Tag Archives: Justice

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORDS FROM GUATEMALA AT WTS SOUP SUPPER by Prof. Norma Cook Everist & Carina Schiltz, 3rd Year MDiv

Diaconal Minister Dr. Rebecca Wiese (WTS 2002) and guest speaker, Pastor Jose Pilar Alvarez Cabrera, who is the Senior Pastor of ILUGUA (Iglesia Luterana Guatemaltecca in Zacapa, Guatemala) recently spoke at Wartburg Seminary at a soup supper sponsored by the Seminary’s Center for Global Theologies.

Dr. Wiese who is called as an ELCA diaconal minister at Grace Lutheran Church in Davenport, IA, is a physician at Genesis Medical Center in the Quad Cities.  She has traveled to Zacapa, Guataemala eight times as part of the accompaniment ministry of Presbyterians and Lutherans in Davenport with Lutherans in Guatemala.

Pastor Cabrera’s voice was clear and persistent. His commitment was translated by the persistent voice of second year M.Div student Carina Schiltz, assisted by second year M.Div student Mytch Dorvilier.

“We want peace and justice, but there is conflict in our country,” said Pr. Cabrera. He has worked for years with farmers who live in peaceful resistance to the multinational corporations who suppress local interests. The local people who lack the power of voice or money are defending their land and the mountain that is the source of water, which is life for this and future generations.  He said, “Water doesn’t come from a faucet; it comes from the mountain. It comes from the rivers.” And they are being polluted. The mountain is the only source of water for 300,000 people.

The Lutheran Church in Guatemala, together with many other religious leaders have organized and taken their message to such global places such as the Organization of American States, The European Union Parliament, and Amnesty International to seek justice and protection. The powerful multinational corporations have money to pay off judges and others which in turn endangers local leaders, some of whom have been jailed.  Their lives are under constant threat. A priest was offered money to have Pr. Cabrera killed. The priest replied, “I do not want the money; I want you to leave.”

The solidarity movement has become the mission of the church in the midst of conflict. The people simply want healthy, safe water for everyone. Many of the corporate projects are dangerous to the water and the land. A hydroelectric plant would benefit companies between Panama and the United States, not the people who live in the area.

The offers of money, the government (five ruling families) support of the companies, the use of the military to keep the people quiet, all take away the voices of the community. Pr. Cabrera described how the churches have united in this fight for life and thereby have gained credibility and moral authority among the people. They talk to the military, trying to tell them to support the people, not just the huge corporations. The role of the churches is very important.  Pr. Cabrera, whose life has been in danger many times now has body guards. Being with him for five years, the body guards now have become part of the community and even the church.

Ninety-five percent of the people are poor. The multi-national corporations actually increase local poverty while benefitting only the five powerful top Guatemalan families. The Mayan spiritual leaders of the indigenous peoples say, “Don’t be scared pastor. The Spirit of the Mountains will protect you.”

PERSISTENT FOR PEACE by Tammy Barthels, M.Div. Middler and Prof. Norma Cook Everist

“It is a delight to come home to Wartburg. Wartburg has strengthened me and formed me in who I am today.”

Dr. Winston Persaud introduced her Excellency Marie Jilo Barnett to the Wartburg community at a dinner given in her honor this Spring.  Appointed in 2008, she is Sierra Leone’s first female ambassador to Liberia, as well as to Core d’Ivoire. Marie studied at Wartburg from 1990 to 1994, when she received her M.Div. degree.

Reverend Barnett was passionate and invoked hope with each word that she spoke about teaching men and women to co-exist in the Image of God. “It is possible,” she said.

Ambassador Barnett is zealous about negotiating peace and promoting women. She was the first Lutheran woman to be ordained in Western Africa. Her position as Ambassador is about building bridges between Liberia and Sierra Leone; this, she said, is the essence of her appointment.

She encourages women to take action. “Do what you can. Avoid Chaos. Pray with one another, do not pray alone. Get everyone of all races and religions involved. Say ‘NO’ to injustice.”

