Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICE
(U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

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

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

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

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

He has one year until his court date.

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

Everything.

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

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

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

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

They welcomed me in
like I had always belonged there.

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

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

She can’t live without him.

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

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

This is
all
they
know.

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

How you wield your power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But all you see
are criminals.

ICE, leave this family alone.

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

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

They adopted me.

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

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

You are not welcome here.

Go back to where you came from.

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

Peace Pole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?