Category Archives: Feature Articles

FAILURE AS AN UNDERLYING NARRATIVE by Christa Fisher, 3rd year M.Div. Student

“Your son is at a high risk for failure.” The school principal’s words settled on my chest like a leaden mantle. Unprepared for this phone call, I stammered a confused response. “What? Why? You must be mistaken.” My three-year old son was sitting at the kitchen island coloring, his small fingers gripping a fat red crayon. The principal assured me the call was not an error – she was speaking about my son, about Jacob. A week prior Jacob had participated in a 60-minute early-childhood education readiness assessment and according to the principal, Jacob’s test results warranted the phone call.

In the days following the call I was consumed with the need to understand how Jacob could be at a “high-risk for failure.” After Jacob was born I left my career to stay home and care for him. Needing order and predictability in my life, I created a schedule of activities to fill our days. We attended play groups, visited museums, hiked in the woods, baked cookies, made blanket forts, painted self-portraits, learned the alphabet, numbers, shapes and colors, and spent hours upon hours reading. As Jacob became older and craved more time with other children I enrolled him in a highly respected preschool program. His preschool teachers were perplexed by the school district’s assessment. Not only was Jacob doing fine in preschool, they assured me his skills were age appropriate, he came from a safe, loving home, with two devoted parents, who were both college educated. I shared my confusion with a neighbor, a professor of early childhood education. According to her, there was nothing about Jacob which suggested he was at a “high risk for failure.” My husband and I did not enroll Jacob in the specialized program the school district had created for “kids like him.” Instead, we continued to do what we were already doing and hoped this label would not follow him into kindergarten.

After much thought I deduced the school district’s assessment was colored by racism. You see, Jacob is biracial. My husband is black and I am white.

I should not have been surprised by the school district’s assumptions about Jacob. I grew up in a community of people who showcased their racism with pride and am therefore keenly aware of the assumptions we white people make about people of color. As a young mother I worked hard to ensure people had no reason to make such assumptions about our family.  As I focused on maintaining our image, however, I worried my efforts to shield my children from racism were actually depriving them the opportunity to claim their true character. I also worried that my actions were born, at some level, out of my own racism.

My mother-in-law once told me that by marrying her son I was black by association. At the time I didn’t take her seriously. Andre, my soon to be husband, and I were in our early 20’s and living in Berkeley, California. As a biracial couple in the San Francisco Bay Area we were in the norm. Surrounded by the appearance of racial unity I speculated within a generation or two racism would cease to exist. It was easy for me to be so hopeful. I had not yet experienced racism.

When Andre and I moved to Wisconsin I became acutely aware of the differences between the ways people treated us as compared to my previous relationships with white men. When the waitress escorted Andre to one table and me to another, we pitied her for her ignorance. When the mechanic refused to service our vehicle, we moved our business elsewhere. When Andre was defamed at work and offered no recourse, we swallowed our anger and bemoaned small town life. But when our children were born we could no longer simply joke about ignorant behaviors or tolerate inequality at work. Our precious children deserve better than that.

Shortly after Jacob started kindergarten we began receiving notes from his teacher, all assuming parental incompetence. In addition to urging us to read to Jacob for “just 5 minutes each night,” we were also cautioned to limit Jacob’s exposure to television, and to provide him a healthy diet, among other things. Though she did not know us, the teacher assumed our parenting skills were inadequate.

I met with the school principal to discuss the notes, which she quickly dismissed. The teacher was acting out of concern, the principal insisted, and I was over-reacting. In retrospect I should not have expected her to understand – she was the one who informed us Jacob was at a “high risk for failure.” Unprepared to fight this battle, we chose to ignore the teacher’s notes and continue parenting Jacob as we always had.

Andre and I are now more proactive regarding our children’s educations. At the start of the year we meet each of our children’s teachers to tell our story, beginning in the Bay Area where we received our educations and continuing to our present situation in Madison, Wisconsin. By the time we finish, the teachers know us well enough to refrain from applying stereotypical ideologies to our children or making uninformed assumptions about us as parents. Thankfully, both of our children are thriving in school – academically and socially.

