4. As leaders, what do you think will be some of the most pressing issues of inclusion for which we will need to be advocates in our unfolding ministries?

You may also appreciate the following previously published posts:


CHANGE THE WORLD BY EDUCATING GIRLS: THE FILM GIRL RISING By Carina Schiltz & Mytch Dorvilier, 2nd year M.Div. Students

Reviewed by Carina Schiltz and Mytch Dorvilier 2nd year M.Div. Students

 Girl Rising is a film and a global movement to educate girls as a means of breaking cycles of global poverty. The movie was released in March 2013, and Wartburg Seminary recently held a screening, sponsored by the Global Advocacy Committee. Girl Rising, directed by Richard E. Robins, and Academy Award nominated, is a global action campaign for girls’ education as well as a moving and inspiring film to raise awareness about the importance of girls’ education to global prosperity and peace. After the film, the audience engaged in meaningful discussion, lessons, and were encouraged to think about important political, cultural, historical, economic, and geographic issues tied to educating girls — and about their responsibilities to their own communities and their role as global citizens.

The documentary, created in partnership of girls and writers follows the stories of nine girls from Peru, Haiti, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, and Cambodia. It highlights the lives of nine young girls striving beyond circumstance and overcoming nearly insurmountable odds to achieve their dreams:  Sukha the Phoenix, Ruksana the Dreamer, Suma the Emancipated, Yasmin the Superhero, Senna the Warrior, Azmera the Courageous, Amina the Hopeful, Wadley the Undaunted,  and Mariama the Catalyst. The film shows challenges they have faced in their daily lives that bar the way to education, safety, and integrity. Some stories end in hope, but not all.

Educating girls is crucial because this results in safety, health, and independence. The  entire world is positively affected: their own children are more likely to be educated and communities thrive. Education helps provide a way to stay out of forced marriage, domestic slavery, human trafficking, and childbirth, which is the number one cause of death for girls ages 15-19.

Access to education is a basic right, however, around the world, 66 million girls are out of school. What are they doing instead? Many do not have a choice. They are working and earning money for their families. Often sons get priority to attend school rather than daughters. The girls may be married very young, already have children to care for, or they have been sold into domestic slavery. Thirteen girls under the age of 18 have been married in the last 30 seconds. In the time it took to read this paragraph, another thirteen girls around the world were married rather than being in school.

Educating girls raises national GDP which will continue to increase because educated people are more likely to send their own children to school, creating a cycle of prosperity and innovation. But the benefits of educating girls are not just in the future: some benefits happen right away. When girls and boys are educated together, studies show that conflict in those countries is reduced.

The film features voice over from Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchet, Selena Gomez, Liam Neeson, Priyanka Chopra, Chloe Moretz, Freida Pinto, Salma Hayek, Meryl Streep, Alicia Keyes and Kerry Washington. The film could be used for Sunday school, confirmation class, and other groups to introduce students to the issues surrounding girls’ education in the developing world, and it’s transformational power.

Want to change the world? Advocate for girls’ education. Reduce poverty, sexual violence, and increase health and prosperity for girls, their communities, and the world.

 

MYTHS & FACTS ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT By Laurel Duncan, 2nd Year MDiv

Men should be ashamed.  Men should be ashamed of the way our culture blames women for rape.  Saying: “she should not have been _____ (wearing that outfit, in that place, having a drink)” is blaming the victim for the crime of the perpetrator, as though it is up to the woman to avoid being raped because it’s natural for a man to rape.  As though men cannot control themselves and must rape a woman whom they find attractive.  Men, stand up for yourselves.  Don’t let our culture spread these negative assumptions.  It is not the natural state of a man to rape.  Put the blame where it belongs.  The one who rapes is the one to blame, not the victim.  Victim-blaming must end.  It is a culturally pervasive myth that rape is the fault of the victim by what they wore or where they were or what they did.  Let’s shatter this myth.  While we are at it here are a few more myths in need of shattering:

Myth: Men are the rapists, women are the victims.

