Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

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.

ADVENT POEM By Will Layton, 2nd Year M.Div. Student

Prepare the way, O Zion! Ye awful deeps, rise high;
Sink low, ye lofty mountains, The Lord is drawing nigh.

The wise man in the pulpit says,
“This isn’t going to be easy.”
His white hair and his reputation for truth-telling
(A prophet, maybe?)
Make us all suspect he’s right.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

That night, in a bar downtown, a woman sings:
“A change is gonna come.”
She sings as if she knows
The change will be right,
But we suspect it won’t be easy.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

A young woman, expecting
Watches out the window,
As the streets of Detroit boil
Rebellion, riot, protest,
Change. Suspicion.
A people divided,
Uniformed bodies
And uninformed arms.
Her little boy—will be a month late–
Not easy, coming into a world like this.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

On the too-familiar bench outside the courtroom,
Already suspect, easy to condemn,
Another one waits for judgment.
Something needs to change.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

Beneath the throne, the saints cry out,
“How long, O Lord, how long?”
Do they think this will be easy?
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

These things must come to pass.

On the morning the stars fell,
It caught us off-guard.
We were all afraid,
So we all went outside together.
And as Jesus Christ passed by on the street,
We suspected things wouldn’t be easy,
But there was a rumor of peace.

A CONGREGATION BETRAYED: BOOK RESPONSE by Jennifer Dahle, Final Year M.Div. Student

As I read When a Congregation is Betrayed: Responding to Clergy Misconduct (Alban, 2006), a series of essays edited by Beth Ann Gaeide, I was struck by the extensive work that needs to be done in churches before any kind of misconduct possibly occurs. It really forced me to think about how I could help a church to prepare for an eventuality like misconduct, but it pushed me even more to think about my theology surrounding misconduct and the office of pastor. On page 26, the essay author, Patricia Liberty, suggests thinking about the far-reaching extent of damage that accompanies sexual misconduct in particular by envisioning the following exercise. “Think of your favorite hymn, your favorite Bible verse, your favorite sacred space. Are they written down? Now, look at the hymn you chose. Your pastor hummed that tune while he/she had sex with you; cross it off your list. The favorite verse you wrote down? You pastor quoted that verse to you when he/she was justifying your actions together; cross it off your list. That sacred space was entered by the pastor while you were there and you had sex; cross it off your list.” The extent of damage is astounding when framed by this exercise.

The essays I read invited me to think about sexual misconduct not as an “affair” but as an abuse of power within the pastoral office. “Clergy sexual abuse is often referred to as ‘sexual sin’ or ‘adultery’…these terms are too narrow to name the damage done to the entire congregation…Further, they encourage a privatization of the behavior that keeps the focus on the sexual activity of two individuals rather than on the betrayal of the sacred trust of the office and the pain caused an entire congregation.” (Patricia Liberty, 16-17)  Trying to heal from a misconduct case needs to involve re-examining how we define sin and evil.

Theologically, clergy misconduct violates trust and poses a potential stumbling block to faith for those involved. It is vital to have clear, open communication around the event and to support the victims and the rest of the congregation. No church that finds itself in the midst of a case of clergy misconduct is going to have an easy time of it, but the more the procedures are in place for such an event, the more potentially effective the healing.

I have much thinking left to do around this topic. Having met someone who is still feeling the effects of clergy misconduct 20 years later has made me feel particularly drawn to trying to actually being prepared should something like this occur near or where I am serving. My thoughts are still racing, but this is a starting point at least.

VIGIL FOR A HOMICIDE VICTIM poem by Carina Schiltz, Intern, Milwaukee, WI

Just up the street from the old
stone Norwegian Lutheran church
sits a dozen candles set in a cross

a few beer cans and tomatoes at the
makeshift altar where a small group huddles
in the cold, the wind whipping the ladies’ skirts,
words coating the watchers and wonderers:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ “

Blood and ugliness has been erased,
washed from the street,
but the pavement will never be fully cleansed
or innocent again.

Perhaps the group is standing on the very place that he died.

His body on the pavement, unable to sustain the beating.

And somewhere in this city a wife
and two children sift through grief.

The produce company where he worked
has a newly sharp vacancy.

The unassuming neighborhood,
houses with sagging porches,
windows covered in shades and shutters
looks on.

A few curious cars creep by,
wondering at the group of church-goers
who look at the ground,
anywhere but each other,
because death is just too close right now.

The Bible-reader feels like giving up,
but something bubbles up in her voice,
pushing back despair and helplessness
so that the words continue to drift over the
hearers.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The pastor prays for God
to embrace the victim, the human, with mercy and peace.
“I’ve been waiting for him to come home,” the victim’s neighbor stutters
as the pastor pulls her into an embrace.

A breath, a pause, and the people
walk back down the
cracked sidewalks that have seen more violence
than they ever should.

