Tag Archives: Community

WARTBURG SEMINARY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY CONVOCATION 2014

Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament:

Welcome to our first convocation of the academic year. “Convocations” happen here at Wartburg at various times on topics that require—not simply disseminating information—but face-to-face conversation. These topics are typically not cut-and-dry issues, but matters of evolving, ongoing, dynamic conversation.

For many years Wartburg has hosted a convocation on “inclusive language.” This convocation is similar, but broader in focus. It entails not only concerns pertinent to inclusive language but also concerns pertinent to behavior and actions that foster genuine inclusion of “the other.”

Our language and our behavior do things, especially in community: by our words and actions, we consciously and unconsciously assume certain norms, characterize ourselves and our community ethos, and establish what is “normal,” acceptable, and appreciated. Sometimes we are deliberate about our words and actions, sometimes not so much.

This morning we have 6 individuals who will each speak for about 2 minutes on a particular issue that pertains to becoming an inclusive community.

- Hannah Benedict (concerning gender)
– Norma Cook Everist (concerning disabilities)
– Mack Patrick (concerning transgender)
– Stan Olson (concerning inclusive language for God)
– Gus Barnes (concerning race and sexual orientation)
– Susan Ebertz (concerning denominational backgrounds)

Afterward, we will dialogue with each other at our tables.

Hannah Benedict, Final Year M.Div. Student: 

I don’t think much about my gender. I don’t have a constant internal track going, “I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman.” I say this fully aware that as I say that, I wear a particular piece of attire typically attributed to one gender–yep, high heels, those tortuous devices woman can wear. But I don’t wear high heels because of my gender. I wear them because of my 5’3″ height. It’s logistics folks! I truly don’t pay attention to my gender much, until a moment about which I’m going to tell you:

At the end of internship, a congregation member came up to me with what she thought would be a compliment. She said, “At first we didn’t know how a lady intern would do, but you did great, honey!” Her pleasant surprise was my harsh realization. Not only might I need to consider my gender, but that others could see my gender as a detriment.

She wasn’t the first to share such reactions. Others, mostly women and women my age, shared similar reactions, “You wanna be a what? Sweetie, don’t you know you’re a lady?”

It’s not that I don’t know my gender. I am fully aware of it and others of my kind. I’m one of three sisters, (an aunt two nieces; women outnumber men in my family). I attended a women’s college—go Suzies—and chaired the feminist group. I got that I was a woman, through and through. But what I didn’t get was how this somehow made me any less effective or valuable.

Being a woman never stopped me from doing all that God called me to do. Being a woman never stopped me from being compassionate, courageous, strong, determined, and dedicated. Instead, being a woman, surrounded and supported by them, taught me how to be all these and more. My gender provides a particular perspective, one no less important than any other. From this vantage point, I can see who God makes me through the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In Christ, we are no longer male/female, gentile/Jewish, enslaved/free. We are God’s.  Gender may be part of my identity but it is not all of it. Yes, I’m a lady—and a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and, occasionally I wear heels.  But I am first and foremost a child of God.

Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration and Educational Ministry: 

I’m Norma Cook Everist, addressing living together with our abilities and disabilities. We are all differently abled. Wartburg is a caring community where people try to live thoughtfully, respectfully and in solidarity with people with disabilities.

How can we do this even better?

By really seeing each person, rather than pretending not to notice. By asking, rather than presuming a person’s need: “What is helpful to you?”

By using person-first language: Not “a blind person” but a “person who is blind.” I have a disability; I am not my disability.

And by using inclusive language in worship. Our ELW does not say, “Please stand,” words hard to hear for those who cannot. Thomas Schattauer and Melissa Waterman encourage us to motion with our hands when the congregation is to stand. People with disabilities who were on the hymnal planning committee encouraged, “The Assembly stands,” an inclusive phrase which means the congregation stands for those who cannot. We’ve been doing pretty well this fall. It is important we remember as we are formed as leaders for an inclusive church.

Inclusive language matters: So we motion, or we say, “The assembly stands,” or we say, “Please stand as you are able.”