Fact: While the highest number of sexual assault cases are of a man against a woman, women can commit rape and men can be raped.

Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by a stranger.

Fact: About 80% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim such as a relative, friend or acquaintance.  Rape can also occur in relationships and marriages–being married does not imply automatic consent.  Each person in a relationship has the right to say “no” to sex at any time and have that no respected by the other person.

Myth: Rapes are committed in dark alleyways.

Fact: According to the FBI database 70% of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement happen in the home of the victim, offender, or another individual.

Myth: Only homosexual men rape boys.

Fact: Most men who abuse boys define themselves as heterosexual.

Myth: Sexual assault is something that happens to pretty, young women

Fact: Sexual assault is about power and control.  Offenders look for people who are the most vulnerable to attack or who they believe they can have power over.  Victims can range from very young to very old.  61% of rape victims were assaulted before 18 years of age. 34% of sexual assault victims are age 12 or younger.

We live in a rape culture.  Women are told to dress attractively for men but if they get raped it’s their fault.  Jokes about rape and degradation of women are common place.  Our society holds up the “boys will be boys” mentality allowing men to abuse with little consequence.  Many of our swear words have a sexual nature; most of those speak specifically to sexual violation.  In movies, TV shows, and video games the idea of sexual assault has become so common place that in some video games a player can be rewarded for raping the enemy.  The myths this society believes about rape, the blame that mostly lands on the victim and the trivialization of rape all work to perpetuate the occurrence of sexual assaults in our world.

To borrow from the Alcohols Anonymous 12 step program, first we must admit we have a problem.  Awareness is the first step towards a better future.  Each person can become more aware of the areas in our society that trivialize and normalize sexual assault.  The first step is seeing: seeing how sexuality is portrayed in the media.  Being aware of the images you see on a daily basis can help you to take a step back and recognize what messages are healthy and what messages are harmful.  Next listen to the way sexual is spoken of both in the media and in daily life.  This can help you become more aware of your own language.  It seems like a minor thing but using sexually violent language trivializes sexual violence.  Using sexually violent language perpetuates sexual violence in our culture by turning it into a joke.  We may not be able to make the world perfect but we can certainly make it a safer place for our children by bringing awareness to issues like sexual assault.

The statistics in this article come from the Riverview Center which is a crisis center for victims of sexual assault in Dubuque, IA.  For more information visit www.riverviewcenter.org.

WOMEN CALLED TO CONNECT, BOND, AND HEAL IN A BROKEN WORLD By Tammy Barthels, M.Div Intern

I had the privilege to hear Edwina Gateley speak at the Women of the ELCA Wisconsin River Valley Conference Spring Event. Edwina founded the Genesis House – a house of hospitality and nurturing for women involved in prostitution in Chicago IL. The Genesis House until 2006 became a model program for women recovering from prostitution in the Midwest. Sophia’s Circle, an offshoot of Genesis House, provides ongoing support to help the women sustain their recovery through retreats, counseling, small emergency loans and sisterhood. Edwina is also the founder of The Voluntary Missionary Movement which sends missionaries to work in the developing world. She has authored 14 books, 3 CD’s and a DVD. Edwina has also been featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes” and “48 Hours.”

Edwina explored with enthusiasm and awe how God as lover and healer invites people to new possibilities and to believe in their potential to make a difference in our world.

She began the event by giving statistics such as:
7 million children go hungry everyday in the USA
1 in 3 girls will be abused before the age of 18
2% of the world’s population hold all its wealth

Edwina then said that she believed the definition for sin is “being out of balance.”

“We are the Mothers, Birth Wives, Daughters called to do what we can to balance things. Compassion and Love are the fundamental messages of the Gospel. Our call is to keep going and to never give up.

“God is inviting us to wholeness, to new possibilities and to open up and take action. We need to stand up and look fear in the face. We as women need to do what we think we cannot do. We are blessed at this time to speak the wisdom from deep within. Faith can’t be taught but only caught by the fire within us that God has given us. Our light must shine.

