Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by a stranger.

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

Myth: Rapes are committed in dark alleyways.

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

Myth: Only homosexual men rape boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHACKLED By Jean Peterson, WTS Archives Volunteer

When he was here, “Uncle Bob” named a bit of history:

Centuries ago the insane were shackled, chained to institutional walls – jails, dungeons, oversized crib rails or beds.   Centuries ago?   Did it stop then?

Not so long ago.   Still,  now, in our lifetime!

II   Two centuries ago you could be shackled to a tree and whipped… for no good reason, just because your skin is darker than mine.   Yours, clean, shines, but us dirty folks of my hue thought we should dehumanize, torture, and humiliate you.

Then Good Abe said,   “STOP!”   “Let them go!”   150 years ago.     Did it stop then?     Good Abe said, “Let them go!”   Some were set free, but they did not escape  the misery of slavery. They “owed their souls to the company store,” just a different kind of bondage and   Many were set free only to encounter the Lynching Tree.

III- Confined   A lifetime ago (within mine) you could be herded into a train – a cattle car, withnospacetomoveorfreshairtobreathe untilthetrainstopped,then pushedproddeddowncattleramp intostockyardsconfinedbybarbedwireelectrified toopenairputrifiedbypollutedstenchfrom smokingchimneysofgasfurnaces, queuedinspectedlikemeatselectedby wavingrodpointingtoleftortoright toshowersortemporarysurvivalslavelabor identitystrippedsoulsstolen shovedsqueezedintobarrackstosleep? oncrowdedhardbunkboardslabs shelvesinrowssharedwithstrangers fourorfivebodiesinonebox, somedeadsomelikeyoubarelyalive, nightmareshiftssharedbynamelesslabormates… upatdawntorollcallshoutyournumberor startoveragainstandingatattention,thenlaborallday inrockquarryorbeforcedtoshovethecorpsesof peopleyouonceknewfriendskinyourownmother fathergrandmothergrandfatherssisterbrother babiestoo intotheovens burntheirsoulless emptiedbodies turningtoashes yourfellowhumancattle beaten objectified dehumanized de-souled,   just   because   you were   a Jew.

IV- (Nisei)   Early in my lifetime, we took your property and kept it despite your 2nd or 3rd generation good citizenship, then put you away with meager jobs and poor schools for your children, just because your grandparents were born in a land which has become our wartime enemy.

V   Four centuries ago Massasoit hosted my pale-faced forebears from across the sea  — hungry after a long sail from a strange land across the ocean.  His hospitality to rude guests uninvited, your home now overrun by land-greedy pale faces pushing ever westward, shoving Native hosts aside, all the way across this continent with no  respect for Native Nations’ sovereignty, disregarding hosts’ good care for woods and soil and animal species; greedy, pushy, selfish pale-face with no respect for Natives’ humanity.

My  ancestors stole your land shackling our Native hosts’ descendants (of many nations) to untillable soil, tearing down forests housing food supplies.   We ingrates pushing, shoving you to ever smaller, reduced barren dry arid land strips, shackling you to areas which cannot sustain life for any tribe and leaving you invisibly shackled to a tiny patch of land in a dry, barren, arid soil worthless for growing any food or sustenance.

VI   Centuries ago?   “Let my people go . . . “   My skin is black. I am a Jew.   I am insane.   My Grandfather was born in Japan.   My native grandfathers welcomed you     Shackle me –   Let me hang.   Force me to burn my own kin.   Confine me to untillable barren land.   Take our property and keep us silent despite our good citizenship.     Centuries ago?   Now!    Has it stopped yet? No!     “Let my people go!”

Let us go free,   Now!.

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.