Monthly Archives: April 2012


The Rev. Shelley Wickstrom, WTS, 1986, was elected bishop of the Alaska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Friday, April 27. Shelley currently serves as Co-ordinator of Region 1 of the ELCA. She has served congregations in Alaska and Montana.

Shelley, a woman with gentle strength and wisdom, brings years of experience in parish ministry, and service in the broader ELCA. She lived in Alaska before her studies at Wartburg Seminary and served bi-vocationally in her first call in Alaska. She will be a blessing in the church in Alaska and bring a clear voice to the public world as bishop on behalf of the church.

The Alaska Synod is 64th out of the 65 synods of the ELCA in membership, but the largest in geographic size. It stretches from the congregation in Shismaref to the congregation in Ketchikan 1400 air miles away. They have the largest and only Inupiat (Alaskan Eskimo) population of the ELCA who make up almost 20% of their baptized membership.


 The Reverand Agnes Sigurðardóttir, pastor at Bolungarvík and dean of the Westfjord region (far Northwest Iceland), will be the first woman to serve as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland.  She was elected after the second round of ballots this past week.  She will succeed Bishop Karl Sigurbjörnsson, who has served as Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Iceland since 1998. Wartburg Seminary has a number of significant relationships with the Church of IceIand, particularly through Professor Sam Giere who regularly takes students there on J-Terms. He invites holding in prayer  sisters and brothers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland, Bishop Karl, and Bishop-elect Agnes as they continue to walk forward in faith.


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.

THE VOICE WITHIN by Tammy K. Barthels, M.Div. Junior

 More often than not we fail to embrace who God created us to be and instead view ourselves through the lens through which society and culture see us. We search for a love–that only God can give us–in things that are not life-giving and we are left empty. We allow society to strip us of our authenticity until we can no longer recognize the unique individuals God has created us to be. God, however, invites us daily to go within and seek the goodness God has created. Allowing ourselves silence and solitude, we will begin to hear God’s voice speaking to us, telling us that we are beloved children of God.

This poem was written in the reflection of God’s love that is calling us from within.

Remain still.


Embrace the Divine,

Within, daily.

Do not forget,

You are a Child of God.

You carry within you,

Everything you need.

Live with passion.


Celebrate who you are.

Rejoice, be glad.

Embrace all you are.

For the Divine created you,

And you are good.


Segments of a Sermon preached in Wartburg Seminary Chapel, Spring, 2012

John 12:1-11

The anointing of Jesus is a familiar text. It appears in all four gospels.

In the gospel of John, Mary anoints Jesus.  She is named.  Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus had come to the home of Lazarus when he heard of Lazarus’ death.  When he arrived, Martha was the first one to come to Jesus. Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise again. Martha misunderstood him and thought he meant Lazarus would rise during the resurrection on the last day. When Mary came to Jesus, she fell to his feet weeping and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary knew the power of Jesus and her faith moved Jesus deeply. He commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb.

Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were friends. It was this deep friendship that brought Jesus back to the house of Lazarus six days before the Passover. This was not the safest place for Jesus to be, but it was where he wanted to be; with his friends. He may have been invited as a way for them to thank him for saving Lazarus, but for Jesus, he was there to say good-bye.

The people around the table could not believe what they were seeing. Only slaves washed the feet of guests; and a woman never touched a man, except her husband, and that was only in private; only a woman of loose morals let her hair flow freely; and the cleaning of  feet was never done with perfume.  What was Mary thinking? If she had anointed his head, it would have been similar to what was done at the installation of a priest, prophet, or king. When people died, that was the time to anoint their whole body. So, what was Mary trying to convey by what she did?

Mary had probably heard the rumors that Jesus was going to die for going against the government and stirring up the people. Jesus death would be by crucifixion. Mary knew about crucifixion. She knew that those who die that way were not given a proper burial. She had seen convicted criminals hang until birds and small animals have picked their bones clean. She ached at the thought of her precious Jesus dying that way. She did all she could to show her love, her loyalty and her faith in Jesus. She knelt at his feet and ministered to him.  She prepared him for his burial.