“Now is the time to speak our truth and to stand up for injustice. We are not to be the cheerleaders but the doers. The ones who will reach out with compassion; 96% of change and transformation happens with compassion. Change does not happen with war or legislation but with love. How hot is your love for justice? How will you fan the fire and make a change today?

“We are all called to be Mothers of God, to give birth to something new. It requires courage to be passionate and to go against the status quo. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: ‘Courage in women is often mistaken in women for insanity.’

“In a world of fear and imbalance we as women, midwives, and daughters must not give up. We must speak to the young and offer them alternatives to war and hatred. We must not be part of the diminishment but be part of the change. Blessed are they who never compromise their faith or their integrity. We must be so connected to the Gospel that we will not be compromised.”

The ongoing violence against women continues, the cycle of anger and violence continues because there is no love. The Church must be a holding room of intense love and compassion. We cannot fix it all, but we can be an intense place of light and love. How will we as women of the church fan the fire of love and compassion today? It is a conscious journey. How will we respond?

A PSALM: LAMENT FOR CONSOLATION By Wade Brinkopf, Final Year MDiv

A Psalm: Lament for Consolation

In you O Lord, I have put my trust.

My words wash away but yours will stand forever.

There is no one but you O Lord who could feel my despair.

Take this sorrow from my heart, release me from my shame.

Reason stands but for an instance;

yet, your word stands the test of every moment.

Turn me from my pathless way,

in your righteousness I can face the unknown.

Mine is too quickly faded away in morning glare,

but, brightly shines your gleaming stream turning darkness into light.

Ever present, your right hand stands before me.

Your glorious throne to adorn.

Crush this oppressor my Lord, this darkness in which I stand.

Push back this dark deception that creeps uneasily near your truth.

Only a breath of your Word and it fades completely away.

Your Word breaks the dark; the bright gleaming stream brings me life where there was none!

FLOSSENBÜRG REFLECTION By Joe Daiker, 2nd Year MDiv

As we woke and left Munich the gray misty morning greeted us once again. It certainly set the mood considering where we were headed. Yet this gloom pales in comparison to anything we were about to see or hear. Many of us read Bonhoeffer’s letters surrounding the July 20th assassination attempt. I had no idea what to expect from myself. Have I been desensitized to these horrors at the hands of Hollywood and America’s glorification of violence? The movies, the video games, the music, and all the other threads used to weave this horrid mask. Would I be numb? Would it cut me down to my core as it should?

Jessica Tannebaum would be our guide. Her heart was sincere, this we could all tell. At times her voice seemed to give and the way she clenched her jaw appeared to be her fighting back emotions that she felt so strongly. Her introduction taught us that Flossenbürg was a work camp only in the sense that there was forced labor. The fact that the forced labor was quarry work without any kind of protective gear or even a simple first aid kit meant one was lucky to last 6 weeks before dying from an array of causes. Becoming deaf from the explosions was a death sentence as you could not hear when your number was called resulting in brutal beatings. Blindness from flying debris was a death sentence. A broken bone, not set or cast. (nor was it accompanied by pain killers) was a death sentence because the guards would not put up with “laziness.” Open wounds quickly becoming infected and diseased were death sentences when even a simple bar of soap was no where to be found. If someone could not extract the precious granite out of the quarry, what good were they to the SS and what mercy did the SS have for these poor souls when hatred and violence coursed through their veins? The lucky ones seemed to be those that were crushed to death by the falling rock. Those who lasted the longest died having worked harder than any of us would be able to fathom, receiving little to nothing as sustenance while living and working in conditions incomprehensible to our minds. Surely a twisted recipe for death at a “work camp”.