Nicholas Rohde and I conferred, discovering we’ve both been tempted to respond when we hear, “Please stand”: “No thank you, I can’t.” Let’s try that. I’ll say, “Please stand,” and you respond, “No thank you. I can’t.” [The people at tables did.] Now say after me: “The Assembly stands.” [“The Assembly stands.”] “Please stand as you are able”   [“Please stand as you are able.”]

Thank you very much.

Mack Patrick, 1st Year M.Div. Student:

To start this conversation off, one must understand a few basic things about transgender. The first is that transgender is commonly spelled as trans*; this is an important piece in the trans* experience. The asterisk represents that trans* is a spectrum covering a wide variety of experiences. Some are a bit more clear-cut than others. There is the complete change over: Female to Male or Male to Female, but there is also the non-conforming, non-identifying side of gender.

Along with recognizing that trans* is a spectrum—and you may not always know how someone fully identifies—it is important to realize trans* are still people. Asking if they have surgery, or inquiring more about their chosen gender, is not cool and rather offensive. No one cares about your private parts. You should not ask those questions of those who are trans*. That is a private matter.

Pronouns identify who we are on a paper form, but correct use of pronouns is also a good way to show someone that you care about them and want them to be included in a community. While society has focused on the popular pronouns of male and female, there are yet two other known sets of pronouns that someone may identify with. One of those other sets is the gender neutral set. It is commonly used with individuals who do not identify with a specific gender. [This set includes:] Ze (zee) commonly referred to as the subject, Hir (here) known as the object and possessive adjective, and Hirs (heres) for the possessive pronoun. While these are not commonly known and used, as the popularity and acknowledgment of the gender-neutral pronoun grows, they will be used more often. It is completely acceptable to ask people what pronouns they prefer.

For someone who identifies as trans*, asking about pronouns is a great first step. Admitting that you have no clue what to do or say is good, but first and foremost ignore their gender and focus on the person. I know that hearing the correct pronouns being used when talking about me, is huge, as acceptance is growing. Even though I identify as trans*, I feel full included and accepted in the Wartburg Community. Inclusion starts with the ability to recognize you may encounter individuals in your community that are different from you. Take the first step and get to know them as a person.

Rev. Dr. Stan Olson, WTS President:

My privilege today is to talk with you a little about language for God. The topic of this convocation is inclusive language. I could talk about inclusive language for God, pointing to the importance of speaking of God in ways that allow all to be included.

I’ve given that talk. However, over the years I’ve concluded that it’s far better to speak of expansive language for God or, simply, appropriate language for God. Speaking appropriately of God is an expression of faithfulness.

Sixty years ago, J. B. Philipps wrote a book titled, Your God Is Too Small. He challenges the reader to think more expansively about God as made known in Jesus Christ, to embrace the depth of meaning. The book was very important in shaping my early thinking. I recently reread it and can’t now say that I commend the book to you. I do, however, commend the title. Let that title push you firmly as you do theology, preach, teach, counsel, write, and pray—your God is too small.

To embed this push in your thoughts, I invite you to shift from the second person pronoun and use this as a response: Our God is too small. Say it with me now, Our God is too small, and then in response.

If we speak of God using only a few of the words and images available, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the New Testament, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the Hebrew Bible, Our God is too small.

If our talk of God uses only masculine images and pronouns, or only feminine images and pronouns, or only combinations, Our God is too small.

If we limit our language for God only to words actually used in the Bible and neglect the church’s rich history of devotion and thought, Our God is too small.

If we casually and carelessly use familiar hymnic and devotional language that conveys limited or false images of God, Our God is too small.

If the God we convey seems distant and unknowable for any to whom we speak, Our God is too small.

If we think that God is ours alone, Our God is too small.

If we ever allow ourselves to think that we have arrived at language that is finally and completely appropriate, Our God is too small.

God is not too small!

Gus Barnes, 3rd Year M.Div. Student: 

I am Gus Barnes Jr. I am one of a kind, created by God and my parents. I am a fifty-three year old man in seminary. I am a tax-payer. I am a product of the sixties. Here is the shocker surprise: I am an openly Gay African American man. In my time in this temporal place we call earth, I have had many doors shut in my face because of the things that describes who Gus is. Here at Wartburg Seminary I assume when people speak of Gus being Gay, it’s because often I am happy as Gus; I am welcomed here as Gus.