A few days later, Jesus knelt before the disciples and washed their feet.  Was he following Mary’s example? Was Jesus that moved by the way Mary ministered to him that he wanted to do the same for those who had been his loyal followers?  Mary had taken a great risk that evening. She had gone against cultural norms. She did it in front of those who would criticize her.  But, she was doing what Jesus had done throughout his ministry. She was going against the norm to care for the one she thought needed her care the most. Her actions were in sharp contrast to what was expected of her. Her love for Jesus was all that mattered and she wanted that love to show in her actions. Mary gave everything she had for Jesus. She poured herself out to show her faith. She believed; she was generous, and she was devoted.

Jesus became flesh for us and the feet of his body were anointed by Mary. Mary used her hands to honor Jesus’ body and used her hair as a towel. We have been given gifts by God to use to the glory of God. We use those gifts in all we do. We minister to those around us. We all face brokenness and look to each other for support. When one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.  Jesus was hung on the cross for our salvation and as resurrection people we continue to be fed the body and blood of Christ each time we come to the table and are nourished for the days ahead. We all were created in God’s image to do God’s work in this world. It is not an easy task. What Mary did that night no one would have imagined.  What Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection is more than we could have ever imagined.

JONAH’S SONG by Rev. Peter Heide, Baraboo, WI, WTS, 1996

“It is not fair!” I cry overcome with rage,
That I, in darkness, must proclaim the light;
That I, sightless, must proclaim the vision;
That I, without sight, must see the goodness of creation
And bear witness to the forest of walking trees,
With grafted branches of cross-purposed fruit
That, lifted high in Easter light,
Know only self-gratified comfort in succulent wholeness given
Not seeing the bruised compassing their island fortune
Or windfalls, grounded, split and broken.
“It is not fair!” I cry overcome by rage
That I, in uncharted spaces and fearful of misstep falling,
Must walk into the void, cane feeling, disabled,
No thanks to God for life and being,
Only thoughts of murderous envy
Of the ables, who freely move, not seeing,
Speaking ridiculing laughter, lamenting of pessimistic fate
And burdened lives of privileged living,
Insensate, offering aid of demeaning condescension,
Unintentionally stripping personhood and accomplishment without question.
“It is not fair!” I cry overcome with rage,
That I, cast down from judgment gate, must stand
And go to be swallowed up in color prejudice,
neon sirens’ calling, fashion statement wearing, and icon branding,
It rolls like building waves upon the shore.
To be spewed up on alien land, this Nineveh, to proclaim favor, restoration.
Far better would be shame and ashes—bended knee humiliation,
But your judgment hangs with grace
Forgiving even their unknowing
And my own empty railing.
“It is not fair!” I cry overcome with rage outside the walls of your embrace,
Away from challenging interaction and site of restoration relationship;
And I am angry enough to die.
Yet you continue to speak creation into being;
You surround me with spirit breezes blowing,
Song bird singing, wheat grass growing, grape vine clinging,
And words of forgiving interaction:
“You and all people, for the forgiveness of sin,”
Claiming me as justified partner, including me as one of them,
In conversation of mutual need.
“Thank God! It is not fair!”


Sandi Olson DeckerThe Rev. Sandi Olson Decker, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Salinas, California, WTS, 2006, has been chosen for one of Collegeville  (Collegeville, MN) Institute’s, week-long writing experiences. Sandi was an avid writer and editor of The Persistent Voice while a student at Wartburg Seminary.

How many students have served on the staff of The Persistent Voice over the past 23 years?  Over 175! Many, having gained writing and editing experience, have gone on to publish other things. They have come to Wartburg, served, and gone forth to all kinds of service in the church and world.

WE INVITE you to contribute your writing. The subject matter can be as broad as the lives, experiences and vision of our readers. News, reviews, poetry, challenges, features and more should in some way relate to the mission statement: addressing issues of gender and justice across the globe and working towards the full partnership of women and men in ministry.  Send submissions to  We will edit (so don’t worry about your writing form). We will make sure you see the edited version before it is posted under your name.