The whole “camp” was laced with psychological torture. A sign on the front gate that read “Work renders free.” A hospital that saved no one. Food that brought forth life, yet in portions so little and rotten that it could barely even sustain life. A laundry barracks for hygiene yet there was no soap, towel, or toilet paper. Fear of the SS guards and the regime that deemed them so unworthy of life was eclipsed by fellow inmates given the power and meager rewards to beat and torment their fellow inmates. Many feared these, the Kapos, more than the SS guards for their cruelty surpassed that of the SS guards. To hear what these people went through in a single day was awful, but knowing that that was a base routine and that additional tortures were often dealt that we know nothing about was unthinkable. These poor souls had to rise each morning with full knowledge of the horrors that awaited them.

Even the dreadful thought of suicide, this morbid escape from life’s horrors would be shoved out of their grasp. Dehumanised from the beginning and treated like animals. Worse than animals though. It didn’t take long before they began to believe what the Nazis were saying about them. They are unclean, they smelled, undeserving of the fulfillment of even the most basic needs. They were like unwanted diseased animals. Life gave way to survival and thus many began to act as animals. A survival instinct replaced all the needs and wants that drive human beings. The sad thought of throwing oneself into the electric fence towards a quick death became less important and doing whatever they could to survive and live whatever life this was drove them day to day. Maybe that was hope in it’s most primitive form. It’s amazing that anyone made it out of there with any sliver of emotional and psychological stability.

Entering the camp through the tunnel of the Commander’s station was surreal. The sound of our feet on that pavement, 16 of us, made a considerable sound that echoed through that tunnel. The sounds of hundreds , thousands of people at a time forced through there must have been horrifying. A crowd that far outnumbered the guards yet completely helpless and terrified to do anything. Once through we stood where the original gate that separated the grounds around the commander’s station and the camp itself. On one of the stone columns making up the gate it read, “Work renders free.” We were told a story of one prisoner who asked an SS guard what it meant and he told him “Yes, you work in the quarry over there for 6 weeks and you will be dead. Then we will take your body down to the crematorium and as the smoke from your burning body exits the chimney in to the sky, then you will be free.”

Soon we found ourselves standing on the Roll Call grounds. It was cold and wet; I hunkered over trying to cover any bare skin from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes. I was still cold. It was no where near the coldest time of year and I was shivering. I had a hat on and I was shivering. I had a coat and I was shivering. I had gloves and I was shivering. Yet this was a cold that no layer of fabric was going to remedy. There in that place I saw flashes of people. They lacked anything of color. They all looked the same. Every one of them a child of God, stripped of all their dignity and security. Out there in a cold and wet winter night fully exposed to these harsh elements without any power to do anything about it. I don’t know if these were images from one of the many movies I have seen or genuine experience of some sort. But at times during the tour they were there.

Walking through the barber and shower room was enough to make me tremble when the stories created all too vivid of an image for me. Those who survived the long, over-crowded, inhumane, filthy, painful trip to this work camp were then stripped of their clothes and any possessions they had on them. They were forced to stand at attention to be counted for hours. “Not only did we lose our clothing here, but our souls.” (will properly site once I have a name A book or what? ) Those who did not die here were lead into the barber room. Razors hung from the ceiling. They were neither sharp nor dull. One or the other may have been better, but instead these were one of the first tools of torture used on people at the camp. A full body shave with semi-sharp razors guided by hurried and careless hands. Often it would gnaw away flesh as they were shaved. If it had been the SS that did this, that would be one thing, but this was performed by the Kapos, fellow prisoners. Then they were forced into the showers. Five minutes or five hours crammed in that overcrowded room naked, bleeding, terrified, and waiting for either the ice cold or boiling hot water and if not that, then the fire hose. Without a hair on their body nor a thread of clothing they were marched into the Roll Call area once again to be counted. There they would wait for clothes according to the SS’s watch. That wait would commonly last a whole night. Not all of them would live past this. The process of turning that person into a number and nothing more was quick and effective. Suddenly all of my shivering seemed extremely trivial and the evil that had manifested itself in that place seemed very real.

The building had been torn down, but the account of the children’s barrack was more than enough for me to tear up. Toddlers, children the age of both my daughters, up to young adults. The thought of my own children being ripped away from me shakes me to my core, but to shove them into those conditions is unfathomable. Young children, like both of my daughters. Like the child who gave me communion on Epiphany Sunday the day before in Munich. A young child like the one who clung to Shannon Johnson and laid his head down in her lap at church when she offered him a hand to give her “five.” Young children whom Christ declared as a model of faith and warned us against leading  astray.