I am thrilled to have lived a lifetime to see a Black President in office, and this week I met the ELCA’s first openly Gay Bishop. The ELCA has struggled with sexuality issues. And after its decision in 2009 to be more open to gays and lesbians serving in ministerial leadership, it has lost many congregations. Sadly I am reminded daily when I look in the mirror as I prepare my day that I need to ask,”What doors will be opened, and which doors will be shut because of who Gus is?” Spend some time to get to know me and others. I promise if you stay out of my closet, I’ll stay out of yours!

Susan Ebertz, Director of the Reu Memorial Library and Assistant Professor of Bibliography and Academic Research:

I’m speaking on inclusion of a variety of denominational backgrounds. I think that there is only one student here who is not Lutheran and she is a TEEM student. I think I am the only faculty member who is not Lutheran. There are a number of the staff who are not Lutheran. I mention this because sometimes it is easy for some of us to forget that not all of us are Lutheran.

At one time we had more non-Lutherans here. The other faculty member and the students would talk with me about some of their experiences. I’m not at liberty to share those stories. It wasn’t a secret club but it did create a bond between us.

I don’t think that the difference in denominational backgrounds is as hurtful as other sorts of discriminations. If we all realize that not everyone speaks Lutheranese and not all of us believe Lutheran theology, we go a long way into including those of other denominations.

I know that some of you grew up in a different denomination and the transition to Lutheran theology may be difficult. I think it is important for you to know and understand Lutheran theology and to live into that. That is okay. That is not what I’m talking about.

Many of you will be ministering in communities where you will need to work with ecumenical partners. Understanding what they believe or how they “do worship” can be an important learning experience while you are in seminary. Figure out ways to experience that.

If you want to talk more, I welcome conversation with you.

Table Question for Communal Conversation:

  1. When have you experienced “exclusion” in a community or church setting?
  2. What practices have you observed to be some of the most helpful for facilitating authentic inclusion and openness in faith communities? How have they worked?
  3. As leaders, how can we go about being allies or advocates in the communities we serve for inclusion concerning some of the issues named this morning?
  4. As leaders, what do you think will be some of the most pressing issues of inclusion for which we will need to be advocates in our unfolding ministries?

You may also appreciate the following previously published posts:


“REFLECTIONS ON INTERNSHIP, WEEK 2: I AM PETER” By Carina Schiltz, M.Div Intern, Milwaukee, WI

Sitting in my white-walled office,
there is always a bustle outside
in the hallway, yet
I still feel safe here.
It’s home base.
Galilee.
I’m with the seemingly popular
and victorious Jesus, who
teaches and feeds and heals.
I know who he is–The Messiah
The Son of the Living God.

But then he told me that
we’re going to Jerusalem.

And that I have to leave my office.

He talked about death and a cross,
and naturally I said, “No.”
But we’re going. Crosses as our yokes,
slogging one foot in front of the other toward…something.

Next week we’re doing a neighborhood
clean-up, and today
in the church parking lot there were
wrappers, and
used
condoms
snaking along the pavement.
Someone will have to pick those up.
What will they say to their children
who will inevitably ask, “Mommy, Daddy,
what’s that?”

What does this have to do with following you, Jesus?
I walk past the filthy parking lot,
carefully avoiding the empty Magnum wrappers
and snaky plastic,
and I listen to sad stories
and frumpy individuals who have everything wrong
with their lives, and I drive to the next,
almost-closed-up church
on this road to Jerusalem, and the cross.

As powerless as I feel
I am pulled like a magnet toward
peoples’ sorrows, and they tell me,
and I can’t fix it.

Sometimes I deny you, Jesus, and
I do try to fix it by myself. Sometimes
I doubt that you know what you’re doing.

I mean, look around.
It’s bleak here.
But you say to follow, so I do:
out of the office and into the neighborhoods
where I sometimes lock my purse in the trunk,
my brain making judgments until I am
paralyzed with fear,
but people live here everyday
and you are there among them.

The ugly and the beautiful all
wrapped up into one.
And sometimes I am unwilling to see you in it.

