Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME & MY COLLAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Started As an Experiment.

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

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

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

Well, I do live in the Bible Belt.

And Became An Act of Social Witness.

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

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

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

So, It Developed Into A Spiritual Practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you a priest?”

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

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

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

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

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

I told her, and mentioned another in the area.

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

Deep breath.

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

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

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

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

That’s When it Became a Discipline. 

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

What makes that a spiritual discipline? my mentor asked.

Presence.

Awareness.

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

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

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

I missed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A LETTER TO MALCOLM IN PRISON AT THE DEATH OF MANDELA, By WTS Prof. Norma Cook Everist

Dear Malcolm,

I received your letter and wanted to respond now, after hearing of the passing of Nelson Mandela. You have been in prison so many years, Malcolm. You know I have kept your letters and the total fills many file folders. I’ve shared parts of your letters with students at Wartburg over the years and they have written to you. I know you have kept their letters, except for when you were moved to a different prison on a moment’s notice. Your recent words ring true, “Please don’t despair. We are linked in Spirit so at times words understood need not be spoken.”

Yes, I see from the change of return address that you have been moved once again, and this time even further from your family, 4 ½ hours from Detroit: “It seems like the closer I get to the door and the more good I try to do the worse things get for me.” Malcolm, I remind you of what you have done through the years while in prison. You counsel younger men coming in, you lead Bible study, proclaiming and teaching the Word, you help men with family problems and make sure they have what they need. I have often thought of you as my Apostle Paul in prison.  I rejoiced with you that in the past year you were able to become a leader in a program that helps men find new lives of peace and purpose once they leave prison. And, yes, I can just see you intervening on behalf of the young man to right the wrong done to him. I’m glad you were successful with the prison administration. And I agree that they may have been fearful of you having that much influence and that may have resulted in your being transferred.

I hear your words, Malcolm: “I am tired, Norma. I’m not about to quit, but I am tired.” Don’t quit, Malcolm. Even though I live so far away now in Dubuque, I am encouraged by your words, “I still seek opportunities to do what I do and be who I am. I am able to teach some classes and assist men with getting their lives together.” Take courage, Malcolm.  Know that you are not alone, even though prison walls and distance separate us. You say that my words comfort you, Malcolm, but it is yours that strengthen me as you write, “My trust is in the God of Justice and grace and love and compassion and hope. It is because of this compassion that we are not consumed.”

Nelson Mandela fought apartheid in South Africa and was imprisoned for it, coming out 27 years later to continue the struggle and then become president of his country.  He is said to have been the greatest leader of the second half of the 20th century. It would be easy to not see the man behind the icon. Those 27 years in prison took so much from him during the prime of his life.  You, more than I, Malcolm, know that.  The world watched as he came out of prison, not knowing what he would look like, not seeing even a picture, not knowing which direction he would turn and lead. And then we saw: towards “Truth and Reconciliation” which kept that country from being torn apart in violence and civil war after apartheid was finally ended.  And you, Malcolm, have participated in your own “truth and reconciliation” initiatives in prison.

President Obama described Mandela as, “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.”

Malcolm, we know that South Africa continues to face its own struggles and that the United States is not a post-racial society, not when with “The New Jim Crow” such a large percentage of black men are incarcerated. And the gap between rich and poor grows. Mandela worked to free and reconcile oppressed and oppressor. We aren’t there yet, are we Malcolm? But, here we are, over 40 years after our families, one white and one black, lived around the block from each other in Detroit. Nothing can separate us in Christ Jesus. You closed your letter with, “Give my love to the rest of the family. Take care of yourself and make sure you get some rest.”  I will. And, Malcolm, I received the picture your mom sent of you, Greg and her when they visited you last month.  I’m glad they could make it that far. You look good. The years in prison can’t take that away. Keep on keeping on. God’s strength.

Norma

TWO POEMS By Kirsten Curtis, Final Year M.Div.

Reflections from “American Genocide” class, Fall, 2013

WHERE WERE YOU GOD WHEN THIS ALL TOOK PLACE?
WHERE WERE YOU GOD FOR THIS HUMAN RACE?

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO YOUR HOLY ONES?
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ANYONE?

i am so small
compared to it all

and IT is so BIG
TOO BIG for me

i am so infuriated with the whole
feeling inadequate, ignorant, out of control

a fire has been lit deep in my gut
burning and churning – stuck in a rut
tossing and turning – wallowing in muck
physically, emotionally, spiritually stuck

What do i do now?
How do i cope?
Who do i turn to?
How do i know?

