Tag Archives: gender

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:


SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Paula Carlson Elected President of Luther College

Dr. Paula Carlson has just been elected President of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Her husband, Dr. Thomas Schattauer, is Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel at Wartburg Seminary. Thomas and Paula have long been a part of Wartburg.  Paula will assume the office of president July 1. She is currently in her 6th year serving as Vice President of Mission at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Previously she was Associate Dean and then Director of the Wendt Center at the University of Dubuque.

Paula is a graduate of St. Olaf College. She earned her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in New York City. She has taught in many positions at various institutions through the years.

Karen Bloomquist Begins Her Leadership of PLTS

The Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist is the new dean and Chief Administrative Officer of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, having begun January 1.  She replaces Rev. Dr. Phyllis Anderson who was president of PLTS and is a Wartburg Seminary graduate. Karen taught Ethics at Wartburg Seminary before spending 11 years as the director of the department for theology and studies at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland.  She served in a similar position for the ELCA before and while teaching at Wartburg.

Karen is a graduate of St. Olaf College, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and earned her doctorate in theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

GENDER INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE By Carina Schiltz, 2nd Year MDiv

“Gender inclusive language”. I know what you’re thinking. “HEY, WE’VE GOT A WOMAN BISHOP. WE’RE GOOD TO GO! The ELCA is all about being gender-inclusive, not only in language, but in the life of the church.” Good point. We do have a woman bishop. However, not everything in the world is gender-inclusive. There are some pretty powerful messages out there about gender that still have to be exposed, acknowledged, and talked about. So to illustrate all this, here’s a little story from the top 10 most awkward moments from, “The Life and Times of Carina Schiltz”.

This past summer I was hanging out with two of my CPE colleagues at a department store. They happened to be men, Catholic, and soon to be priests. We’re all about the same age, and we were on a very important mission: find some Packers stuff. We found what we wanted and then just wandered around. But then, it happened: the moment of awkwardness to end all moments of awkwardness.

As we came around a corner of the department store, we saw the men’s’ sport coats, and suddenly our retinas were scorched by the most neon bras and underwear I had ever seen in my life. I mean, it BURNED. These unmentionables were placed conveniently across the aisle from the suit coats. Can you imagine that image? Suit coats. And scanty, lacy, neon lingerie facing each other across the aisle. And there we were IN THE MIDDLE. ME AND TWO CELIBATE YOUNG MEN. ARGH!

Instantly I went into defense mode. What should I do? Should I distract the guys? “Hey, uh, look over here. These suit and tie combos sure are spiffy, huh?” Or should I pretend like I don’t see the undergarments? Or should I make a joke out of it? Or should I just run away screaming? Or should I just stand here and let my face get red?

Then the ontological questions started coming. What is this telling me about who I’m supposed to be as a woman, and who they’re supposed to be as men, and how they’re supposed to view me and how I’m supposed to view them?  What does this tell us about our identity?

Then my theological brain kicked in: thank you, Wartburg Seminary. What is this, what’s the angle here, what is this playing to? What does this say about the human condition? Ok, I see neon bright colors…where have I seen these colors before? I’ve seen traffic cones that color orange, and that green/yellow color I’ve seen road construction workers wearing so they don’t get hit by motorized vehicles….Oh, I get it! LOOK AT ME! SEE ME! THAT’S what this is saying. SEE ME. Please tell me that I’m worth something! SEE ME! INCLUDE ME! Look, I bought these clothes, please tell me I’m worth at least that! Include me! Look how hard I’m trying to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman. See me!

We’ve all said this. We’ve all looked for inclusion.

We’ve resorted to so many things to make people see us. Here, it was the promise of salvation through clothing that appeal to people who feel passed over by the world. At least they’ll be seen. And so the stereotypes of what women and men are supposed to wear and notice about each other continue…and they were right in front of our faces.

How do we see people? Do we expect them to be “clothed” as society would have them? NO. We’re taught something a different here. When people say SEE ME, INCLUDE ME, we say “yes, we DO SEE YOU. And you are clothed IN CHRIST. You don’t need to wear neon, or suits….WE SEE YOU. You’re worth it because Christ makes you worth it.” That’s the language we use when we’re being inclusive.