Though I am concerned our children will suffer for having a white mother, I recognize that my race can work to their advantage. We are welcomed into places and conversations and afforded greater choices and opportunities due to my whiteness. Teachers and doctors, people who hold critical information, are generally more comfortable communicating with me than with my black husband. I am the primary driver in our family and do not fear racial profiling on the road. As long as our children are with me, I do not worry they will be attacked, physically or verbally.

Yet my whiteness will only benefit our children as long as they are dependent upon and near me. Eventually they will be functionally independent. Then when people look at Jacob with suspicion, whether a police officer, a college professor, or a vigilante citizen, Jacob will have to fend for himself. Under great pressure and amidst intense emotions, Jacob will be responsible for diffusing their anger by demonstrating that he does not warrant fear and is someone worth befriending rather than attacking.

While I still disagree with the school district’s assessment of Jacob, I now recognize a truth in their conclusion. Jacob is at a “high risk for failure” though not for anything he or we have done or failed to do. Jacob will likely experience failure in his life – we all do. Unlike Jacob’s white peers, however, his failure will be inseparable from an underlying narrative of antagonistic racial bias. This insidious evil, which began sabotaging Jacob’s potential before he could even write his entire name, will never just disappear. It is embedded in our institutions and communities, increasing peoples’ risk of failure by limiting their opportunities and choices. Racism, the underlying cause of racial disparities in incarceration, unemployment, poverty, and serious health conditions, justifies racial profiling and minimizes hate crimes. Whether or not Jacob recognizes it, he is in an abusive relationship with racism, from which there is no escape. Unprepared to battle this exhausting, humiliating, and dangerous intruder, we can only hope we are providing him the skills he needs to manage this relationship, so it is unable to consume his life, robbing him his true character and potential and ultimately rendering him a failure.

THRESHOLD OF LIVING By Tami Groth, final year MA Diaconal Ministry

Standing in front of the strips of paper I read the directions again: write the names of the saints in your life. The names of the saints that have died and gone before us on the white paper. Use the strips of colored paper to write the names of the saints in your life that are still with us. I began writing.

I wanted it to be something I did quickly before the next thing on my growing “to-do” list that day. I could not. Here in the space between Chapel and the refectory, and on my hurried way to the library, this request moved me outside of the carefully accounted for and scheduled moments of my day. I lost track of the slips. Name after name. Moment after moment.

I put down the marker, and held time still with my breath as I remembered standing in deafening silence surrounded by life and yet alone with death — unable to move out of the between and back into time.

I am standing in front of her fresh grave. We buried her exactly a week after I birthed her still body. In all respects it was a glorious sunny mild November day. I was told later that an eagle flew overhead right as the silence fell. The silence that deepened my numbness.

The moments I had not been able to imagine had come to pass  — the awful processional out into the world Emily wouldn’t know. First she was carried by her father in that tiny casket step-by-step down the church aisle, then the drive to the cemetery. We survived watching that tiny pink casket go into the ground next to her great-grandparents. We listened numbly to prayers.

In the first second of quiet we put single roses on top of that casket before it was1117_close buried in earth. Emily’s older sister, Megan, gave me the gift of being her 4-year-old self when nobody could convince her to give up the rose she was holding. In that moment I wanted to take her and gather her in my arms and twirl her around and around until we were both dizzy. I wanted to be in her moment of joy in the beauty of the rose.

Instead I continued to stare at her sister’s fresh grave–the still green grass, the black dirt, and pink. An eternity of quiet; holding my breath on the threshold of living into a reality of “forever changed.”

Just mere hours ago I had been encouraging the stream of people entering the church to look at her: “she’s so beautiful.” My heart ached to hold onto that beauty like a 4-year-old with her hands on a rose stem.

“I can’t do this anymore” I said not realizing my thoughts had broken the silence.

