Tag Archives: identity

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.

SERMON SEGMENT By Cynthia Robles, Final Year MA Diaconal Ministry Student

From a sermon preached by Cynthia Robles at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Dubuque, IA using the gospel text Matt. 25:31-46 

In a Seminary class on Ethics, we read a book called Lest Innocent Blood be Shed about a community in France during WWII that took in Jewish immigrants that were fleeing from Germany. The church in their town of Le Chambon had engraved over the door the words, “Love one another.” In watching a short clip from a movie about these people, when asked why they put themselves at risk by giving German immigrants refuge, they looked at the camera and said, “It’s what we do.” It was as if they wondered why one would ask such a strange question. The truth is, “Love one another” was not only written on their church, but also written on their hearts. It was woven into the fabric of their being.

As I thought about this, I began to see how this way of thinking is so similar to how I feel being called to a ministry of Word and Service. I cannot tell you how many times I am asked, “Why not become a Pastor?” I say, “I know it is not my call. My call is to Word and service.” When explaining this call to some of the men in the “Almost Home” shelter [At St. John’s] last week, one man said, “After all, it is about getting the word of God out there.” I said, “Through actions, right? And he nodded his head, yes.

As I have pondered my call to service, I wondered where it came from in my life. Was there something that happened that made me begin to think this way or is it just who I am? I tried to figure it out, because this sense of call is so strong for me. It came back to thinking about the great role models I had in my life. My Grandparents and my Dad. From the time I was small, I can remember going to church every Sunday, many times with my grandparents.

However, what I remember most about them was their home, only blocks from St. John’s here on Jackson Street. You could show up any time of the day or night and be welcomed. Not only would you be welcomed, but loved. They would give you something to eat or drink or even a warm bed in which to sleep. Their home was the place we gathered during the holidays, small, but filled with laughter and joy. If they knew they weren’t going to be home, we knew where the key was and we were still welcome to come in. If the light was on, you knew they were home and you were welcome. Although they did not have the words “Love one another” written on their home, it was certainly written on their hearts.

The Greatest Commandment written in the Gospel of Matthew is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In today’s gospel the sheep depict God’s people. They participate in God’s mission. They have responded to Gods call and respond by expressing deeds that manifest God’s Kingdom in a sinful world. Jesus identifies with the poor and desperate. On the other hand, the goats, which have not welcomed the proclamation with positive response, are condemned. They have not “served” Jesus. Disciples live lives of service among those who are living on the margins. This is what is difficult about this text and what I think we all may wrestle with a bit. We know that we do not have to do good works to earn our salvation, but here God is condemning the ones who do not serve.

“Perhaps Jesus says in this parable what he has been saying all along through his teaching and actions and what he will soon say: that God loves us and all the world so much that God has decided to identify with us fully and completely. “We recognize God most easily in the face of our neighbor, meet God in the acts of mercy and service we offer and are offered to us, and live in the blessing of God as we seek to serve as Christ served.”[1]

Two years ago I was asked to resign from my job. I had been in management for over 25 years and for many years worked at making a difference in a community as a Parks and Recreation Director. Once I resigned, I did not know who I was, because I found all my value in my job. It was who I thought I was. Once that was gone, I thought I had nothing. This was a very dark place. I felt like I had no worth, like I was powerless. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

Each night there are men who walk through the church doors of “Almost Home,” many who have no job, many who fight addictions and come hungry and thirsty and cold. Many of you may have been through something in your life that has brought you to a dark place, and if you think back, this is where you may have seen Jesus. In this darkness and in this powerlessness we find power, not in ourselves, but in Jesus, the one who has given us this gift of Grace, by living and dying on a cross for you and for me. Because God did this for us, we are justified by Grace through our Faith and because we are given this gift of salvation we are free to serve our neighbor. I know this is true, because I have felt suffering in this life and I am here today to preach the Gospel as a broken, but saved Child of God. I am claiming my baptism, I am living out my Christian Vocation, and I no longer find value in what I am doing, but I find value in what has been done for me. All of you have value too, because this Grace is for you, saints and sinners. I look in the eyes of the men who walk through these doors each night and see Jesus, because Jesus says when you feed the ones who are hungry and you give the ones who are thirsty something to drink, clothe them and give shelter to the ones who need it, you have done this for Jesus. So, I ask, what do you have to give? You have what has been given to you….LOVE. You can love one another, just as God loves you.