We know our identities aren’t found in any of this stuff, it doesn’t make us a woman or a man. We know we don’t have to live up to society’s expectations of beauty, power, etc to show that we’re “worth it”. We are worth it because Christ makes us worth it.

But the world still catches us in that image of awkwardness, standing between those racks of clothing. In our society, the message of the gospel is often drowned out by the message of consumerism, success, and accumulation of wealth/beauty/power.  We speak inclusively to combat those misleading messages.

Inclusive language isn’t just about speaking. It’s about seeing. Do we dare to see beyond the stereotypes and expectations of the world of what it means to be a man or woman? And then, to we dare to speak it to the world, through our words and actions? Do we speak of others’ dignity and worth?  I pray that the Holy Spirit gives all of us the gift of sight, and also the gift of courage and speech, that God’s will may be done, and the church is a place where every woman and man are SEEN, and welcomed, and included. NO NEON NECESSARY.

TOWARDS FULL PARTNERSHIP: ELIZABETH EATON ELECTED PRESIDING BISHOP OF ELCA by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

In January, 1990, The Persistent Voice began publication. At that time, just two years after the formation of the “New” Lutheran church in January of 1988, there were no women Lutheran bishops. Through the years, The Persistent Voice traced the progress not only of the full inclusion of women in public ministry but also towards the full partnership of women and men in the church. (PV Mission Statement for many years)

The ELCA saw a fulfillment of that mission statement August 14, 2013 at the biennial churchwide assembly with the presence together of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and Presiding Bishop Elect Elizabeth Eaton after her election and in their statements immediately following and when Bishop Hanson introduced Bishop Eaton at her news conference later that day.

Wartburg is represented at the churchwide assembly by President Stan Olson, faculty member Prof. Sam Giere and by a significant number of students who are voting members as well as by alumni and friends.  President Olson immediately informed the Wartburg community electronically of the election: “Pr. Elizabeth Eaton, Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, is the Presiding Bishop Elect for the ELCA. Let us give thanks for her servant leadership to come and give thanks for the servant leadership of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.”

Elected on the fifth ballot, Eaton received 600 votes, Hanson 287; 445 votes were needed of the 889 cast. Dr. Giere commented: “The final ballot went decidedly in her favor (approx. 2/3) It hasn’t gone unobserved among us at the seminary representatives’ table that the theme ‘Always Being Made New’ is being blown into reality by the Spirit.  In her acceptance she acknowledged the witness and work of those women who came before her including in particular April Ulring Larson as the first female bishop in the ELCA. . . . It is important to note the image of the assembly’s work since the preparation for the third ballot when candidates began to address the gathering: three women and one man.  Not to suggest that all things are equal in this church, but there is a profound symbolism in the final four candidates for presiding bishop standing together with the names Ann, Mark, Jessica, and Elizabeth.  Last (for now) but not least, ELCA vice-president, Carlos Peña, announced the election of our new presiding bishop.”

Presiding Bishop Elect Elizabeth A. Eaton said, “We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic. We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church.”

Prior to becoming a bishop. Eaton served as pastor in Ohio. She has a M.Div. degree from Harvard Divinity School.

When The Persistent Voice began publishing in 1990, the ELCA was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA and predecessor bodies. Representational principles adopted at the time the ELCA began in 1988 (25 years ago) assured equal representation of women and men on boards and commissions and at synodical and churchwide assemblies, changing the nature of such gatherings tremendously. But the conference of bishops began as an all-male group.

Things had already changed at Wartburg Seminary. In the first issue of The Persistent Voice there was an article about Professor Elizabeth Leeper being installed as Assistant Professor of Church History, bringing the number of women professors at Wartburg to four (the other three being Norma Cook Everist, Anne Marie Neuchterlein, and Patti Jung), plus two more serving as instructors in biblical language (May Persaud and Cindy Smith).