“Then don’t,” my mom said as she took my arm and gently guided me across that threshold.

I wiped my wet eyes and gulped in deep breaths of fresh air as I made my way from one Wartburg building to the next attempting to return to place and time — 13 years of living later — on my way to the library and the life of to-do lists. A glance at my watch claimed the moments connected in minutes.

The next week in chapel names were read, candles were lit, Gospel was spoken, and those slips of paper — white and colored — hung together in sunlit windows and air stirred them as if with the dance of eternal life.

CULTIVATING AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE by Jon Brudvig, M.Div. Intern, Ellis, KS

Another season of giving thanks for the blessings in our lives calls to mind an old adage: “Don’t count your blessings; share them.” We reject a “me-first” ethic of scarcity in favor of an ethic of abundance, an outlook anchored in an attitude of gratitude. This outlook on life is reflected in the psalmist’s confidence in God’s abundance: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1), a deeply intimate and comforting expression of God’s abundant blessings, abundant love, goodness, and mercy that overflows into every area of our lives. This renders powerless the things of this world that we fear the most: death, enemies, and scarcity.

Robert Ketchum writes about this in his book, I Shall Not Want (a story recounted by Tim Hansel in Stories for the Family’s Heart). An ethic of abundance is succinctly communicated through a perceptive child: A young girl confidently responded to her Sunday school teacher’s invitation to recite Psalm 23 from memory. Although the teacher doubted the child’s ability to recite the entire psalm, the teacher encouraged the brave young student to come forward. After she had made her way to the front of the classroom, she proclaimed: “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.”

This ethic of abundance serves as a powerful antidote to the constant barrage of messages crafted to tell us the things we want: glitzy gadgets and newfangled gizmos seductively marketed to deceive us into believing they will satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. Yet, like the prophetic four-year-old, individuals who approach life with an ethic of abundance gladly share their blessings with others. Individuals who cultivate the habit of giving thanks for the blessings in their lives are givers. They are able to look beyond themselves and to respond in gracious giving to neighbors in need; sharing gifts of their time, talents, and resources to organizations in need of donations and volunteers.

“Don’t count your blessings, share them” challenges us to approach life with an abundance mentality, an approach to thankful living in which practitioners generously give of their time, talents, and energies for the building up of Christ’s church on earth. This outlook is grounded in the belief, “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want.”

THE TIMING JUST DIDN’T WORK OUT… By Paul Johnson, Final Year M.Div. Student

In the past, I have been honored to participate in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) both as a youth as well as an adult leader. I earned the rank of Eagle while a member, fully knowing that the rank could be taken from me if the BSA found out I was an openly gay individual.

With recent discussion in the BSA on homosexuality, I held hope that they would allow openly gay youth and adults to participate as much as their heterosexual members. I was on internship when the latest decision to allow gay youth but not adults was passed. Having been approached several times from local troops, I tried, nicely, to decline requests to serve in a leadership role. Usually I gave other reasons, such as having an already full schedule or time conflicts with meetings.

Then I was approached by a Council member back home, asking if I would lead a worship service for an upcoming Jamboree. Since this gentleman knew me and my orientation, I told him that the BSA wouldn’t let me lead as an openly gay individual. “Then don’t lead as a gay man,” came his reply. “Lead as a child of God.”

I told him I would get back to him on the worship service, needing time to process what he had said. Could I separate my identity as a child of God from the rest of who I am? It wasn’t a question of whether I could lead without incorporating rainbows and glitter, or if I could go a weekend without mentioning my orientation. I appreciate rainbows and glitter about as much as (perhaps less than) my heterosexual male friends. My call story and identity as a child of God have been influenced by my sexual orientation and struggles with my identity as such.

Still, in my future ministry I don’t want to be the “gay pastor” or the pastor of a “gay church.” I just want to be a pastor who happens to be gay, and hopefully lead a congregation who is welcoming to their neighbors, some of whom happen to be LGBT individuals. I am more than my sexual orientation, and identify as gay among a myriad of other attributes and qualities.