And, just as important is a community that loves. When we love one another it spreads. You can see it here in the ministry that is connected to this building that you steward so well. I have seen volunteers from the community who have come forward to open the doors and show hospitality to the men in the shelter, and the neighbors who come to find clothes for the winter months to keep from freezing in their homes where many cannot afford heat. The men from the Shelter help those neighbors and I heard them bless one another over and over. Students from Wartburg made winter hats for the men. The young lady who we heard from at the beginning of the service has a mission in this life to make this community a better place by loving others. She has coordinated with several families to bring food for the men who are hungry, “And God said, let the Children lead,” This is the gospel in action; we have God’s love woven into the fabric of our being, in St. John’s and in this neighborhood community that God has given to us as a gift. Pure gift.

So, let us share this gift with others, tell the story of what has been done in the name of the one who loves us. We are sent out to tell this story to ones who may not ever hear it. “Mission itself becomes redefined when we consider the move outwards as a move towards God!” [2]”The community is sent out from the Lord’s Supper as body of Christ only to discover that the body of Christ is already waiting for the community in those suffering in the world.”[3] This is what I call discipleship; this is what we do. You can do this here or like my grandparents, in your own home, or in your work, or on the playground, in whatever you do. Let us etch the words over our door: “Love one another” and imagine then, that it will be etched in our hearts.

“I know that I want to have a door in the depths of my being, a door that is not locked against the faces of all other human beings. I know that I want to be able to say, from those depths, “Naturally, come in, and come in.””[4]

 

[1] “Christ the King A: The Unexpected God | …In the Meantime,” n.d., accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/.

[2] “Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46 by Dirk G. Lange,” accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=173.

[3] “Christ the King A.”

[4] Philip P. Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There, 1st edition. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), 287.

A CONGREGATION BETRAYED: BOOK RESPONSE by Jennifer Dahle, Final Year M.Div. Student

As I read When a Congregation is Betrayed: Responding to Clergy Misconduct (Alban, 2006), a series of essays edited by Beth Ann Gaeide, I was struck by the extensive work that needs to be done in churches before any kind of misconduct possibly occurs. It really forced me to think about how I could help a church to prepare for an eventuality like misconduct, but it pushed me even more to think about my theology surrounding misconduct and the office of pastor. On page 26, the essay author, Patricia Liberty, suggests thinking about the far-reaching extent of damage that accompanies sexual misconduct in particular by envisioning the following exercise. “Think of your favorite hymn, your favorite Bible verse, your favorite sacred space. Are they written down? Now, look at the hymn you chose. Your pastor hummed that tune while he/she had sex with you; cross it off your list. The favorite verse you wrote down? You pastor quoted that verse to you when he/she was justifying your actions together; cross it off your list. That sacred space was entered by the pastor while you were there and you had sex; cross it off your list.” The extent of damage is astounding when framed by this exercise.

The essays I read invited me to think about sexual misconduct not as an “affair” but as an abuse of power within the pastoral office. “Clergy sexual abuse is often referred to as ‘sexual sin’ or ‘adultery’…these terms are too narrow to name the damage done to the entire congregation…Further, they encourage a privatization of the behavior that keeps the focus on the sexual activity of two individuals rather than on the betrayal of the sacred trust of the office and the pain caused an entire congregation.” (Patricia Liberty, 16-17)  Trying to heal from a misconduct case needs to involve re-examining how we define sin and evil.