Pessimistic.
Judgmental.
Glass not even half-empty.
But here I am.
The rooster is about to
crow again, isn’t it?

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.”

SUNITHA MORTHA: MISSION AND ACCOMPANIMENT by Carina Schiltz, second year M.Div.

SUNITHA MORTHA: MISSION AND ACCOMPANIMENT by Carina Schiltz, second year M.Div.

Sunitha Mortha, Director of Mission Formation in the Global Mission Unit of the ELCA, visited Wartburg this Spring and talked about our calling as followers of Christ and learning what it means to accompany others in a diverse world.

If you’ve attended a “Glocal Gathering” you might have heard Sunitha’s humorous, direct, and compassionate words. She highlighted the importance of going “back to the basics” and relating “God’s story, my story, and your story.” First of all, how do we understand God’s story? Based on this understanding, how do we place ourselves in this story? How do we view the “other” in relation to our understanding of the story? Sunitha said, “Now, try doing all this reflecting without putting yourself in God’s place.”

She went on to ask, “Where are the other Lutherans in the world?” Countries with more than five million include the usual answers: Germany, the United States and Sweden. But one also needs to include in that number, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Indonesia!

Sunitha asked the audience, “How does your church understand its place in God’s story? Are churches looking only inward? Do they think about what’s happening on synodical levels? Community levels? National levels? International levels? People, congregations, seminaries, synods are not separate: they work together. How does your congregation/seminary partner with other people and organizations? In other words…how does this relate to ‘mission’?”

One way people view mission is through their culture’s, community’s, or congregation’s narrative about origin and destination. This narrative informs how mission is understood and the purpose of mission. For an example, Sunitha explained that if the dominant destination narrative of a community is heaven/hell, there is a certain way one understands oneself and the “other” and where they belong. When there is a separating line between “us” and “them,” it is not difficult to see which place we’ll designate for “them”.

Those we categorize as “them” or “other” could be for any number of reasons, but the number one reason is that, somehow, they are “different” from us.

Diversity sometimes causes fight or flight because we are socialized to learn that the way we do things is the good/right/normal/true way. If “we” do things the “normal” way, what “the other” does is considered “abnormal.” Unfortunately, the history of missions has included the transfer of cultural and national values, which has been very damaging to the “receiving” culture. Those in the dominant culture see others as needing to “evolve” in order to “catch up.”

Hopefully, our communities and congregations can understand that the defining question in mission is not, “How does one categorize/define/change the other to be like us?”  but rather, “How does one engage the other?” First, we have to take out the barriers between “my” story and “your” story. There is much that informs a person’s being that is deeper than meets the eye.

Sunitha offered a very relevant caution: a danger in the ELCA, and in many facets of life, is to surround ourselves only with like-minded people, ideologies, theologies, and thereby focus only on ourselves, rather than resting in justification. While we cannot hold all our differences, uniqueness, cultures, sub-cultures, and everything in one’s being in tension with another’s, God can.

She asked, “What if your community doesn’t look diverse, or what if it has no ‘others’? There is plenty of diversity, whether it be invisible to the eye or visible; there are others, outsiders, and many people who need to hear the liberating proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If one’s congregation is not visibly diverse, one can think cross-generationally. “Start with what diversity is present,” she said. Accompaniment happens every day! Mission isn’t always about going “over there.”It’s about engagement, wherever one is.

If you want more information, visit the ELCA’s website on Glocal Gatherings near you.

http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Global-Mission/Engage-in-Global-Mission/Global-Events/Glocal-Mission-Gatherings.aspx

ENGAGING COMMUNITY, NARRATING CHANGE By Tammy Barthels, Second Year M.Div.

I had the awesome opportunity to hear Walter Brueggeman, Peter Block, John McKnight and Barbara McAfee speak in Cedar Rapids, IA on April 4 and 5, 2013. Their topic: “Engaging Community and Narrating Change.” People from several states were invited into a conversation that would offer new and inspiring possibilities for the 21st Century. Following is a summary of thoughts and challenges from the day:

We were called forth to connect people with people in service of something greater than ourselves. Our goal, to transform what currently exist! We were called to embody a culture that cares vs. a culture of consumerism.