But could I, a child of God and future pastor in the ELCA, regardless of my orientation, lead a worship service for scouts who may be struggling with the same issues, all while representing an organization that clearly rejects me as being fit to lead? Could I share the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection for ALL while standing for an organization that only accepts SOME?

In the end, the timing of the event just didn’t work out with my schedule. Still, it leaves the question in my mind of what I might do. Would I claim my identity, my full identity, and decline the offer based on the BSA’s policies, possibly resulting in someone more conservative taking the position? Or do I accept, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection for all, staying silent on my orientation? I don’t have an easy answer, and likely won’t know unless the situation arises again. My hope is that I will be asked again, and soon. An even greater hope is that the policies of the BSA will have expanded by then.

TWO WORLDS: A DIALOG BETWEEN ANN WALSVIK AND JULANE NEASE, Final Year M.Div. Students

Julane Nease and Ann Walsvik

Julane Nease and Ann Walsvik

In the following dialogue, conducted through an ongoing email exchange, Julane and Ann, who began seminary in the  WTS Distributed Learning program, reflect on the reality of living in “two worlds” during  their final seminary year while living on campus during the week and commuting home to family on weekends.

________________________________________
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2014 8:02 AM
Subject: Journal with ears
Good morning,

Ann, I’m thinking about this conversation as a sort of ‘journal with ears.’ This year on campus is a new exciting opportunity, but also poses some real challenges for us both. We’ve talked plenty about being a two-legged stool: one leg in seminary, the other home with our families. When I’m here I’m thinking about there; when I’m there, I’m thinking about here. By writing things down, we can sort through thoughts and emotions, pulling together random strings of feelings and ramblings, and because we have the chance to “listen” and respond, it’s like a journal with ears.

How was your weekend? I was ill for the first time this semester. I must say, I was glad I was home. I kept thinking how glad I was to be in my own bed feeling bad, rather than in my little dorm bed. Something sweet: My son even made me a cup of tea yesterday morning, and brought it to me in bed. I’m sure that if I’d been on campus, people would have looked in on me, checked up on me, but it isn’t the same as being home, is it?

Hope your day is good–hoping to be there tomorrow.

Peace,

Julane
________________________________________
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2014 9:34 PM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Hi Julane,

Sorry I wasn’t able to reply yesterday. It was a busy day for me. I am sad you are sick and cannot imagine how difficult that is not being here for classes. There is something about being home when you are sick! What a thoughtful gesture from your son.

Although I can relate to your metaphor of the two-legged stool, I have a rather different experience in many ways. I tend to put myself so much into what I am doing in the moment, that I can tend to put off or let the “other” fall by the wayside. I can be so caught up in my life at home that I do not get any school work done, even though, I plan to do some. When I am at Wartburg, I can lose track of the schedule my son has at home and struggle to keep in contact and even know what is going on in his life.

The travel time between is actually a blessing and is something that I find helps

Road

Photo by Tanner Howard, Final Year M.Div. Student

with the transition between the two. When I come on Sundays after 6 pm, I have had the pleasure of listening to NPR’s “Simply Folk” and have found that to be very enjoyable, lighthearted and thought provoking. The song you played in Spiritual Practices today reminded me of the music I hear during those times.

Sometimes I feel like a split personality – I love being home and I love being at Wartburg. I guess we have other areas of our lives about which we can say the same. How about you?

Luke went to Homecoming and I did the Mom thing and took all kinds of pictures with all the other Moms and Dads. We celebrated Luke’s 15th birthday with my family and it was nice. It has been awhile since we have gathered together.

It is a pleasure to host people in our homes, isn’t it? I enjoy visitors in my dorm room too. I bet others enjoy the same! Maybe I will go knocking on some doors tomorrow….

Sleep well. Peace,

Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2014 9:18 PM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Hello Julane,

I have been wondering if Jesus ever felt like he was a part of two worlds. Are we always while human a part of two worlds and then we divide them up even further?