Theologically, clergy misconduct violates trust and poses a potential stumbling block to faith for those involved. It is vital to have clear, open communication around the event and to support the victims and the rest of the congregation. No church that finds itself in the midst of a case of clergy misconduct is going to have an easy time of it, but the more the procedures are in place for such an event, the more potentially effective the healing.

I have much thinking left to do around this topic. Having met someone who is still feeling the effects of clergy misconduct 20 years later has made me feel particularly drawn to trying to actually being prepared should something like this occur near or where I am serving. My thoughts are still racing, but this is a starting point at least.

PART 3: THE WALL by Jean Peterson, WTS Archivist volunteer

The Wall

After Hitler’s defeat in 1945 World War II., the division of Germany into four parts meant East Germany was occupied by Soviet Communism. Travel restrictions were imposed by The Wall which was in place from 1961-1989.

In Berlin we saw a parish split by The Wall so members on the “other side” could not attend worship in their own congregation.  Families could not bury their dead in the church cemetery in their own family plots.

1982-1989 – The Peaceful Revolution

Following our attendance at the Saturday afternoon, January 13, 2013, Bach Motette concert worship at Thomaskirche in Leipzig, we were privileged to listen to and dialog with Lutheran Pastor Ulrich Seidel who had participated in the Leipzig Peaceful Revolution 1982-1989.  This peaceful protest was begun by Pastor Christian Fuehrer at St. Nicolaikirche in Leipzig.  This persistent protest eventually resulted in the pulling down of “the Wall” and the fall of Communist occupation in the Russian sector of East Germany.  (One point he made about their strategy is that people carried lit candles because this would preclude violence.  When you’re watching your candle to make sure you don’t burn yourself or start a fire, you’re not going to lash out at other people when they taunt you or attempt to incite your anger!)

Renate Skirl

            Our second tour hostess from Christian Tours, Renate Skirl, sat down with us one morning at the Colleg Wittenberg and told us her story as a child growing up as a Christian during the Communist regime.  By being a Christian and refusing to join “The Party,” she was isolated. ( Although there were about 12 in her confirmation class – taught by the pastor, the others participated in the Jugendweihe [communist confirmation] and were confirmed one year later.  She was the only person being confirmed in 1968 at the Castle Church in Wittenberg).  Such separation from peers is particularly difficult for a teenager who likes to be one of the “in-group!”  As an adult, when, as a divorced mom, she needed income, the fact that she didn’t list any Communist party affiliation could have prevented her from  getting  the job she had applied for. Fortunately someone who interviewed her liked her experience and her attitude, so she was hired for the position she wanted and was qualified for, anyway.   Now she has adult children and six grandchildren, one born just before Christmas 2012.

1989 – 2013

After The Wall came down, other than reuniting of family members, or going to visit relatives from whom they had been forcibly separated for forty years, there was not much “crossing of the lines” between East Germany and West Germany.   There is an invisible separation between East Germans and West Germans in terms of self-identity. There hasn’t been much desire for East Germans to leave their homeland and migrate to the West, nor for West Germans to move to the East, even though they are now free to do so.   They are loyal to the homes of their ancestors, and once freed to come and go as they pleased, they chose to stay to reclaim their homeland and national identity, to improve themselves and their lives.

On my husband and my tour to Berlin and Potsdam in 1994, we saw everywhere the landscape of bombed out buildings, which had not been repaired since 1945, and were further deteriorated by lack of upkeep during Communist occupation.   In 2013, we saw only one building in that condition – it had been left that way deliberately to show tourists and passers-by what had once been, before freed East Berliners had opportunity to repair or replace the damaged buildings.   Seeing a single building with bullet/bomb holes in it in 2013 didn’t have the same impact of “war zone damage” as did seeing blocks of buildings everywhere in that condition, in 1994.  What was impressive in 1994 was that, despite the exterior condition of these buildings, nearly all the windows displayed white lace curtains!

In a quarter of a century of relative freedom and growth, the East German people have not only renovated their physical infrastructure of bombed-out buildings; but have also gained self-respect and dignity, finding meaningful and fruitful employment.  Now at last they need not be ashamed, but proud to be German.  Even more to the point, they say, “I am proud to be East German.”