We walked up the cobblestone road to the prison barracks where Bonhoeffer spent his last night on this earth. Looking back amidst the gloom of the weather and the work camp, there was a full rainbow arching over it. I don’t know what to do with that. Part of me wants to say that as a symbol of God’s promise, it was a way of telling us this evil is conquered. Part of me wants to leave it an obscure paradox for me to dwell on.

The prison barracks were mostly torn down but a portion of it was preserved. The outline of the walls of the small cells were visible with two cells being in tact. These cells had the ability to block out sunlight creating one more level of psychological torture to its victims. That was the type of cell Bonhoeffer spent his last night in. He would then go to a trial where the verdict and sentence had already been decided. He was quickly sentenced to death by hanging and in that courtyard outside the prison barracks Dietrich Bonhoeffer gasped for his last breath. On the cross in the courtyard was an inscription that read 2 Timothy 1:7. “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline”.

As we began to move to another spot, our guide pointed out where a missing barracks once stood. This was the brothel barracks. Women were promised freedom after 6 months if they volunteered but were returned to the camps they came from after a year. There was no torture, humiliation, degradation, or unjust act that was deemed too vile towards these people. To say that they were not treated as humans is an understatement of mammoth proportions. The imagination can paint a vivid experience when a free person walks these grounds, but that surely does not even break the surface of this abyss.
Walking on the cobblestone paths, made from the granite in the quarry, caused the plantar fasciitis that I have been battling in my left foot to flare up. I thank God for that. In some small, insignificant, self-centered way I was grateful to feel some sort of physical pain in that place. Again, I am struck by the realization that I had a nice pair of shoes on my feet. A luxury one of these people would not dare to dream of.

Entering the valley of death we took the stairs. For many, their entrance into this valley was to be dropped down a hole onto rail cars which carried their corpse down to the crematorium in the name of efficiency. Along these stairs were the support poles of the 20,000 volt electric fence that surrounded the camp. Some of the ceramic spindles had burn or more so melted marks on them, signs of them having been activated causing instant death. The doors to the crematorium were locked, so we did not go inside, but Jessica showed us pictures of the “dissection” table and the crematory that burned to ash some 13,000 or more people. Even in doing this the Nazis found a way to torture the deceased once more. For the Jews and Muslims, the burning of their bodies means that there is no hope for them entering the afterlife. Even in their death these people were not free.

In the valley we encountered the outline of an execution yard used to shoot prisoners of war from Poland and Russia. The guards were rewarded for their deadly aim with 3 days vacation, a bottle of expensive liquor, and a package of smokes for each shot.

Immediately after that was a pyramid shaped mound, which was the gathering place of all the ashes that they were able to find in the area. The size of the mound divided by what a single urn of ashes holds is an equation too horrible to think about rationally. This was the result of the crematorium unable to keep up with the atrocities. So they piled the bodies and doused it with gasoline then lit it. Once more a psychological torment swept through as the smell smothered the camp.

As we passed these we came  to the Square of the Nations. Memorials for the nationalities of those that had been killed there. Each nationality had a number representing those who were killed from that country. The numbers, startling as they were, were less than the actual numbers as they learned in the years after it’s construction.

If you raise your eyes from the Valley of Death you will find on a hill a small chapel built from those watchtowers that were torn down. The chapel is named Jesus in the Dungeon. How appropriate that name is. So where do we find Christ in something such as this? I don’t even know how to answer that and maybe I never truly will. But I think that Christ is right there in the midst of it all, weeping. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw it, “We are summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world”

A JOURNEY TO HONESTY By Carina Schiltz, 2nd Year MDiv

A Journey to Honesty

The psalmists are so honest
With the state of their hearts.
Why am I so ashamed of mine?
Why do I run away
And not allow myself to say:
Yes,
I
Hurt.
Instead I slog along,
the road covered with cracks
and I realize: so is my heart.
But I cover it up with ‘fine’ and ‘ok’
until the wound gapes open,
an ugly gash of pride and shame
that I continue to cover with denial.