Ambassador Barnett is called to serve. She did not campaign, nor did she join a political party. She is doing what she believes is hers to do. She depends on her faith and is strong in prayer. “Seek the kingdom and all will be given to you.” Her faith gives her the strength to sit on parliament and represent women and their rights.  She believes strength comes when women come together and support one another. She said, “We do not do it on our own.”  She is involved with a network of women: women lawyers, women doctors, and women from the market. “Together we make a difference. In the nothingness that we have, we share, and we have much.”

Marie has seen a lot of hardship and constantly worked in ministries of reconciliation.  She sees the need to build bridges of peace.  In her role now as Ambassador and also through Lutheran World Federation she has had many opportunities to serve.  “God has been with me everywhere I have been all over the world.”

Ambassador Barnett had worked with Laymeh Gbowoee, well-known Lutheran laywoman who led the peace-movement in Liberia. She said to Gbowe, “Don’t sit alone.” Barnett and other women supported the women from Liberia in the peace talks. Ambassador Barnett now works with Liberian President Serlief. Gbowe and Serlief both became Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

When asked what is most important for her theologically, Ambassador Barnett said, “Justification by grace through faith.  If we have faith, the Holy Spirit will guide us.” She told of times when she needed to speak publicly in crucial diplomatic situations.  “The Holy Spirit would guide my words.  Be strong in prayer.”

Marie’s husband, Tom, also received his M.Div from Wartburg in 1994 and now serves as the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierre Leone.  Dr. Dan Olson, WTS professor emeritus, preached at their ordination in Sierre Leone.  In a church of lay leadership, the Barnetts were the first to be ordained.   Marie served as pastor of Faith Community Lutheran Church, Freetown.

While at Wartburg Marie said that she and Tom were welcomed and supported as international students.  She said, “The international students saw some American students for whom ends did not meet.”  Together with others started the food pantry for students , which continues to this day.

When asked about the demands of her busy life, Marie responded, “When I’m helping people, I’m revived.”  She  concluded with Christ’s mandate: “Go and baptize all nations. Do not be afraid. I will be with you to the end of the age.”

From 1996 – 2002 Marie was a member of Parliament in Sierre Leonne, serving on various Committees asfollows:

1. Foreign Affairs and International

Cooperation Founded the Network of Women Ministers and Parliamentarians and served as Vice President.

2. Health and Environment Pioneered the settingup of the National AIDS Secretariate.

3. Education – Participated in the oversight that saw the University of Sierra Leone

locate campuses in the different Geographical Regions.

4. Defence – The only female member of the drafting committee of the much celebrated

“Lome Peace Accord” that brought lasting peace to Sierra Leone in 2002.

5. Works and Infrastructure – Pioneered the setting up of the Social Action for Poverty

Alleviation under the National Commission for Re-integration, Repatriation and Resettlement.

6. Social Welfare, Gender and Children

Set up the network of women Ministers

Prayers for Sexual Assault Awareness at Wartburg Seminary by Mary Wiggins, 2nd Year M.Div

The community of Wartburg Seminary, during the week of April 25th 2013, prayed for those impacted by Sexual Assault. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. This effort was coordinated by the Global Concerns Committee and the Chapel Staff and planning groups. Although Sexual Assault and Abuse primarily affect women, it does not discriminate for men and women, young and old from all over the world are survivors of rape, incest, and abuse. It is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are impacted by sexual assault in their life time.  

What makes sexual abuse so vile? Its power to isolate and to silence.

Fifty-eight candles were lit in the chapel to represent how sexual abuse statistics would look in a community of Wartburg’s size. These candles were accompanied by prayers for victims–survivors and those who did not survive, supporters, advocates and perpetrators. With sighs too deep for words to express these candles were a visual prayer for all the people whose voices were silenced by abuse.

Image of candles on the Table in Loehe Chapel.

Holy One, you do not distance yourself from the pain of your people, but in Jesus you bear that pain with all who suffer at other’s hands. With your cleansing love bring healing and strength to victims of sexual assault and by your justice, lift them up, that in body, mind, spirit they may again rejoice. In Jesus name, Amen.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 84)

Photo credit: Mary Wiggins