 

CROSS-CULTURAL EXPERIENCES CONVOCATION By Karen Ressel, Final Year M.Div. Student

The Wartburg community has been blessed by the presence of some of our Iceland Flagbrothers and sisters from Iceland this October who are attending the CGT Pastors’ Continuing Education Academy. At the convocation on October 23rd, they shared some of their observations and insights as a way of entering conversation on the impact of being submerged in a culture that is not your own.

Rev. Gunnar Sigurjónsson: Gunnar visited WTS for the first time in 2006. “We came as strangers and left as friends. It is a home away from home.” Gunnar partners with Wartburg professor Dr. Sam Giere to provide students with an opportunity to visit Iceland for a cross-cultural J-term.

Ms. Þóra Margrét Þórarinsdóttir: As a CEO for a non-governmental agency, Þóra serves people with various disabilities and helps to link them with services they need in their daily lives and pastoral care. She shared that they “love them all and serve them all” every day. The church of Iceland partners with the organization in caring for people, especially in times of distress.

Rev. Bryndis Valbjarnardóttir: “The welcome has been overwhelming! It feels like you are living the faith. It is very precious.” Bryndis was a funeral director before becoming a pastor, and she shared an Icelandic tradition of gathering when a loved one dies. Those closest to the deceased gather before the funeral and there is a feeling of close friendship. It is a time of thanksgiving and reconciliation. She has had the same feeling of closeness during her visit.

Rev. Jón Ragnarsson: The people of Iceland are surrounded by danger from the environment. They experience earthquakes and avalanches as a result of volcanic activity. As a pastor, crisis management is part of the ministry they do for and with the communities they serve.

Rev. Ingólfur Hartvigsson: Ingólfur was ordained in 2006 and works in the southeast of Iceland. The community that he serves was impacted by a volcanic eruption and earthquake in 2010. There was a foot of ash covering everything and people were in crisis. “First you need to find your inner calm. Once you find that calm, you establish contact with the people that are in your parish. You ask, ‘How are you coping? Do you need help?’ If you can’t find your inner calm you can’t help people.”

Rev. Magnús Björn Björnsson: Magnús spoke about the “overwhelming hospitality” that he has experienced during his visit to WTS. “What I have experienced here [illustrates] what we mean when we confess ‘I believe in the holy catholic church.’ I can see how the students are formed by the community here at Wartburg.”

The assembly enjoyed table conversation together about their own cross-cultural experiences and how these experiences opened their horizons. The theme of hospitality seemed to be the common thread of the stories shared at the table where I was seated. Intentional hospitality and what that means as we see the image of God in ourselves and those we come into contact. We need to consider how we present ourselves, as the guest and as the host/hostess, remembering that we are all acceptable to God as we learn to participate in the discipline of intentional hospitality. As we each shared around the table it was clear that no matter where we found ourselves, we were welcomed. I think each of us would agree with Gunnar, “We came as strangers and left as friends. It is a home away from home.”

ICE, a poem by Carina Schiltz, M.Div. Intern, Milwaukee, WI

ICE
(U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Another chapter in the land of the free, but only if you’re a citizen.
Now he only works one job instead of two.
He’s been here since 1985, has paid taxes  on his houses
at his jobs
since he walked across the border
when he was 20 years old.

His wife earned 90 dollars last week.
She cleaned 8 houses, top to bottom.

Their two children are citizens.  Beautiful. Bi-lingual.
Dressed in their school uniforms.
They do not know their father is in danger of deportation.
The parents haven’t told them yet.

The police stopped him after he “ran a red light.”
They handcuffed him.
He has never been ticketed.
He has never been in trouble.

He has one year until his court date.

The agonizing hours. The calls to lawyers.
The waiting. The grief. The fear.
La migra know everything now.
Where they live. Who their children are.

Everything.

And she cooks in the kitchen, waiting for her
husband of 25 years to bring the children home
from school.

Posole, enough to feed the whole family and
their friend, who eats with them every night
so the friend doesn’t have to eat alone.

Enough to feed the tiny girl who lives upstairs
and has to take care of herself because her
mother is working and her father no está.

Her diminutive voice squeaks out an hola
to the other visitor at the table this night,
me.

They welcomed me in
like I had always belonged there.

Podemos invitarla para Thanksgiving?
“Can we invite her
for Thanksgiving?” the 9-year-old son asks.
The 12-year-old daughter proudly shows me
her song she wrote about the kingdom of God
for school. “Do you like it?”
Yes, it’s beautiful. But it seems
so far away.

ICE, how dare you rip this family apart?
How dare you give them PTSD, fear
that at every turn,
you will take him away?

She can’t live without him.

The white wedding anniversary party dress
hangs in the dining room,
a specter incessantly whispering
how many more years will we have
together?

