Tag Archives: equality

FAILURE AS AN UNDERLYING NARRATIVE by Christa Fisher, 3rd year M.Div. Student

“Your son is at a high risk for failure.” The school principal’s words settled on my chest like a leaden mantle. Unprepared for this phone call, I stammered a confused response. “What? Why? You must be mistaken.” My three-year old son was sitting at the kitchen island coloring, his small fingers gripping a fat red crayon. The principal assured me the call was not an error – she was speaking about my son, about Jacob. A week prior Jacob had participated in a 60-minute early-childhood education readiness assessment and according to the principal, Jacob’s test results warranted the phone call.

In the days following the call I was consumed with the need to understand how Jacob could be at a “high-risk for failure.” After Jacob was born I left my career to stay home and care for him. Needing order and predictability in my life, I created a schedule of activities to fill our days. We attended play groups, visited museums, hiked in the woods, baked cookies, made blanket forts, painted self-portraits, learned the alphabet, numbers, shapes and colors, and spent hours upon hours reading. As Jacob became older and craved more time with other children I enrolled him in a highly respected preschool program. His preschool teachers were perplexed by the school district’s assessment. Not only was Jacob doing fine in preschool, they assured me his skills were age appropriate, he came from a safe, loving home, with two devoted parents, who were both college educated. I shared my confusion with a neighbor, a professor of early childhood education. According to her, there was nothing about Jacob which suggested he was at a “high risk for failure.” My husband and I did not enroll Jacob in the specialized program the school district had created for “kids like him.” Instead, we continued to do what we were already doing and hoped this label would not follow him into kindergarten.

After much thought I deduced the school district’s assessment was colored by racism. You see, Jacob is biracial. My husband is black and I am white.

I should not have been surprised by the school district’s assumptions about Jacob. I grew up in a community of people who showcased their racism with pride and am therefore keenly aware of the assumptions we white people make about people of color. As a young mother I worked hard to ensure people had no reason to make such assumptions about our family.  As I focused on maintaining our image, however, I worried my efforts to shield my children from racism were actually depriving them the opportunity to claim their true character. I also worried that my actions were born, at some level, out of my own racism.

My mother-in-law once told me that by marrying her son I was black by association. At the time I didn’t take her seriously. Andre, my soon to be husband, and I were in our early 20’s and living in Berkeley, California. As a biracial couple in the San Francisco Bay Area we were in the norm. Surrounded by the appearance of racial unity I speculated within a generation or two racism would cease to exist. It was easy for me to be so hopeful. I had not yet experienced racism.

When Andre and I moved to Wisconsin I became acutely aware of the differences between the ways people treated us as compared to my previous relationships with white men. When the waitress escorted Andre to one table and me to another, we pitied her for her ignorance. When the mechanic refused to service our vehicle, we moved our business elsewhere. When Andre was defamed at work and offered no recourse, we swallowed our anger and bemoaned small town life. But when our children were born we could no longer simply joke about ignorant behaviors or tolerate inequality at work. Our precious children deserve better than that.

Shortly after Jacob started kindergarten we began receiving notes from his teacher, all assuming parental incompetence. In addition to urging us to read to Jacob for “just 5 minutes each night,” we were also cautioned to limit Jacob’s exposure to television, and to provide him a healthy diet, among other things. Though she did not know us, the teacher assumed our parenting skills were inadequate.

I met with the school principal to discuss the notes, which she quickly dismissed. The teacher was acting out of concern, the principal insisted, and I was over-reacting. In retrospect I should not have expected her to understand – she was the one who informed us Jacob was at a “high risk for failure.” Unprepared to fight this battle, we chose to ignore the teacher’s notes and continue parenting Jacob as we always had.

Andre and I are now more proactive regarding our children’s educations. At the start of the year we meet each of our children’s teachers to tell our story, beginning in the Bay Area where we received our educations and continuing to our present situation in Madison, Wisconsin. By the time we finish, the teachers know us well enough to refrain from applying stereotypical ideologies to our children or making uninformed assumptions about us as parents. Thankfully, both of our children are thriving in school – academically and socially.