How will we go about creating an alternative culture for the future? We begin by having conversations with one another, by forming meaningful relationships! Sustainable, abundant community conversations shift the context from retribution to restoration; from problems to possibility; from fear and fault to gifts, generosity and abundance; from law and oversight to choice and accountability; from corporation and systems to relational life!

We begin by having a shift in our consciousness and acting on a vision of what the world might become. We change the narrative of not having enough to living in a world of plenty. We cannot process ambiguity alone, we need each other. We need our brothers and sisters to live us into freedom. We need to leave the scarcity story and enter the narrative of abundance. We need to enter the story of cooperation vs. living in the story of competition.

THE FUTURE IS PRESENT TODAY! – Change your thinking and you change your life! All transformation happens through linguistics.

Building community is about returning to the common good; Earth, Water, Air. We need to create space to become alive, with song, poetry and art. We need to change our mind thought MINDSET? from a business perspective of efficiency, speed, ease and cost to a communal perspective; returning to neighborliness, walking with each other, restoring peace, intimacy, relationships and uniqueness.

WHAT IF WE SAID AND BELIEVED THAT WHAT WE HAVE IS ENOUGH? How would that change our world, our perspective? What would happen if we focused our attention on who we are vs. what we do? What if we focused our attention on walking with one another, vs. trying to fix one another? What would happen if we created a space for light and breath to enter a room?

The central power of forming communities is connecting the gifts of each other. What are our communities built on? What gifts do we have to offer each other? The truth is if we focus on our gifts vs. our deficiencies we have enough! The answer is caring for one another, freely giving from the heart from one person to another. Care cannot be managed or produced; care can only be given freely.

We build community by embracing our God-given gifts. Most days would be filled with joy if we could use the gifts that God has given us 90% of the time. Imagine if we could use our gifts, skills and passion and form community! The least used gift is the one most needed in our world today. What is your gift, passion or skill? Using those, what could you teach? When our gifts come together our gifts become powerful; our collective gifts empower each other. We are walking in darkness until we can express our gifts and passions.

God has given us our unique gifts and talents. How will we use them? Remember that ‘Nothing is Impossible for God.’  It is possible for ‘ordinary’ people like ourselves, to step outside the business perspective and make a life within the communal perspective. It begins with us, one person at a time. “What is the promise you are willing to make that constitutes a risk or major shift in your life. What is the change you want to see in the world?” Will you be willing to step out and share your gifts with one another? Change begins with relationships, listening, caring and encouraging our neighbors. Can we shift our consciousness and act on a vision of what the world might become? I believe we can, because there are no impossibilities with God. If God is for us, who can be against us?

BELONGING AND COMMUNITY by Tami Groth, 2nd Year M.A. Diaconal

This past November I had the opportunity to return to my home congregation and preach during the Sunday worship services. Unfortunately with my seminary schedule and family commitments I do not frequently have the opportunity to return home and spend time with my home congregation community. I have frequently thought about how I belong to that community even though I am now mostly absent from it while I am present in my seminary community here at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The gospel text for the day was John 18.33-37, ending with “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” brought me to that questioning place again as I pondered what it means to belong to the truth.

As I contemplated what word I was called to share that morning, the word “belonging” echoed through my mind. What does it mean to belong? Many of us know it when we experience belonging. The experience of belonging is felt in the depths of our being. There are moments when we know for certain “yes, I belong here.” There are also moments we know without doubt when another belongs. It seems more of a feeling than an objective description.

When I witness a strong sense of belonging in others I reflect on what communities I belong to. Who knows me and loves me anyway? What communities count me as their own? How do I contribute to the sense of belonging within those communities.

It is often during reunion moments that the sense of belonging to a community is strongest. When you return to a place and it feels like home, or if not home, then a comfort away from home. Those times hearts and eyes light up as individuals are reunited.

Or, we feel the pain of not belonging. The pain and longing of wanting to belong or possibly wondering if you belong to a group or a place — as humans, we know what that feels like in the very depths of our being.

As Christians we belong to Christ. And we are called to work within and belong to specific communities within the body of Christ.