I have had several emails from high school teachers in the last two days and that takes me out of my reverie of study and moves me into the role of parent and the feeling that I am not being as present as I would like with my son. I am thankful for email as an option for being in contact with teachers. It is typically easier to receive a response via email than a phone call nowadays.

Wartburg Seminary

Photo by Tanner Howard, Final Year M.Div. Student

How is it going for you at home this Reading and Research week? I am thankful I am here on campus, but still finding it a struggle to stay focused on my studies. There are some fun things happening here, all done in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Still balancing the two-legged stool.

Shalom,

Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 11:32 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Ann,

Yes, Jesus must have felt conflicted often. The story of the raising of Lazarus always moves me. “Lord if only you would have come sooner our brother would not have died”– what a pull; what a conflict! I could so relate to that moment! How often I’ve felt pulled in ten directions at once! Being wife, mother, student, neighbor, daughter, sister, and friend, and feeling like I’m doing none of them well! And this year doing it all from a distance, over the phone or in an email.

Tim and I had our 29th wedding anniversary on Sunday. I arrived home from WTS on Sunday afternoon and we had a quiet dinner out, just the two of us. The fall I started at Wartburg we had our 25th anniversary, and when we were married Tim had no idea he would be marrying a pastor. I am grateful and count my blessings every day that he is supportive of me, my call and this crazy process. It may not be so for everyone.

fallleavesMy time at home this week is good, but being productive is tough. There are things to do: doctor’s, dentist’s, and hair appointments, housework and time with my family–all important, but the academic work won’t take care of itself. I feel tempted to return to Dubuque early so I can get more done, but feel guilty that I will be leaving home. I think this sounds like whining. I don’t mean to be. It’s the reality of the dual world existence I’m living in right now.

Peace to you, Ann, in your motherhood and call to ministry existing side-by-side
Julane

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 12:42 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Julane,

I wanted to build on our face-to-face conversation of the other day about those special moments. Moments we often take for granted, but because we are away, we see them more vividly than before. Moments like I had watching my son Luke run cross country in a conference meet on junior varsity. I recorded him coming into the final shoot, neck and neck with a friend of his. He said he wanted to push his friend to run faster, but Luke was hoping to beat him. Luke lost by .01 of a second. Even though he wasn’t happy about coming in behind his friend, he felt he had a hand in his friend’s good race. His friend came in 2 minutes faster than he ever had the entire season. Now that’s a win, win! I was so thankful that I had taped him. Special moment that I will remember for quite awhile.

How about you?

I wish to offer you a heartfelt thanks for being my family tonight as we shared our joy, trepidation, relief and affirmation upon receiving our faculty approval language. It meant so much that we could share that together. God is good and always before us.

Shalom,
Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 01:22 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears

Dear Ann, what a night–what a journey! So proud that we’ve walked together all these years. I am so blessed by your friendship and presence in my life!!

How thrilling that you were able to be home and present at Luke’s race. I know that if you hadn’t been there, it would have been fine, but the fact that you were there to have that shared experience has produced a powerful memory. Thanks for sharing it with me.

It was nice to be home last week, and while I had so much to do and was trying to bounce back from the crud that had invaded my body, I still had some “moments”, too. Andrew has really stepped up at home while I’m gone with doing cooking and shopping. He wanted to try making a dish that I have made for them 500 times! He asked for my help. I did help, and it was so special. At one point I felt overwhelmed by it. We were there together, he’s all grown up and I was passing on to him this dish that my family loves. Food produces powerful memories. So there we were side-by-side, past, future and present coming together in perfect synchronicity–ah…

So, today with the thoughts of conversations and approval language still filling the space in my brain, I head home–you, too! And I’ll drive and think, and enjoy the beauty of the trees and the solitude of my car. Tonight I’ll sit at the family table and eat with my family, talk, catch-up, and then as I go to bed, Wartburg will be on my mind. The two-legged stool will be wobbling again in these two worlds. But that’s the way it is, for now. It’s a challenge–but I’m blessed. This is my reality. I love my family and home, I love this place and the faculty and friends who are such a part of my life, and the solitariness of my dorm room that is my own, for now. The Holy Spirit is at work in ways we cannot begin to comprehend.