In Mexico they have no chance at survival,
safety, security.
They want to raise the children here,
where there is opportunity.

This is
all
they
know.

But, ICE, you call them and threaten.
You give them false hope and you
pour on the fear like it’s icing on a cake.
Thick.
Poisonous.
Deadly.

How you wield your power.

This country was built by fear and force,
on the backs of slave and now immigrant labor.

You let them in, take advantage,
and then send them home
when you are through.

You with your handcuffs, stealing
innocent men
from their families that they have worked
SO
hard  to become established. Working two jobs.
Anything
to get the kids through school.
So they can have a chance at something better.

They are feeding others,
but you don’t seem to care
that if he’s taken away, the little neighbor girl will go hungry.

Your justice serves only
the powerful, monied, gated,
privileged.

The “everyday American” benefits from your work,
complacent, ignorant, implicated.
We are ICE, too. I bear guilt as well as the armed
agent, hunting for an “illegal”.

If only you could sit at their table with them
and see what a beautiful family they are. Surely
that would soften your heart
and force you to feel your humanity.

If only you could catch the jokes they tell
one another,
the way she scolds the neighbor girl to sit
correctly on the chair and not slurp her posole.

But all you see
are criminals.

ICE, leave this family alone.

If only you would accept them
like they accepted me: with hugs and
invitations to return anytime I want.
They sent me home
with at least three servings
of left-overs
and an entire cake
to share with those around me.

I didn’t have to eat dinner alone tonight.
They welcomed me in, and invited me back.

They adopted me.

But you, ICE, with your frozen heart
and your rigid system
and your unrelenting torture,
the way you hang over people,
slowing their hearts and congealing
their hopes,

You deserve to hear the words that you say to so many:

You are not welcome here.

Go back to where you came from.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY: 9.5 THESIS, by the WTS American Genocide Class

Peace Pole

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

Introduction by Karen Ressel, Final Year M.Div. Student

How do we begin to address injustices that are so tightly woven into the fabric of our lives and nation? That is the question that looms in the minds of students in the American Genocide class at Wartburg Seminary as we discuss the atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas. We are examining the stark, disturbing, realities that European contact brought to the “New World.” We are finding a different view of history than many of us learned earlier in our schooling. We are discovering that much of our national “history” does not give consideration, much less voice, to the millions of people killed after Columbus landed in America. The idea that we celebrate these national myths on the second Monday in October is ludicrous.

Lest we try to separate ourselves from the violence committed against American Indians in the past, the product of that violence remains in many forms of systemic racism that continues to oppress, ignore, and disregard American Indian peoples.

So, once again, “How do we begin to address injustices that are so tightly woven into the fabric of our lives and nation?” One of the students in the class shared a news article about some cities and institutions that had decided to observe Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. We talked about what we might do and as a result of that discussion we drafted these 9.5 Theses in hopes of raising awareness and opening a space for honest conversation to break the silence that surrounds past as well as current events.

Today is Indigenous Peoples Day: 9.5 Theses!
Because the arrival of Columbus marked the beginning of an indiscriminate genocidal campaign against Indigenous Peoples, we resolve that the WTS community recognize the 2nd Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day.

  1. When Jesus said “repent” he meant that believers should live a whole life of repenting. We are called upon to repent of the crimes against humanity committed in the name of Christ against the indigenous people of this continent, beginning with Columbus.
  2. We call attention to the fact that inaccurate and false reporting of historical events creates fertile ground for divisiveness, stereotypes, racism, segregation, fear, and hate.
  3. We call attention to the fact that egregious human rights violations were committed against Indigenous Peoples in the past through dehumanization and countless acts of violence.
  4. We call attention to the fact that human rights violations continue to this very day through systemic means that allow the continued dehumanization of Indigenous Peoples.
  5. We call for the concerted effort to form relationships and partnerships with Indigenous Peoples, learning from them, how we might begin to have a greater understanding of the impact our ancestors’ actions had on them, and their cultures.
  6. We call for standing in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples in their struggle against oppression.
  7. We call for re-examination of beliefs and attitudes, both personally and communally, that actively prevent Indigenous Peoples from equal access to education, health care, and opportunities for self-determination.
  8. We call for the purposeful study of the past, to ascertain a more truthful understanding of the atrocities that prevent reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters.
  9. We call for a truth and reconciliation process with the Indigenous People of this continent: to repudiate the doctrine of discovery, to confront the history of genocide against them, repent of past crimes committed against them, and to attend to their voices and wisdom in discerning a more just future.

9.5. How will you observe the 2nd Monday in October?

Signed: Karen Ressel, Jean Peterson, Craig Nessan, Jamie Jordan-Couch, Paul Johnson, Martha HarriSon, Mike HarriSon, Halcyon Bjornstad, Elizabeth Lippke, and Doug Dill