Each community exists in the midst of constant transition. Some communities, such as a seminary community where students are being called and sent to new places each year, transition in predictable ways while other communities experience change in more unpredictable ways. Yet, through our shared relationships we belong to each other. Our stories are entwined.

We also are called to actively write some of the story of a community that belongs to Christ and to each other. In our relationships with each other we are invited to share in relationship with one another, we are also invited (dared?) to share in the truth as experienced in Jesus Christ.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice

Indeed we need to actively listen — to seek, to understand. To live our lives in community with one another, to belong to one another is a gift best actively received. Together we actively seek to understand as we belong to each other and not of this world. These shared communities are not limited by the observed boundaries of the world — All are welcome.

We look to our loving God to begin to understand this gift of belonging as part of reconciled relationships lived out in response to the new reality created in Christ as we are restored to right relationship with God and humanity. Faith gives us the vision for this new reality as we act differently. We listen. We seek to understand. We acknowledge and live out relationships with God and each other. We act differently because God’s love frees us and restores us to love in right relationship with God and others — to belong.

STAINED GLASS WINDOW by Mary Wiggins, M.Div. Middler

This reflection is one of four offered at the re-dedication of the central stained glass window in the Loehe Chapel at Wartburg Theological Seminary on 4 Feb. 2013.

Stained glass windows have always fascinated me. They are beautiful art regardless of how well known their maker is. There is something mystical about light mixed with color and steeped with symbolism and history. The windows are a beautiful interplay of the creation of people and the creation of our God. Their beauty changes with the turning of the day into something new. It’s something great to contemplate when sorting out deep emotions and discerning dense thoughts. Or something to just stare at when the mind is tired or the attention span is short. All in something as simple as a window. The window we welcome back today does that for us and even more. It is part of our life here. The image of Christ points outward beyond our view, symbolizing our formation.

I first glanced at the chapel window when I was discerning a call to ministry. I saw a photograph of the image on a computer screen of my friend’s Macbook. It was strikingly beautiful even in its 8 by 10 inch form. What was more strikingly beautiful was how this image was the reminder of this place that my friend took with her way out west for her internship. Such love and passion for this place, Wartburg, was represented in the image she saw almost every day in her life in this place.

I myself soon saw the window in person as my discernment lead to a “GO and start visiting seminary and see if the time is right.” This window plays an important part in our life at Wartburg even before we become a part of this place. As a community that worships together daily, the chapel window’s image is ingrained in our experience, just as much as the other elements of the community in which we live.

The image of Christ summoning the disciples is our past

It is our present now here at Wartburg

Ultimately it is our future as we will eventually leave this place.

We will all “Go” and we will proclaim regardless of our degree track. Our callings to discern and embody our vocations lead us here. And this window upon which many a student has gazed during worship epitomizes our experience. We heed God’s call, pick up our lives and “GO” to Wartburg.

In our life here at Wartburg we pick up and “GO” quite often. We “GO” on J-term trips near and abroad with some of us proclaiming in words and others in actions of service and learning. We “GO” on CPE and proclaim the Gospel as the listening chaplain offering comforting presence and sometimes words to those in crisis that we meet. We “GO” on field work and internship and proclaim the Gospel. Each time we return again to this place. And eventually we all GO to Preach the Good News as the leaders that we have been formed to be.

LIVING IN COMMUNITY WITH OUR ABILITIES AND DISABILITIES

The following comments were perspectives presented at a Wartburg Seminary Convocation on November 8, 2012. Following the presentations was an extended time of table conversation for students, faculty and staff.  The questions for conversation and additional resources are included here in a .doc format: Convocation Resources – Nov 2012.

Norma Cook Everist, Wartburg Faculty: It was a November evening, 1982, while my husband, Burton, and I were delivering Thanksgiving baskets in downtown Dubuque when I suddenly felt overwhelming fatigue. I became ill with what at first seemed like flu but from which I never recovered. The illness, later diagnosed as myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS), has many physiological and neurological complications. Today, still with no known cause and no known cure, it affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

I have a disease; I am not my disease. How do I mark the 30th anniversary of living with a chronic illness?  With sadness or celebration? A good way is to have this convocation on “Living in community with Our Abilities and Disabilities.” Many people with CFS become homebound, isolated, but supported by this caring and respectful Wartburg community, I have been able to continue fully serving here and in the broader church and world.