Tears of anger get me through
But who am I angry at
Surely not YOU?!?!?!?!

WHERE WERE YOU GOD WHEN THIS ALL TOOK PLACE?
WHERE WERE YOU GOD FOR THIS HUMAN RACE?

—————————————————————————

I love you God
but I am so mad
at this human race
that at times goes plain mad.

What were they thinking?
It’s obvious they were not!
Blinded by what they had not.

Wretched sin took hold
Did not let go!
It has a tight grip.
Death takes its toll.

Millions and millions lost their lives
Why?

For money
For land
For power and control
So one could feel superior
And force the other to feel low

What were they thinking?
It’s obvious they were not!
Blinded by what they had not.

What do we do now?
We tell their story.

The first Americans were here before you and me
They were robbed of their lives, their land, and their trees.

They were forced off their land, sequestered and shamed,
Dehumanized, Demonized, Degraded, Demeaned
Viewed through the lens of total depravity.

What were they thinking?
It’s obvious they were not!
Blinded by what they had not.

God help me please
To tell others
To promote justice and peace
No more covers
Exposing it all
For all to see
For it needs to be known
Before we can grow
And begin to become whole.

Only you God can help
Help us go forth
Help us and guide us
Like your light in the North.

WHAT IF HISTORY WEREN’T WRITTEN BY THE VICTORIOUS? By Wade Brinkopf, final year M.Div.

Between the years of 1860 and 1890 CE the United States of America embarked on a campaign of western expansion; ‘manifest destiny;’ colonization of a land already inhabited by the indigenous peoples of North America. “By conservative estimates, the population of the United states prior to European contact was greater than 12 million. Four centuries later, the count was reduced by 95% to 237 thousand.[1] In the years surrounding 587 BCE the Babylonian empire marched on the city of Jerusalem. With their people slaughtered, the city laid to waste, and the temple completely destroyed the people were cast into exile beyond the borders of their homeland; into the ways and places of the Babylonians. In the deep emotions of Psalm 109 we can still hear their voices lamenting in the synagogues and on the streets. In what way can we hear the voice of the first nation peoples in similar ways? In the book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” Dee Brown brings to life the voices of the first nation peoples. Their leaders words are spoken into a new existence as one by one, their homes are destroyed, their people are slaughtered, and their homeland is taken away. Their voices are a song of lamentation woven intricately together with the voice of an exile!

Psalm 109; Prayer for Vindication and Vengeance;[2] 1 Do not be silent, O God of my praise. 2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. 3 They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. 4 In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them.* 5 So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love. Whose voice was first sounded on this land? The voice of the red people who had but bows and arrows. … What has been done in my country I did not want, did not ask for it; white people going through my country.… When the white man comes to my country he leaves a trail of blood behind him.… I have two mountains in that country – the Black Hills and the Big Horn Mountain. I want the Great Father to make no roads through             them. I have told these things three times; now I have come here to tell them the fourth time.

MAHPIUA LUTA (Red Cloud) of the Oglala Sioux

6 They say,* ‘Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right. 7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin. 8 May his days be few; may another seize his position. 9 May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. 10 May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of* the ruins they inhabit. I was living peacefully there with my family under the shade of the trees, doing just what General Crook had told me I must do and trying to follow his advice. I want to    know now who it was ordered me arrested. I was praying to the light and to the darkness, to God and to the sun, to let me live quietly there with my family. I don’t know what the reason was that people should speak badly of me.

GOYATHLAY (Geronimo)

11 May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil. 12 May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children. 13 May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation. 14 May the iniquity of his father* be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. The earth and myself are of one mind. The measure of the land and the measure of our bodies are the same. Say to us if you can say it, that you were sent by the Creative Power to talk to us. Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here to dispose of us as you see fit. If  I thought you were sent by the Creator I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me. Do not misunderstand me, but understand me fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with as I chose. The one who has the right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my   land, and accord you the privilege to live on yours.

            HEINMOT  TOOYALAKET (Chief Joseph) of the Nez Perces

15 Let them be before the Lord continually, and may his* memory be cut off from the earth. 16 For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the broken-hearted to their death. This war did not spring up here in our land; this war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land from us without price, and who, in our land, do a great many evil things. The Great Father and his children are to blame    for this trouble.… It has been our wish to live here in our country peaceably, and do such things as may be for the welfare and good of our people, but the Great Father has filled it with soldiers who think only of our death.