Love and peace to you today, Ann, and in your time at home.

Peace,
Julane

BEFORE GLASS CEILINGS By Susan Anderson, 1st year M.Div. Distributed Learning Student

How far the Lutheran church has come and how far we have yet to go! Not quite 50 years ago I was entering college for the first time. I was not sure where God was leading me. I felt called to enter the pastoral ministry, but the Lutheran church, like most other denominations, was not yet ordaining women. I talked with my pastor, but, as a traditional conservative minister, he did not encourage me. He directed me toward the occupations he thought more appropriate for women, but they did not appeal to me. As a young woman with an intellectual bent, I wanted to study theology and serve as a leader in the church. I saw young men in my congregation preparing to enter the pastoral ministry and wondered what it was that they possessed but I lacked.

I entered Wartburg College, which had a strong pre-seminary program. I wanted to take theology courses, but my advisor would not approve and suggested that I enroll in the social work or education curriculum instead. But that was not what I wanted. After exploring several possible majors as diverse as German and biology, I eventually ended up with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and went on to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in psychology.

You might ask why, if I felt such a strong calling to ministry, I did not pursue it anyway. Surely there were roles I could have played in the church that I would have found fulfilling. To understand my response, it’s important to be aware of the mindset of the times. I grew up in a conservative Midwestern town, in a conservative home, a conservative church. The women’s liberation movement was barely beginning when I entered high school and it would be many years before we would feel much effect from it in small town America. Young women, especially those raised in church-going families, were taught to respect authority, not to question the status quo. We didn’t have role models to follow who were breaking down barriers. We were expected to become wives and mothers. If we had to work, we could be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. So pursuing pastoral ministry was just not an option.

During my four years of college I gradually became more and more disillusioned by the church.   Attending a church college, there were religion courses that I was required to take. These were taught entirely by males, many of them ordained ministers. And what I heard learned from these professors was disappointing. Women were not encouraged to become involved in leadership roles; it wasn’t proper. The rhetoric was sexist and misogynistic. I quit going to the campus church and went to an off-campus church. The rhetoric was the same, just less intellectual. So I quit going to church entirely for a number of years. I graduated from college in 1970, the same year that the Lutheran church approved the ordination of women. But I no longer cared.

A number of years later I found my way back to the Lutheran church. I had been feeling that something was lacking in my life, but I still wasn’t sure that I could be comfortable in a church that was strongly dominated by males. A few years later, my congregation called a younger minister who was fairly progressive. Through conversations with him, my faith in God was gradually restored only to be nearly destroyed again later by an older, domineering and manipulative male minister. But the embers were not totally put out and my faith has slowly been rekindled and grown stronger. It is a far different faith than I had in high school, scarred and battered, but more resilient. My beliefs are not so tied to conservative church dogma. I focus on loving God and loving my neighbor. And once again, I feel called to serve. I am not yet sure where that call will take me, but I find that I have come full circle. I am enrolled once again at Wartburg, the seminary this time rather than the college, and I am finally getting to take those theology courses that I was interested in so long ago. My goal of obtaining an M.Div. degree and becoming ordained seems possible after all, God willing.

How far the church has come in the last 50 years! The seminary is no longer a closed male society. There are female faculty and about half the seminarians are female. Many females serve in pastoral ministry. But the leadership at the synod level and above is still predominantly male. The election of Elizabeth Eaton as presiding bishop of the ELCA last year marks another milestone in opening the church to women. The church is changing.

I welcome the fresh breezes blowing in the church. I pray that new generations of young people will be encouraged to find a place in the church where they can use their talents to lead and serve regardless of gender or other artificial barriers. “Come, Holy Spirit.”

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?

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