Lisa Heffernan, WTS M.Div. Senior: As we gather this morning to talk about this topic, I want to introduce a few pieces that will be part of the discussion. Our student speakers today are people who have some sort of disability, or who have a friendship with a person who has a disability of some kind. We share these stories and perspectives to encourage the community to think about how we all live together in this community as people with and without disabilities. Our definition is broad: we will be talking about disabilities in terms of physical and visible disabilities (like mine), physical disabilities that are unseen, and disabilities or conditions that can either be considered mental, cognitive, or emotional. Not only that, but we will be also talking about specific issues that come along with different disabilities and how we might view them within our life together at WTS. The question we might consider is: How do we as a student body, staff, and faculty live together faithfully in this place, with our gifts and limitations, recognizing each person as a child of God and a vital part of the body of Christ?

My own experience and view as a person with a physical and visible disability has greatly changed and improved since coming to seminary. In this place, I am accepted and valued as the person God created me to be—completely and fully. Before coming here, I never had the experience of being in a community where people would seek to have me involved in all aspects of life, no matter how tricky doing so might be. The best brief examples I can give are the time that my class was having a gathering at Pulpit Rock our middler year…on the 2nd floor. Without me even having to ask them to do so, 4 of the guys in my class lifted me up those steps, just so I could be there with my class.  I was scared, but they wanted me there, and I wanted to be there. So they helped me out. The other side of this is that these same friends challenge me to be more fearless and independent. This is the same thing I hope I do for them. We care for and challenge one another. And we include one another in all areas of life here. There are things that are difficult to make that happen sometimes, but I’m finally in a place where my disability doesn’t feel like a barrier to having an active life.

Aleese Kenitzer, WTS M.Div. Junior:  I have a significant hearing loss in my right ear. It has been my responsibility to assure that my disability does not affect me in school or in ministry, but it is extremely helpful when people are aware of the fact that I do not hear well, and make an effort to improve communication. But often, I have either witnessed how people do not understand how an impairment affects one’s lifestyle, or have witnessed the response of “well, people need must scream for you to be able to hear.” Neither one is true, and both of these actions exclude those who cannot hear well. It is common for those with hearing impairments to be excluded because they cannot hear and understand what is happening around them, or excluded because of those who overcompensate.

Dave Fier, WTS M.Div. Junior: I have a genetic learning difference called Soto’s syndrome. I was blessed to be my current height of 6ft 4inches in fifth grade I haven’t grown since. One of my many challenges is it takes me along time to process information.  “Fear not,” I say. This difference has also affected my coordination and some of my physical abilities. “Fear not,” I say.  Another difference I have been blessed with is to have a heightened emotional and artistic sense.  “Fear not,” I say.  God blessed me with this difference and I wouldn’t have life any other way. Most importantly I am child God. I am a brother in this community of many. The real question is how can we all learn and grow together.

Tami Groth, WTS 2nd year M.A. Diacaonl Ministry: My medical history includes both clinical depression–a chemical imbalance which impacts both your emotions and your ability to think correctly–and celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder where gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley, attacks my body. These conditions are not related, but their effects can compound one another. When you cannot automatically join in something as basic as sharing bread with others, it is easy to feel isolated, and isolation can make you wonder if depression is returning.

I fight these issues by creating inclusive community however I can: by making food I can eat to share with others, by meeting others in their own needs, and by sharing what I have learned as I have educated myself about my conditions. Sometimes accommodating everyone’s needs seems like more than we can cope with–the list feels endless. But the joy of seeing someone feel like they can now be a part of a community is boundless, and it always makes me determined never to assume that what works for me works for all.

Lee Gable, WTS M.Div. Senior: My friend lives with multiple chemical sensitivity related to fibromyalgia plus complications.  The air she breathes and any surfaces or fabrics she is in contact with are potential sources of pain.  Even your hand lotion can affect her.  She must be aware of what is around her.  She uses air purifiers to hold back the multiplicity of scents and carefully researches and uses products to help her environment not be a source of pain.

