Tag Archives: identity

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.


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.

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?