            SINTE-GALESHKA (Spotted Tail) of the Brule Sioux

17 He loved to curse; let curses come on him. He did not like blessing; may it be far from him. 18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat, may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones. 19 May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself, like a belt that he wears every day.’ 20 May that be the reward of my accusers from the Lord, of those who speak evil against my life. 21 But you, O Lord my Lord, act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me. There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us. Some said they saw the Son of God; others did not see Him. If he had come, He would do some great things as He had done before. We doubted it because we had seen neither Him nor His works. The people did not know; they did not care. They snatched at the hope. They screamed like crazy men to Him for mercy. They caught at the promise they heard He had Made.

            RED CLOUD

22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is pierced within me. 23 I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust. 24 My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt. 25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads. You have driven me from the East to this place, and I have been here two thousand years   or more.… My friends, if you took me away from this land it would be very hard for me. I  wish to die in this land. I wish to be an old man here.… I have not wished to give even a            part of it to the Great Father. Though he were to give me a million dollars I would not give him this land.… When people want to slaughter cattle they drive them along until  they get them to a corral, and then they slaughter them. So it is with us.… My children have been exterminated; my brother has been killed.

            STANDING BEAR of the Ponca’s

26 Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to your steadfast love. 27 Let them know that this is your hand; you, O Lord, have done it. 28 Let them curse, but you will bless. Let my assailants be put to shame;* may your servant be glad. 29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonour; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle. 30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord; I will praise him in the midst of the throng. 31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would condemn them to death. I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A peoples’ dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.

BLACK ELK, on the massacre at Wounded Knee.

SENSING MISERY By Terese TouVelle and Teri Wagner, M.A. in Diaconal Ministry Students

How does one recognize misery? These are our images of misery.

  • When the blankets in a nursing home resident’s room smells like urine and there is feces on the wall.
  • The couple crying over their new born who will not survive the night.
  • The cancer patient who knows she will not live long enough to attend her daughter’s wedding.
  • The elderly person who has no dentures because they lay broken on the floor and there is no money to replace them.
  • The old man who talks about his war years because they were his glory days when he felt alive.
  • A husband who must decide to remove life support from his wife of 62 years.
  • The wife of a stroke victim who hasn’t heard her husband speak her name in twelve years.
  • The prisoner who is admitted to the hospital to die but his family never shows up.
  • The teen who attempted suicide because he believes he is worthless.
  • The family surrounding the bed of their dying mother.
  • The oncology nurse who is tired of losing patients.
  • The young, gay man who is beaten up by classmates.
  • The daughter whose mother no longer remembers her name
  • The woman whose husband tells her that it is her fault that he beats her.
  • The doctor who must tell a family that he has done all he can.
  • Seeing and hearing your child whipped.
  • The woman who trusted police because they were supposed to protect and serve and then was treated horribly.
  • The child whose only meal today will be what is served at school.
  • Having barely enough money for bus fare and getting to the clinic to find they have closed.
  • The sound of too many empty liquor bottles rattling together in a garbage can.
  • A mother whose autistic child won’t let her hold him.
  • A married couple sharing a house filled with angry silence.
  • A woman who can’t take enough showers to wash away the touch of a rapist.
  • The single mother who works two jobs but still can’t afford to buy her children a birthday present.
  • The fifty-year-old man who wonders how he will provide for his family now that the mill has closed.
  • The millions of people who wonder if there really is a God.

MORE THAN SEX AND HAMBURGERS By Carina Schiltz, 2nd year M. Div.

Some thoughts on identity and inclusion, precipitated by a disturbing fast-food commercial

I was just settling in on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon to watch college football on television. Some young men. A pig skin. Serious rivalry.

I did not expect theology or anthropology to come sniffing around. I was just ready to see some athletes play ball. Wisconsin vs. Illinois. I didn’t really care who won—I’m from Minnesota, after all. I was just excited that it wasn’t the NFL. I didn’t think there would be as many beer, truck, or fast food commercials.  I thought I’d be safe. This was going to be about athleticism, the discipline of teams working together, the excitement of a full stadium of screaming people. They don’t advertise during Big 10 games, right?

WRONG.