I stumble up the road, a winding path,
My dreams slowly leaking out of me,
Losing sight of what used to give me energy and life.

I’m searching for who I’m supposed to be,
Or avoiding who I really am—
I can’t tell which.
They say I am loved
But I struggle to believe it.

I end up at the foot
of this mountain of
obstacles,
But I’m at the foot
of something else, too.
A structure of some sort—
a cross.
Maybe if I sit here awhile.
Maybe if I rest…

Maybe this wound will be
stitched up.

I can’t do it on my own.

There’s a healing that happens
When I name the brokenness: I am
in pieces.

I
reject
myself.

But I am drawn to this
Structure
That reconnects me and says
“no, you’re not a mistake”
And the weight lightens a little.
Enough so I stand up again,
but not by my own power.
My bent back straightens
I flex my fingers, and finally
feel a breeze on
my face again.
I see.
Reflecting on the structure—
the cross—
are the broken pieces,
a kaleidoscope of colors;
and I behold the beauty of forgiveness.
There’s nothing I did—
I just sat here to rest.
Now I feel accompanied. My head held high.
And I journey onward.

I look back over the next hill
and still see it—
a cross at the foot
Of the mountain of obstacles—
and somehow
it overcomes them.

The next traveler is there
at its foot.
I am drawn onward.

Purpose.
Peace.

BOOK REVIEW By Donna Runge, Final Year MDiv

Book Review of When God Was a Little Girl by David R.Weiss, WTS 1986 and illustrated by Joan Lindeman:

This is a children’s book published by Beaver’s Pond Press     7108 Ohms Lane     Edina, MN  55439-2129     www.BeaversPondPress.com

What a delightful book!  As I started reading, I was immediately drawn into the conversation between the father and the daughter.  So much so, that I found myself reading it aloud.  The story of how God, who is a little girl, creates the world progresses as the father begins the story and builds on the questions and comments of his daughter.

It is an old story with a new twist!  The book engages the reader’s own imagination in anticipation as the questions are answered.  And as I read it I could also imagine myself reading the book to my own grandchildren and answering their questions.  It is a book that engages young and old.  Its message is simple yet profound in its creativity.

AN EXPERIENCE – FOUR OAKS – MAUNDY THURSDAY COMMUNION AND FOOT WASHING By Anna L. Dykeman, Final Year MA Diaconal Ministry

UCC Pastor Jean, Janet, and I all wanted to connect with the girls at Four Oaks at least one time out of the usual during Holy Week. We all felt a strong call to accompany the girls through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as remembered during this time because we knew that they have had similar experiences. The call of the Holy Spirit guides us to walk with others through their times of trial, because we have been freed from sin on account of Christ.  We wanted to live out that freedom by serving these young who have experienced such pain and change in their lives through some of the practices of Holy Week.

So, Jean and I created a worship service for Maundy Thursday. I was completely giddy at the way a Diaconal Minister and a Pastor would be working side by side in leadership and in worship. She would lead the communion portion and I would lead the foot washing. Perfect. And, by the end of the evening, it indeed was a perfect moving of the Holy Spirit, a clear example of how the Trinity dances and invites all who are gathered to join in.

When Maundy Thursday rolled around, the three of us met prior to the girls’ arrival to go over last minute details, to set up the space, and to pray. I was incredibly nervous. When we were ready to begin, it came about that we needed to totally rearrange our order of service because we were going to eat dinner with the girls – the dinner they eat (liken it to a school hot lunch), in their space – and we had to eat right then. So, we gathered, said a prayer, then went down to the cafeteria and received our tray of food with the girls who were joining us for worship; we went back into our room and ate together. It was here that I learned one can eat the whole entire kiwi, skin and all. Because the girls are not allowed to have knives to peel off the skin they have to eat the whole thing and honestly it is delicious! After we had eaten, Jean moved us into Holy Communion.