Though I am concerned our children will suffer for having a white mother, I recognize that my race can work to their advantage. We are welcomed into places and conversations and afforded greater choices and opportunities due to my whiteness. Teachers and doctors, people who hold critical information, are generally more comfortable communicating with me than with my black husband. I am the primary driver in our family and do not fear racial profiling on the road. As long as our children are with me, I do not worry they will be attacked, physically or verbally.

Yet my whiteness will only benefit our children as long as they are dependent upon and near me. Eventually they will be functionally independent. Then when people look at Jacob with suspicion, whether a police officer, a college professor, or a vigilante citizen, Jacob will have to fend for himself. Under great pressure and amidst intense emotions, Jacob will be responsible for diffusing their anger by demonstrating that he does not warrant fear and is someone worth befriending rather than attacking.

While I still disagree with the school district’s assessment of Jacob, I now recognize a truth in their conclusion. Jacob is at a “high risk for failure” though not for anything he or we have done or failed to do. Jacob will likely experience failure in his life – we all do. Unlike Jacob’s white peers, however, his failure will be inseparable from an underlying narrative of antagonistic racial bias. This insidious evil, which began sabotaging Jacob’s potential before he could even write his entire name, will never just disappear. It is embedded in our institutions and communities, increasing peoples’ risk of failure by limiting their opportunities and choices. Racism, the underlying cause of racial disparities in incarceration, unemployment, poverty, and serious health conditions, justifies racial profiling and minimizes hate crimes. Whether or not Jacob recognizes it, he is in an abusive relationship with racism, from which there is no escape. Unprepared to battle this exhausting, humiliating, and dangerous intruder, we can only hope we are providing him the skills he needs to manage this relationship, so it is unable to consume his life, robbing him his true character and potential and ultimately rendering him a failure.

IMMIGRANT LABORERS, a POEM, by Rev. Minna Quint, WTS 2014, Capital Hill Lutheran, Des Moines, IA

For hands
Covered in callouses
Bruised from rough labor
Dried by a scorching sun
My God where are you?

 For faces
Tired from long hours
Worn by the weather
Hardened by oppression
My God where are you?

 For stomachs
Starving for satisfaction
Longing to be filled
Growling
Growling
Growling
My God where are you?

 For jeans
Torn apart by physical labor
Stained with pain and disapproval
Bleached in the sun of unrighteousness
My God where are you?

 For wallets
Soggy from a day’s sweat
Empty
Old
Frayed
My God where are you?

 For hearts
That struggle to be loved
Screaming at inequality
In a country that shouts
“The land of the FREE”
My God where are you?

INTERCESSORY PRAYERS FOR IMMIGRANT LABORERS by Rev. Minna Quint, WTS 2014, Capital Hill Lutheran, Des Moines, IA

For hands that work all day and night on property they will never own
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For backs that are twisted and bent working in fields that just go on and on
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For fingers that are red and swollen from picking a harvest they will never consume
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For shoulders that carry burdens which reside in their muscles leaving knots that cannot be untied
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For brows burning in the heat of an unforgiving sun begging for a single cloud
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For knees that ache so heavily night after night they prevent any chance of sleep
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For ears that refuse to listen and turn away another’s plea
For eyes that choose dominion over every creature they see
For minds that cannot understand what it means to have equality
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

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.

 

BUT WORDS THEY CAN DESTROY by Carter Hill, 2nd Year MDiv

One of the greatest fallacies children learn is the phrase: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yes, at any time within our lives sticks and stones may break our bones, but the truth is that at some point, without any doubt, words will hurt us — if not destroy us.

The power of human words can be a blessing in our lives, but also they carry the great ability to cause massive destruction. We as adults must be aware of this ability to cause wounds from words, and also the many issues that can arise from each of our word choices.  The words of church leaders are particularly given weight and authority. A few careless words can rip away the beliefs of a person.