Spring 1992 The Persistent Voice (PV): “Marie Jesper, 47-year-old minister in Hamburg, Germany has become the first woman ever elected a Lutheran bishop. When she was consecrated as spiritual leader of the 950,000 Lutherans who make up 60% of the population of Hamburg and more than 90% of the Protestants, she said, “I read and interpret the Bible with my experience as a woman. I want to be a sister among sisters and brothers.”

Summer 1992 PV: “Bishop-Elect April Ulring Larson will be installed October 11 in LaCrosse, WI, as bishop of the LaCrosse Area Synod of the ELCA. Rev. Larson, a 1977 graduate of Wartburg Seminary, was elected June 12 on the fifth ballot, the first woman elected bishop in the ELCA.” PV: “She will bring to the office a quiet wisdom, compassion and ability to listen. She has a strong commitment to justice and good skills in helping congregations resolve conflict.”

Summer 1995 PV: “The Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl will be installed as bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA Sept. 24 on the campus of Augustana College. She was elected June 2 on the third ballot. In a phone interview she said, ‘God has worked such a miracle in my heart and life by this experience.’” Although she had been a candidate in Western North Dakota before, this was the first time South Dakota had a woman as a candidate. She is a 1977 graduate of Wartburg Seminary.

One might have thought the rate of change would then increase; however according to The Lutheran (August 2013) from 1988-2012, the total number of female bishops among all the 65 synods over the 25 years had been only 12.

Spring, 2008 PV covered the story of the election of Rev. Susan Johnson as the new National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), September 29, 2007, in Winnipeg. Because two of the five synodical bishops at that time were women, that brought the total to ½ male and ½ female. Bishop Johnson said in an interview with PV, “I think we take a fair amount of pride in that accomplishment.  Does it mean we have conquered all gender issues? No, but it’s a visible witness to people that we are committed to full equality in the church.”

(One thing National Bishop Johnson and Bishop Eaton have in common, besides their gender? Susan was a high school music teacher before she entered seminary and Elizabeth’s undergraduate degree is in music education.)

At the press conference, following the churchwide election August 14 Bishop Hanson introduced Bishop Eaton as “My Colleague,” and Bishop Eaton said that all of Bishop Hanson’s work toward making the ELCA a more inclusive church had led to this moment of her election. She gave thanks for his leadership over the past 12 tumultuous years in the ELCA, referring in part to the 2009 churchwide decision on sexuality, noting also that no bishop resigned after that decision.

Bishop Eaton emphasized that the ELCA is a place where people hear the Gospel, “upon which we can all agree,” which has made this an inclusive church.

Ann Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked, “During your remarks you stated the importance of including the voices of those who had difficulty with 2009 decisions. How do you propose going about this?” Bp. Eaton: “This is one of the geniuses of the Lutheran movement—we thrive on paradox. As long as we agree on the cross of Christ, we can live together. If people believe they are being heard and there is a place for them, we will be OK.”

She was questioned by another reporter about the relationship going forward with the two break-away new Lutheran church groups. (NALC and LCMC) Bishop Eaton responded, “In baptism we are brothers and sisters in Christ,” but added that much work will need to be done before we can have a dialog because there has been much pain. “We will do what we can through God’s grace.”

With wisdom and wit, Bishop Eaton gave brief, clear answers to the questions of reporters both in the room in Pittsburgh and connected on the web. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune, who had covered the papal election, posed a question relating Eaton’s election to the election of the new pope in Rome, asking if she had a “room of tears” as the new pope had. Eaton said with a slight smile on her face, “Oh, this was just like that.”  She went on, “We have nothing like that, no frescoes. I did weep at worship this morning.” The reporter had asked about her family. Bishop Eaton noted the presence of her husband, the Rev. Conrad Selnick, an Episcopalian priest, and spoke of their two daughters, now in their 20’s.

Asked what she thought the ELCA would look like in 5 or 6 years, she answered, “God only knows,” adding that we need to make space for those coming in while continuing to honor our heritage. She ended the press conference eloquently speaking about the need for the distinctive voice of the ELCA and Lutheranism in the current American religious landscape, not to be subsumed under Christian Protestantism or deism or the religion of popular culture, but a faith of the cross and resurrection in which true joy and freedom can be found.