Communion, for me, is a fundamental understanding of who the Triune God is. It is God, in Christ Jesus, pouring God’s self out for the healing, redemption, and salvation of all people. This is a gift simply because it is a tangible way of understanding the goodness of God. Communion goes beyond mere words and engages our many senses and humanity is invited to dance in and with the Trinity. It is mystical and common all at once and this particular communion experience changed my understanding and belief of God profoundly.

After dinner the dishes were cleared and Jean led us in Confession and Assurance of Pardon and we prepared to give one another communion in the round. However, the most blessed thing happened prior to this moment that shaped the whole experience into something much deeper – Jean’s husband had purchased a bread mix but what was not realized until later was that the mix was a savory Italian bread. So, as Jean explained (with a chuckle and grin on her face) what had happened, the smell of the bread hit me. I can still smell it when I remember this experience, the freshness of the bread with basil and oregano mingling together causing my mouth to water. It was so intoxicating – I wanted that bread! Jean had also brought juice, Welches purple grape juice whose smell combined with the bread sent me into a whole other way of being present. The elements were inviting and I was begging to come. But, I focus on me and really it was the reaction that the girls had that will forever impact my understanding of God and God’s gift of communion.

“Oh [mouth full of bread] this is soooooooo good,” one said. And yet another, “I have never tasted anything so delicious.” And still another girl urgently asks, “Can we have more?” My eyes fill with tears as I think back on this experience because this means of grace which I encounter so much in my churched life actually breaks all human barriers and in this instance the Kingdom of God is there in our midst nearly as tangible as the bread and juice we are consuming. All I hear in my heart and mind in this moment is gift from the Holy Spirit “taste and see that the Lord is Good!” And I do, and we all do, and it is good. We all sit in those moments experiencing the goodness of bread and juice made Christ through the Holy Spirit and scripture. We are freed from our burdens, past, present, and future, and we are together in worship encountering the Trinity and meeting Christ in each other.

Now, you must understand that this is my communion experience; this is what I saw and lived in those moments of time. It has occurred to me since then what a travesty it is that the church does not often serve fresh, tasty bread to remember the broken body of Christ. It is also a problematic that more often than not the cheapest wine is purchased and shared to represent the blood of Christ poured out for all of creation. We, like the disciples, have forgotten that the poor will always be with us and that to anoint the feet of God with costly perfume is blessing God and honoring the Divine. Perhaps we should bring out the best bread and wine we have so people will crave more Christ! That those gathered may taste and see that the Lord is good not cheap, the delicious recognition of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection as God’s love for all of creation.

Now, let us go back to Maundy Thursday. After communion we moved away from the desks that were fashioned into a long table, and sat in a circle on the floor. Prior to our gathering we set up three chairs (covering them with a beautiful cloth) and three basins. We based our foot washing on John 13:1-17 and Jean, Janet, and I did a readers theater of the text so the girls could connect why we were foot washing at all. As an offering to the girls, Jean, Janet and I would provide the foot washing because we wanted to show them what servant leadership was all about, to use this tangible means to illustrate Christ’s love for them. We are clear leaders for these girls but as far as we can tell, the other leaders in their lives have never been as servants to them.

Pouring warm water and tangerine smelling oil into the basins, Jean, Janet, and I invited the girls to come and sit when they felt ready. Again, I was unprepared for the experience that was about to happen. A young lady sits at my chair and hovers her feet over the basin and I pour the warm, fragrant water over her tired feet and she lets out a sigh. Then, I wash her feet with my bare hands, gently rubbing them and she groans with a sigh of relief and exclaims, “Girls, you have got to do this, this is amazing.” It was then that it hit me that these girls lack the vital necessity of positive touch, of being allowed to relax and be taken care of by another, of not being hurt or hit or abused by another. It was then that I vowed to wash each of the girls’ feet with attention, intention and love, to safely touch them where their stress and tiredness hides.