Confession: I don’t own a TV. When I go home to visit my family, I usually indulge in some “screen time.” Not having a TV has its perks. But, then again, I also feel like I live under a rock sometimes. I can’t keep up with the shows people talk about, certain games, or mainstream (also known as “lamestream”) media portrayals of the “news.”

It was a good game. I was pretty into it. But then a commercial came on. Usually we mute commercials and don’t watch them, for obvious reasons (like, we want to keep our brain cells. . . .) But this time, we did not mute the TV. My mom and I were transfixed. We could not believe what we were seeing. Let me describe it for you.

There is a young woman sitting at a game in a football jersey. She is holding a gigantic hamburger. As she attempts to take a bite, some ketchup gets on her jersey. Hmm. . . . What does she do in this predicament?

Well, that’s a no-brainer. SHE TAKES THE JERSEY OFF. Oh, yeah, and the rest of her clothes, too.

Instantly there is wind blowing through her long hair, she is suddenly clad (semi-clad? Even that’s too generous) in a short black skirt, some sort of half-top, she has an ice cube in her hand which she runs along her neck and chest. There are close-ups of certain parts of her body, and somehow, there’s still a burger involved in all this?

I looked at my mom in disbelief. What is this?

Yup. Using sex to sell hamburgers. The extreme objectification of a woman’s body, coupled with the sale of beef that probably comes from somewhere in Latin America where multinational corporations (read: corporations from the U.S.) cut down the Amazon rain forest to make more grazing land for our beef addiction, thus contributing more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

Uh. . . . I just wanted to watch some football. What happened here?

Who else in the world saw this commercial? What if young boys did? What if old women did? What if young women did, and they think they have to look like that? What if my grandpa saw this? What if my boyfriend saw this? Is this ok? Is THIS ok with our society? Do people take this seriously?

And then I realize: this is “normal.” Unfortunately. And it says a lot about what our society thinks about people.

No one saw that commercial and thought, “Wow, that is someone for whom Jesus Christ lived, died, and was raised.” No one was inspired to serve God or serve neighbor by this commercial. No one learned that they are loved by God. No no no. People see it and think: Sex. Food. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

There are some powerful (and dangerously subtle) messages out there about our identity: things telling us who we are, what we should like, what we should consume, how we should be. In our society, the message of the gospel is often drowned out by the message of consumerism, success, and accumulation of wealth/beauty/power.

No one looks good in these commercials. Human beings are dumbed down. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. Just observe commercials sometime. Think about the doctrine of justification, and then watch a commercial and hold those two things in tension.

As a young woman who does not own a TV, I often escape commercials, but this one smacked me full force in the face. How do I talk about God to a society that views human beings as such dispensable creatures? As means to an end? How do I tell people that God is redeeming this sinful world? That they have incredible worth in Jesus Christ? And how do I show people that I, as a young woman, do not have to live up to society’s expectations of beauty, etc., to show that I’m worth it? I’m worth it because Christ makes me worth it.

Lately when I’ve been looking at society, I hear “Include me” screaming from everywhere. “Include me” is what I hear from that commercial. Maybe if I buy this or look like this, or go there, people will think I’m desirable. People will want to know me. This product will drive away all my loneliness and despair. This says nothing about the God that loves and forgives the things we’ve done and left undone.

“Include me”—that’s what I hear when a 7-year-old girl tells me she has no friends and that she is made fun of every day in school.

“Include me”—that’s what I hear when a group of high schoolers talk about having friends who cut themselves and they have held the razors for their friends in hopes that the cutting will stop.

“Include me”—that’s what I hear when one of my college roommates confesses she’s felt estranged from herself for awhile.

“Include me”—yes, even that is what I hear from this commercial that shocked me out of watching a college football game.

As an optimistic seminarian, I think, “Hey! Let’s include them IN THE CHURCH!” But then, as a pessimistic seminarian, I think, “Yeah, right. Is the church even aware that people are screaming out for inclusion? And anyway, the church has already hurt them in some way. The church has already excluded them.”

Why is the church a place where people do not feel included? Shouldn’t it be the place where we can come with all our brokenness and shame, and even bear it to one another? Shouldn’t it be the place where we are welcomed and forgiven, reflecting the reality of God’s love for the world? Shouldn’t it be the place of ultimate inclusivity? Do we not trust that nothing is outside of God’s saving love and grace? Then why do we not live like this?