 

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: IMAGES FOR GOD AND HUMANITY by Alan Dreyer, M.Div. Senior

As I think about inclusive language, particularly as it pertains to God and humanity, I think of my own journey as I have come to understand God and humanity, particularly in relation to gender. In the not so distant past, I would have argued that to use mother to refer to God instead of father would amount to a type of blasphemy. In one sense, if scripture uses [male]language, even [male] pronouns with regard to God, and the language of “mankind” along with male pronouns in regard to humanity, who are we to tamper? Yet as I have come to talk about and even debate the merits of maintaining or expanding language one thing comes to mind; I have a wonderful relationship with my father. And in this sentence there is another truth. Some people have very difficult relationships with their fathers, or their mothers, or they don’t have one or the other or both parents altogether. What is their image of God compared to mine? Now this brings up the question, will my dogmatism to maintain the use of patristic language, because that’s how it was originally written, cause others to draw away from God because the images used for God reflect a broken reality in their own lives?

And this brings up another question. If there are images that are not particularly helpful for people to use when thinking about God, are there alternative images that expand the understanding of God? Are there alternative images that allow for a greater inclusivity of humanity? Of course! The bible overflows with ways to speak of humanity, of God, of Christ.

Inclusive language to me is about being able to proclaim God and the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that no one will feel that they are excluded. Or to put it another way, in such a way that everyone may have not one, but multiple images that help them to know God and the gospel.

Gender inclusivity is one area where this takes form. When and where we can use humanity instead of mankind, or persons instead of men, or sisters and brothers instead of simply brothers, we are opening up our message to a wider array of hearers and readers. When we use pronouns beyond “he” and “him” we speak in a different way to all, both women and men. What step could we take then, if we even embrace our transgendered kin by using the pronouns “ze” in conjunction with he and she and “per” alongside of him and her?

Of course, our language demands that we must use pronouns to refer to God. It becomes redundant when I say God multiple times in one sentence. Yet, to favor one gender in the pronouns excludes the other two. An incorporation of all three is one way to speak to a multitude of hearers.

Yet, to speak of God having gender at all is to define God in our own image. Any time we speak of God and create an image in our mind or language we run the risk of forgetting that God is transcendent to the creation. Rather, imagery and language used to describe God should not be to describe God, but rather God’s attributes. Metaphor and simile are useful to describe how we have known God to act throughout history, and in our personal histories.

The use of inclusive language in regard to both humanity and God is not a restriction or a law. Rather it offers freedom to proclaim welcome to all of us who have our own broken realities and freedom to experience the multifaceted attributes of God in new and meaningful ways.

DADS AND DAUGHTERS by Shawn Brooks, M. Div. Junior

DADS AND DAUGHTERS: Role Model Marketing

I have a daughter who just turned seven. Before she was born, I thought I had some idea of the issues involved in trying to raise her to be a strong, smart, capable, independent woman who could think for herself and make her own choices. I knew that body image could eventually be an issue, and that the sexualization of our culture would need to be dealt with at some point. I would need to help her learn that she need not be limited by others’ ideas of what is “proper” for her to do or be. I was not prepared for the thoroughness of gender-based marketing.

I should have been, I suppose. Looking back, even in my childhood, Saturday mornings featured commercials for “action” toys that starred only boys and other toys for “domestic play” that starred only girls. I owned one of the original 12″ G.I. Joe “action figures”–a phrase coined because boys  supposedly don’t play with “dolls.”  But I didn’t think much about all that at age eight. When I played with girls, I often played house. When I played with boys, I often played cowboys or war. It didn’t matter; we just played something that everyone agreed on.

I started to recognize the pervasiveness of gender-based marketing to kids when we were trying to buy baby clothes before my daughter was born. We deliberately chose not to know our baby’s gender before birth, and we tried to find clothes in gender-neutral colors. It was almost impossible. Every item of clothing for newborns is either pink or blue or, occasionally, white; I think we found one green and one yellow outfit in all our searching. Little did I know this was just the tip of the iceberg.