That evening, all of the girls who were with us had their feet washed. Then, they demanded to return the love by washing our feet! Three or four girls at a basin washing our feet, talking about how good the water smelled and how warm it felt on their hands. They knelt above our feet, studying them and caring for us. When that humbling moment of submitting to Christ’s love for me via the hands and hearts of the girls was finished the Holy Spirit blew the girls into a wind of excitement and love and they left the room to invite the staff to come in so the girls could wash their feet! The staff! The ones who are charged with caring for the girls and all that means, the staff who are exhausted, who yell, who hug, who are bitten by the girls, who restrain them when things get out of hand, who have to remove the privileges of the girls all the time. Those staff. The people who, in my life, I would never run to and invite them over so I could wash their feet. This was indeed an out pouring of Divine Love for the other! A few staff took up the invitation, and Jean, Janet, and I watched the girls lovingly wash the feet of the staff at Four Oaks. It will forever baffle me but will always, always exemplify Christ’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The breaking in of the Kingdom of God through community, communion, and foot washing. Perceiving the flight of the Holy Spirit and the hands of Christ at work and the feet of Christ having the dust removed from them. Understanding that this experience, the whole entire thing, is God’s intention for how life is to be lived, in humble service to each other. This was my Maundy Thursday experience, given by the Triune God through girls who have been hurt and abused and removed from society because they are the “bad” ones. They were the proclaimers of God’s grace and love, servants to the people in their midst, testifying to the abundance of God.

A PRESENT PARTICIPLE (“ing”) POEM By Rev. Dr. Ralph Quere, WTS faculty em.

A Present Participle (“ing”) Poem
Telos
How goes this conversing with death?
Is death at the end to be befriended or upended
By a dreaded enemy’s defeating by the spirit’s working
Often when in helplessness, hopelessness or pain’s distress
Death comes as respited releasing, awaited with eagerness
Tempting us to euthanasia or suicide: both rob God’s hands!
Scripture is clear: human life is enslaved by fear of death1
But there is an antidote, not a medicine, but a person
Called Resurrection and Life2 who killed killer-death

By dying—like many soldiers—dying to win a battle
And saving others, like Christ dying & sharing His kingdom
With others. Like the dying thief and offering it to all!
For many baptizings that begin it in God giving pardon,
New birth into new living that is lasting into the ages of ages
Linking us with Christ’s dying and living, kept by the spirit
Working faith & love toward the living word named Jesus.
St. Paul admits desiring departing and being with Christ!
A suicidal death wish? No, a longing for consummating Faith,
Hope and Love through the victory won by Jesus, swallowing
Death & defanging evil! This gift just keeps on coming
From the Father’s on-going so loving the world—

Rooting in the Son’s once-for-all-self-sacrificing and,
The undercover working of the creating spirit
Bringing the redeeming power of love3 & liberating truth
Of the triune deity’s trialogue displacing death’s dialogue
With the triune deity’s trialogue of
Christ, Grace & Faith!

The Dialogue with Death recommends that the dying “befriend” death. I agree that it is important to accept death when it is clearly approaching. The “Death and Dying” movement followed the literature about the “American Way of Death” the way the funeral industry helped in physical and psychological tools to mask and in effect deny death. Many psychologists recommend that funeral services should be “grief management.” The current fad in the “celebration of life” – a half step in the right direction. However that is understood and usually performed as celebration of the life of the deceased and paints plaster saint out of one whom the family and friends knew was quite the opposite. Even the best of the saints need to be remembered as “a sinner of (Christ’s) own reddeming (ELW p. 283).

So the one whose life should be celebrated at funerals is Jesus whose death and resurrection are our new life and sure hope for eternal life. Handel’s Messiah draws from Revelations 5:9-14 for the final chorale: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”

Scripture makes it clear that death is a defeated enemy – it’s not a warm fuzzy friend (see the notes in the poem).

1Heb. 2:15
2John 11:24
32 Cor. 5:19-21