How do I encounter these people screaming out for inclusion? What if I met that commercial’s actress on the street? Maybe she’d say something like this: “How will you speak about God to me? How will you speak about God with me? And will you listen to me? Will you listen when your language doesn’t match mine? Or when your experiences don’t match mine? What does the God of which you speak have to do with me? Will you make the effort to get to know me on my terms? Show me. Tell me. But not without listening to me and knowing me. Maybe you shouldn’t judge me for being in that commercial. Include me.”

Whoa.

I’ve just been convicted by a fictional character from a commercial.

I didn’t think a commercial would lead me to think about inclusion. I hated the commercial. I was extremely offended by it. But it led me to a deeper issue facing humanity.

This is about more than just language, verbal and non-verbal. It’s about being and being with. It’s about the “who”: who God is and who people are.

This commercial is about so much more than sex and hamburgers.

What began as a rant I will end with a prayer.

God, please help us trust that you are reconciling all things: the brokenness, the hurt, the loneliness. May your church have the wisdom and courage to include, and to participate in your redeeming work. Help us see people and include them. Give us the words to share your love, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

CONFESSING AND PRAISING WITH ONE VOICE by Jean E. Peterson, Region V Archives Volunteer

Let US give our thanks and sing our praise to the Lord!

“O come let US worship and bow down

Let US kneel before God our Maker

Let US rejoice with Thanksgiving

Let US give our Thanks

Let US sing our praises (with ONE Voice!) in gratitude for God’s great gifts of Grace and Mercy for US.

Let US SING unto the Lord with grateful hearts!

We Lutherans have a rich heritage of hymns from many sources, but as I listen and learn, I am increasingly conscious that many of the hymns we sing in community worship use “God and me” words.   These are appropriate for private devotion and personal use.  Many of my own favorite hymns are included among them; but it bothers me to use “God and me” language in public worship.

We heartily sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving together.  “Let us talents and tongues employ,” “Now thank we all our God!”; “Halleluiah!  We sing Your Praises,” “Let us go now to the Banquet.”

But when it comes to confessing our weaknesses, we are not always quite so bold as to claim that we all are sinners weak and vulnerable.  When the Service Book and Hymnal came out in 1958, our Sunday morning liturgy included Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

“Chief of Sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me” … is the hymn I resonated to most in my young adult years, because I was absolutely convinced that I alone was the Chief of Sinners.

I recall a sermon by Dr. Nessan a number years ago, in which he said, “If you think your neighbor doesn’t have any problems, you don’t know your neighbor very well.”

Several years later, I said to a trusted pastor, “I am weak, but you are strong.”   His reply was, “Don’t say, ‘I am weak, you are strong.’  Say, “WE are weak.  WE are strong.’”

I once audited a course in human nature.  I learned that our need for forgiveness from our weaknesses is a “human universal.”

Although I may not know what is going on in your life when I sit next to you in chapel or in church, I do know that Grace is for all of us; and all of us in the assembly share praise andthanksgiving for the One who has given us all merciful grace and forgiveness.  Whether we’re asking mercy and forgiveness, seeking help or healing in our vulnerability, or whether we are offering Praise and Thanksgiving with hearts overflowing with joy and happiness, or whether we are treading our daily routine in relative calm and stability (for the moment, at least!), I like to be aware of those surrounding me in this place, as well as for others throughout theworld outside our walls.

We come from classroom, office, workspace, or outside, as individuals with personal needs, but when we gather together in the sanctuary to worship, we are no longer a collection of individuals.  We are now a community all singing and sharing together – our Kyrie, our Praise, our Thanksgiving.  We are now in relationship with each other, singing, praying, praising with one voice.   As a community, no matter what our individual needs may be, we are together, confessing our sin and professing our faith.  I am in a relationship with you because you are sitting next to me, even though I may know nothing else about you.  I do include you in my worship, by virtue of the fact that we are worshipping together as one body

Because God’s Grace isn’t just for me, but is for everyone (at any level in growth, healing, or maturing in the faith), our hymns and our prayers should include all of us.

So don’t be surprised to hear me sing “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “me” in worship,   even when “we-us” words don’t rhyme with the written “me-I” text of the hymn.

“Jesus loves US, this WE know, for the Bible tells us so!”

“Jesus, remember US when You come into Your Kingdom.”

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE AND PRACTICE CONVOCATION By Stan Olson, WTS President

Opening:

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

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

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

Closing:

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

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