As our daughter grew older, she inevitably discovered Disney movies, both the classics such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and their modern peers: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and others. I have to admit that I was an accessory-before-the-fact: I enjoyed the music and animation in the newer Disney movies. As a single man I had never thought much about the messages their heroines might be sending to young girls. By the time I started to think about that, it was much too late–my daughter was into everything princess.

Sometime around the turn of the millennium, Disney realized the power of packaging their various princesses together in videos, books, toys, and almost anything else you can think of that children use. In her essay “Princess Dreams,”* Katherine Turpin explains her own history with Disney Princesses and her daughter, and discusses not only the pervasiveness of the brand in children’s lives, but how the messages of both consumerism and gender stereotyping can affect a child’s developing spirituality. One of the many interesting points Turpin makes is about the falsity of the relationship a child develops with a fictional character:

Children put enormous amounts of energy and investment in the lives and happenings of nonexistent persons. However, when children are in need of assistance or support, these relationships provide neither support (of a material or emotional variety) nor, in most cases, an example of agency to inspire young girls.

The constant stimulation provided by the ubiquitous nature of products such as the Disney Princesses leads to another problem: if something is not entertaining, it’s boring. I have seen this with my own daughter. Some days it is a struggle to get her to read, even if she is not interested in her toys. As Turpin says, “This emphasis on excitement … limits the perceived value of non-entertainment activities with children, many of which are critical for children’s spiritual development.” Things that help one grow, especially spiritually, quite often are not “fun,” but they are necessary, and it is our job as parents to provide such experiences for our children.

How do we combat the messages consumer products are giving to our children, and replace them with solid spiritual values? In particular, how do I, as a dad, show my daughter that she does not have to conform to the gender stereotypes conveyed by the stories behind her favorite toys, even though I have often in my life been guilty of perpetuating those very stereotypes? Turpin examines several possible strategies:

■            Fight Fire With Fire – “Here, watch some VeggieTales.” Products such as VeggieTales may have better messages and teach the Gospel, but they do nothing to fight the “it has to be entertaining” issue.

■            Abstinence – “Such-and-such product will never be found in this house.” The problem here is that such control ends at one’s front door, and the messages of consumer culture are everywhere. If children are attracted to it, they will find it, whether it can be found in their own house or not.

■            Contestation – “How could Character X make better choices for her life?” Talk to your children about what they are seeing. As Turpin notes: “This parental work is not in vain. Children’s interactions with the stories and iconic characters proffered by the media are deeply impacted by the values and responses of those who surround them.”

■            Forge Authentic, Noncommercial Connections – Make sure your child has the opportunity to create relationships with adults or adolescents who can be good role models themselves. These relationships can be found many places, but if they are found among the congregation they have the added benefit of having a spiritual component already present. Speaking of her daughter, Turpin says, “she knows the value of these relationships; they are connections with real people who call her by name and love her as she is.”

■            Change Social Policy Through Collective Action – Fight back. Work to create changes in the relentless marketing to children. Join groups that put pressure on companies to be accountable for the messages they send.

In my case, it’s too late to put the genie back into the bottle. Now I have to work to counteract my daughter’s devotion to all things Princess. There is hope: she recently announced that she wasn’t interested in the Disney movies so much anymore, that now she likes movies with “real people in them.” But the pull of the princess storyline remains strong. We constantly remind her that she doesn’t need anyone else to be what she wants to be as a person. I can only hope that if I tell her that often enough, with enough love behind it each time, she’ll remember it when the cultural pressure of marketing lures her with its siren song.

*Katherine Turpin, “Princess Dreams,” in Children, Youth, and Spirituality in a Troubling World, edited by Mary Elizabeth Moore and Almeda M. Wright, pp. 45-61, St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008.