If you don’t see her in church, ask about what is going on or send a card.  Ask the her if she wants to be on the prayer list.  Please don’t be offended if she has to get up and move away from unseen conditions that cause unseen pain.  As a child of God living with conditions she would not have chosen for herself, my friend only asks, “Don’t define me by my illness.”

So how can we be compassionate, accommodating others, without being exclusive?

Megan Reedstrom, WTS M.Div. Senior: I have been asked to talk about friendship because I have the pleasure of calling Lisa Heffernan one of my very best friends. Through our friendship I have become much more cognizant of accessibility and its importance and how frustrating it is when people abuse or misuse things like accessible parking. And through two road trips we have taken together, I’ve learned that traveling with someone who uses a wheelchair is not that different than traveling with someone who doesn’t. We just allow a little extra time for travel, and do a little extra planning to make sure the places we are headed are accessible. The most important thing I have learned in all we have done together as friends is that we are far more alike than we are different.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12:27)

Some WTS Alumni who live with disabilities and serve in the church and world:

Rev. Phil Wangberg, who uses a wheelchair due to cancer of the spine, is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, Albuquerque, NM.

Diaconal Minister Rich Mohr-Kelly, who is visually impaired, serves in Pittsburgh, PA neighborhood ministry and at Stewart Avenue Lutheran and Birmingham UCC Congregational Churches.

Rev. Kathryn Bielfeldt, who is blind, served for over 21 years as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Campbell Hill, IL and added on part-time service to 2 other congregations in the Wartburg Parish of Southern Illinois. She recently retired.

Rev. Chris Kinney, who has quadriplegia due to MS, Oakdale, MN, currently does supply preaching, advocacy, mentoring, and short-term counseling

and many more alums who have served and now serve throughout the church in the world …

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: INTRODUCTION by Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible

This post and the three that follow it are articles derived from the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The convocation was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible with the following words.

Words have incredible power to shape our self-identity and behavior. Today, focusing on inclusive language/inclusive community, we’ll hear Alan speaking about the language we use for God/humanity. Kate will speak to the language we use within the church to talk about “family” and “singleness”. And Patty will speak from the perspective of a parent of one who is homosexual, about the power of words used/left unsaid to include or exclude persons whose sexual orientation is other than heterosexual.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: HOMOSEXUALITY by Patty Tillman, M.A. Diaconal

As we speak of inclusive language a group of people to include are our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ.

So how do we include these people within our community? How do we make them feel not only welcome, but an essential and important part of our lives?

I speak from the view point of a parent. My 29 year old son is a gay man. As I have spent time with my own son, his friends, and many others who are gay this is what I have come to learn:

I have learned that gay men and lesbian women want you to ask them about their life. They want you to ask: How it’s going for you? What can I do/we do to make it better for you?

It seems the people within society, within our communities and within the church remain silent. WE don’t ask and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters do not tell. Make no mistake your Silence is exclusion not inclusion.

This is my personal experience:

Once people in my community learned that my son was gay it was as if he had died. I have two other children besides my oldest son and people asked about the other two and never mentioned my son again. Now this may be because they feel awkward, and do not know what to say, so they choose to leave the sensitive topic alone. That’s exactly what silence does. It leaves the person alone and on the outside.

Gay and lesbian people listen as their family members, their friends, their co-workers, and their fellow-students talk about their intimate relationships, their dates, and their loved ones. As others share their feelings, gay and lesbian people are denied this opportunity. They listen on the outside. We don’t ask and they don’t tell.

There are many reasons for this mindset: It is difficult for straight people to grasp the life gay and lesbian people lead. The hardships they face living with their husband or wife on a daily basis…

…Safety issues in a world where senseless hate-crimes happen all too often.

…Legal issues—Did you know many gay and lesbian people travel with a stack of legal documents in case something happens to their partner or to themselves? Sometimes even those documents are not enough to guarantee that they can take care of one another.

Our gay and lesbian friends long to be included in the conversation. They want to be asked about their life, their partners, their fears, their joys and their concerns. Try asking this question: What can I do to help make your life safe, to make your life better? Consider how your actions and support for particular policies can improve their chances to be safe and to gain equality. Each one of us can have an impact on the gay and lesbian community by ending the silence…If we ask they will tell.