We may think  we are being understanding and accepting of all people, all races, all religions, all genders, and sexual orientations, but through our word choices we sometimes do quite the opposite of what we intend. Unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) we may create a condemning God through our language.

Simple words can cause great pain, and we as people often use these simple words to make people feel less about themselves. We must take a stand to be sure that our words and language are used to include all people. Our words can in fact make someone feel as though they are separated from the love of God when God always intends to include us all in Christ Jesus.

A young man from North Dakota a few years ago came out to his family as gay.  After the initial shock they asked him to go speak with his Lutheran pastor. The young man told his pastor whose actions and words would be something that would haunt this young man for years. He was told that he would no longer be welcome by many members of the congregation and his homosexuality would cause a great stir among the people.  The pastor thought it would be best to ask this young Christian man to leave the congregation he had always called home. Following these harsh actions and words, the title of Christian was no longer something this man associated himself with because his pastor created a condemning and unwelcoming God for him. In a few short sentences, this man was ripped of his entire beliefs of the loving and accepting God he had always known, simply because of the words his pastor spoke.

“Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words, they can destroy.”

We are the speakers of a loving God, a God who calls us to ministry to be faithful servants of God’s message, and servants of a God who gathers us around a table of bread and wine to taste and see that through the cross we are forgiven and equal. In this equality we are continually uplifted and reminded that we are beautiful children of a loving, peaceful, and accepting God, whose words build up rather than destroy.

ICELANDIC WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY by Tammy Barthels, M.Div. Middler

Three women pastors from Iceland were part of a group of 14 (12 pastors and 2 spouses) on Wartburg’s campus this past week for the Center for Global Theologies Icelandic Pastors Academy. They led and participated in many presentations. Midweek, Rev. Halldóra Þorvarðardóttir, Rev. Hulda Hrönn M. Helgadóttir, and Rev. Jóhanna Sigmarsdóttir led a lunch-time discussion on women in ministry, saying that women were always a part of the history of the church.

Hulda shared some background saying that many women were mentioned in the early letters of the church. She told a story of visiting a very old church building where many images were of women: angels depicted as women; Mary the Mother of Jesus; and female leaders of the church. Women held positions of prominence before the Church of Rome was built and a patriarchal influence became the norm. When did women vanish from the forefront of the church? This is uncertain; however in 1974 women started to return to leadership in Iceland and the first woman was ordained.

How have women’s roles changed in the church of Iceland? Today there are sixty women pastors in Iceland; approximately 40% of the pastors of the Lutheran Church in Iceland are women. Iceland has recently ordained their first woman bishop, Reverand Agnes Sigurðardóttir.

There was not a theological argument against women belonging in the church, but it was difficult because it was a male dominated field, said the Icelandic women. However, women saw it as natural to want to become ordained priests.
Halldora, a Dean of the Church of Iceland advised: “Be who you are. Don’t think about being a man or a woman, but be yourself. She said it is good to have women in leadership. It does however change the cooperative leadership. Women are not afraid to admit that they don’t know everything. Men don’t show their vulnerability; they need to look strong and can’t look fragile or they will appear weak. Men think of their roles differently.”

At the lunch meeting many men as well as women participated in the discussion. Both the women and men from Iceland agreed that there has been a change in the last decade. Women are now senior pastors and with a woman as Bishop, things will continue to change. They said, “This is the first time in history that we heard the Bishop talk about the weaknesses of a Bishop, maybe because she doesn’t have a ‘power struggle.’ There is no history behind her.” It is too early to judge if this will change the church of Iceland; however they are on a new path.

Where was the turning point for women in Iceland? They all agreed it came with the first women president of the country, elected in 1980. June 19th was designated as Women’s Day with women gathering in the streets to support women’s equality.

Halldora lifted up that equality is for both genders not just the women. “We need to remember that this is not about women taking over, but sharing in the roles of leadership. Equality will become a non-issue when we do not have to think, talk or do anything about it. Respect is the beginning of equality.”