DISCERNMENT IN SLUMBER by Christa Fisher, M.Div. Junior

 The curriculum and faculty of Wartburg Seminary are constantly challenging us to broaden our awareness of the human experience and recognize the danger of assuming our experiences are the norm that should be applied universally.   At the same time, we are challenged to effectively communicate the message of Scripture in a contextually relevant way to a wide variety of people, without diluting the message. How do we meet this challenge when there are an infinite number of “others” and our grasp of the human condition is limited to our own experiences?   I recently had a dream which wove together complex ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, class, language, identity and reverence for the Word of God.  I understand this dream to have been my psyche attempting to process these complicated ideas. However, I wonder if it might have also been a visual representation of my calling within the Church?  While the location, languages, and people of my dream are quite specific, the message and themes could be applied to most any situation.  Imagine yourself as the main character of this dream.  What aspects of this dream resonate with you?  In what ways would your dream be different? 

Loaded down with many heavy bags, I slowly venture into the church where I have been invited to serve as a guest preacher.  It will be my first time giving a sermon.  Meeting me at the door, the junior pastor introduces himself to me and quickly leads me to the sanctuary, where I take my seat in a side pew and wait for the service to begin.

Midway through the greeting I realize I do not have a copy of my sermon and cannot recall the sermon text.  Anxiety sets in.  Am I to preach on a text from 1 John?  Is 1 John even in the Bible?  Am I unable to recall 1 John because it does not exist or because I am biblically illiterate?  How can I give a sermon on a text I can’t remember?  I assure myself it would be alright.  The Bible on the lectern will be open to the sermon text.  There is no need to panic. 

Looking at the assembly I note that the congregation is divided into three sections.  The right-side consists of Spanish-speaking immigrants and first-generation families.  There are men, women, and children of all ages dressed in faded blue jeans, plaid oxford shirts, polka-dot dresses, tan polyester pants and mid-riff tops.  “Don’t forget these people,” I tell myself.  “Make sure the sermon speaks to their situation.”

Taking a deep breath, I prepare to read the sermon text.  To my surprise and bewilderment the Bible is in Spanish, a language I do not speak.  What am I to do?  I look to my host for clues and he motions for me to read from another Bible. The lectern is a light-pine, circular kitchen table, much like the table my parents have in their dining room, and it is covered with a multitude of Bibles.

Selecting another Bible, I once again look at the congregation.  This time I focus on the center section of the assembly which consists of white, Midwestern men and women, old and young, wearing sweater vests and blazers, slacks and pant suits, blue jeans and Green Bay Packer shirts.  “Remember these people”, I tell myself, “make sure the sermon has relevance for them.” 

I open the Bible, only to discover it is a Children’s Bible.  If 1 John is a biblical text, it will likely not be in this Bible.  Or, if it is, it will be an illustrated paraphrase in a juvenile vocabulary.  This will not work. 

Taking a deep breath, I select another Bible.  Before opening it, I again turn my attention to the congregation.  This time I see African-American women, men, and children, in elegant dresses, pressed suits, polished shoes, and fancy hats.  With conviction, I tell myself “Remember these people; speak to them.” 

Looking down, I realize a dish towel is hanging from my cincture.  It is a damp, wrinkled white towel with blue stripes.  I have no idea where it is from but feel strongly that it needs to be part of my message.  The towel serves as a reminder of the women in the assembly.  “Don’t forget the women.  Don’t forget you are a woman.  Speak from your experience.  Speak the truth.” 

All of these people are sitting, waiting for me to tell them something important.  Something which will change their lives.  They deserve to hear something fresh and meaningful – not a regurgitation of something they already know.  They yearn to know Christ in a way which offers them wholeness and shalom.  With my dish towel in hand, standing at this holy kitchen table, amidst a community of individuals united in their Christian heritage, I decide to tell them a different story.  I will tell them John’s story of the Adulterous Woman.  Though this story is not part of the lectionary calendar, it is an important story.  It is a story of liberation and life.  Liberation from the restrictive judgments, identities, and expectations imposed upon us and which we impose on others. Life reclaimed through the practice of a perpetual and intentionally intimate relationship with God.  These are important messages for all people.  People who may impose judgment on others and people whose lives are dictated by such judgments.  People in need of the unconditional and life-affirming love of God.   

Once again, imagine yourself the main character of this dream.  What would words of liberation and life would you offer this assembly of people, each uniquely shaped by their life experiences, yet united as heirs of Christ?