Proud to be German

      I respect the East German people greatly.  These, our hosts, were everyday, ordinary friendly people – with dignity, self-respect and integrity, just like any other people we know or meet or encounter anywhere here at home.  Often I forgot that I wasn’t at home in the USA and that I was actually abroad, on foreign soil– until we began to order food, or to ask assistance in the stores.  The language gap is more pronounced in East Germany, where older people learned Russian in school, whereas West Germans had learned English or French as second language and “serving tourist” language.  Most Americans visit Europe but don’t speak the languages of the European countries we visit. Some folks in East Germany still speak Russian, not English, as second language.

There is a Jewish population in Germany now, but understandably small.  Not many survivors or their families chose to return after World War II.  They had nothing left and no one to come back to–only terrifying memories.  We visited the Jewish Museum in Berlin very briefly, but found this to be one place in Germany where security precautions are still on high alert level.

We were told that tour guides in the concentration camps and other historic Holocaust sites (like White Rose, Flossenburg, and Buchenwald,) may sometimes seem reticent because it is too difficult to allow their emotions to become involved in what they are doing.  They need to stick to facts.  Most cannot last very long in this work – probably two or three years at a maximum.  It becomes too overwhelming, too emotionally draining.  It takes its toll.

Among the storytellers, we met with Renate Wind, who has lectured here at WTS on a couple of occasions, and was interviewed here by Persistent Voice staff last fall.  She spent about an hour and a half with us talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the German Resistance movement of World War II., when we visited the Coliseum museum memorial at Nuremberg.

What impresses me is that the East German people are telling the story.  They are healing by telling it.  They are not hiding the facts.  They are not hiding the past.  They are not hiding their history.  They are not denying the facts and saying it didn’t happen.  These story-tellers are honest and open, and they are doing a superb job in educating – not only their children, but also our children, younger generations and tourists from foreign countries, including their former enemies.

It is very important that these landmarks, these prison camps and concentration camps and the atrocities, which happened here, are preserved and kept as reminders and memorials to those who suffered and died here, as tangible facts of history, so that people from everywhere will know what happened here and understand what is important and how much impact our human relationships have on each other!    We are all together one – one human family with same good strengths, hopes and aspirations, emotional feelings, and vulnerabilities, and weaknesses.  I saw us all as one in human nature.  In much of what we saw, we are one even as Lutheran Christians despite our differing national histories.

These story tellers and these museums and these landmarks must be kept in place now, for very soon those of us who remember the Nazi era – whether Nazi, Germans, enemies or “Allies,” – will be gone.  The men who actually fought in  World War ll are now in their 90’s, and those of us who were children in elementary school at that time are now in our 80’s, or late 70’s.  It will  be only  the stories we write, tell, and pass on to the younger generations that will educate people as to what happened.  If we do not hand down the stories, these realities will too soon be forgotten.

DO NOT JUDGE ME, WALK WITH ME: A Poem, by Tammy Barthels, M.Div. Middler

Do Not Judge Me, Walk With Me

Do not judge me because the cloths I wear are tattered and torn.
My cloths do not define me.
Walk with me.
Do not judge me because of the color of my skin.
We bleed the same color.
Walk with me.
Do not judge me because my culture and traditions are different than yours.
We can learn from each other.
Walk with me.
Do not judge me because my ways are not your ways, my thoughts not your thoughts.
Respect, Honor and Embrace Diversity.
Walk with me.
Do not judge me by your statistics.
Listen, and hear my story.
Walk with me.
Do not judge me because my life experiences are different than yours.
We both have something to offer.
Walk with me.
Do not judge me because I do not have a college degree.
I have gained wisdom; you have gained knowledge.
Walk with me.
Do not judge me for we were both created in the image of God.
Created Equal
Take me by the hand; let us walk this journey together.
Let us become transformed.
Walk with me.

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.