Monthly Archives: December 2012

LECTURE BY DR. KAREN BLOOMQUIST, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Karen Bloomquist spoke November 14, at Wartburg Theological Seminary on “Seeing, Remembering, Connecting that Transforms Us, the Church and the World.

To view the lecture in another window: Click here.

She laid out some premises:

  • We face huge economic, political, environmental, and cultural crises today.
  • These are manifest locally and globally, in often interconnected ways.
  •  There are countless examples throughout the Bible and church history where the call is clear to stand and work against all kinds of systemic injustices, from out of the heart of who we are as the baptized, redeemed people of God.
  • These crises are not just ethical issues that the church is called to address “out there,” but they deeply infect the church itself — how it views itself, how it operates, and how the church itself is in bondage.
  • Through the power of the Spirit, we, the church, and the world, are transformed by God and through those, who across time, space and life situations are most different from us.   

Bloomquist invited the audience to re-envision what it means to be church.  “Being formed as church necessarily involves being with those who are different from ‘us.’ Further, having our perspectives transformed,  we ourselves are being transformed by those who are different. They help us see what we would not otherwise see, when bound in by our own subjective-based readings of what is occurring. Being open to how others see, experience, interpret really does matter.”

She suggested that we begin with the world. “This is a significant methodological shift in theology: rather than beginning by focusing on the faith, the church, and from there to ‘the world,’ I am proposing that we begin with the world — what is going on there becomes a ‘wake up’ call to the church. The world is ‘in our face’ as a church, because the world is very much in us, whether we realize it or not.  Churches that assume they are set apart from the world often operate with assumptions and practices that are more affected/shaped by the world than by biblical/theological perspectives, particularly in their quest to be ‘successful.’ It’s not that the world tells the church how to be the church, but opens up challenges that the church must engage if it is to be faithful to who it is called to be, the bearer of news that really is good today,  i.e., liberating, healing, transformative of what holds us and all of creation in bondage.”  She described the need to “exegete our context.”

Bloomquist continued, “An especially urgent calling of churches and religious folk is to open the space, point to the evidence and pose the critical questions.  People are feeling acutely betrayed by the promises they have bought into…[provided] by large corporate interests determined to keep the market as ‘free’ as possible.   Matters of basic meaning, hope and values are at stake, which should be the forte of the church.  This false idolatry is exposed not primarily from top-down pronouncements, but from out of the actual contradictions as people have experienced them. The urgent pastoral task is to stand aside and open up ways for people to name, lament and rage about the contradictions between what they have been promised by this distinctly American faith and what they are actually experiencing — inviting them to lament, and rage, even outrageously so.”

Bloomquist invited the audience to engage in theological practices of subversive remembering.We are reminded of how countercultural and even subversive were the communities gathered around Jesus…Truth telling emerges through the subversive remembering (a) of who/whose we are in relation to God, (b) of what has come before us, and (c) of the realities of our neighbors globally as well as locally. Empowered through the Holy Spirit, this has the potential to transform what is occurring in light of God’s in-breaking new reality.  Subversive remembering is a theologically-empowered social practice of expressing ‘when/who/what’ has been forgotten or overlooked.  It exposes our illusions, false gods and the domination (empire) and injustices they perpetuate, and impels truth-telling and organized action (resistance) for the sake of God’s world.”  She added, “This occurs especially through those two practices that are central to what it means to be the church.”

 Bloomquist went on to describeecclesial practices of connecting. “This implies a more communio[1] understanding of ecclesia:  a worldview of relationality instead of individualism; instead of aspiring to be self-sufficient churches, our interrelatedness; instead of our strength or know-how, our vulnerability; openness to listen and learn from others, and even be transformed by those different from ourselves;  shifting from the arrogance of empire and theologies of success to attitudes of humility that are shaped by a theology of the cross, and by living out the virtues advocated throughout the New Testament.”

She concluded by saying, “Seeing, remembering, connecting are simultaneously an interactive set of practices distinctive to the church, but also publically discernible to those who don’t identify with the church; therefore this might even be meaningful, persuasive to those ‘in the world,’ where they, too, join in these practices of seeing, remembering, connecting with different eyes, experiences, approaches…even through different faith lenses…and together participating in the transformation of the world.”

[1] These multi-lateral relationships and understandings have been developed, for example, through various statements and publications of the Lutheran World Federation: A Communion of Churches.


A poetic reflection on Karen Bloomquist’s  lecture

By Tammy Barthels, M.Div. Middler

Guide me O God
In speaking the truth.

What is truth?
That our world is fractured, hurt and broken?
That we have turned inward with our hurt, anger and misperceptions?

What will bring healing?
Stepping out and embracing each other?

Can we allow ourselves to be transformed by others
who are different than ourselves?

We each have unique, God given gifts to offer.

Can we recognize the face of God in each other
and allow ourselves to be transformed?

Rather than building walls to protect ourselves because of our fear,
can we reach out to pick each other up, rather than pushing each other down?

Let us remember who we are from the inside out.
Let us form solidarity with those who are left out.

Let us see, remember and connect with each other,
through our faith, making steps to change the face of our world
Reuniting in hope.

A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE by Tammy Barthels, M.Div. Middler

A group of Wartburg women students met with Dr. Arnfriður Guðmundsdóttir, professor at the University of Iceland, over lunch while she visited the seminary and discussed women in ministry. Following is a summary of that discussion:

Our experience shapes our theology. People assume if we are interested in a topic it has been our experience, but that is not always necessarily true.

What is Feminist Theology and how do we raise this controversial topic? A feminist perspective does not mean women strive to be over men; it means working towards equality.

Changing behaviors and habits is difficult. There is a resistance to learning new theology. What are the issues? What are the fears? We need to begin by listening. What are the realities for men? What are the realities for women? We need to ask ourselves and each other, “What are our dreams for partnership with each other?”

Women need to be in solidarity with each other. “We need to stay awake!” said Arnfriður. Women need to work together, not against one another. Women need to find a common ground where they can meet.  Arnfriður suggested that perhaps that common ground is Liturgy. “There seems to be a large gap between the theology we are doing and the liturgy we are practicing.”

The group laughed when Professor Guðmundsdóttir spoke of a newspaper headline: “Too bad women can’t chant.”   She said, “The reality is we need to open up discussion with musicians to work with ordained women. We need music that is more appropriate for women’s voices.”

Times are changing, slowly, but Iceland has just experienced a new reality. For the first time in history Iceland has a woman presiding bishop. Actually there were three new bishops elected within this past year. The women clergy spoke to the bishop and asked: “How can we help you? We are not here to impose but we want to assist where we can.”

The truth be told, there is a shortage of positions for pastors in Iceland. “We need to become aware of this reality,” she said. She spoke also about the need to move from a hierarchical church towards a church of shared power and partnership.

Student Christa Fisher asked Professor Guðmundsdóttir: “Where do we go from here?” Arnfriður responded: “Continue to find opportunities where you can speak, for example the confirmation rally where you spoke, Christa. Speak to the young women; tell them our stories. Don’t give in or give up. It is all of our responsibilities to make a change!”

WHEN CHRIST BECOMES CHRISTA by Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir

When Christ becomes Christa
The importance of a contextualization of the cross-event
By Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir
Excerpts of a lecture presented at Wartburg Seminary, November 13, 2012

Full lecture here: When Christ becomes Christa

As a key symbol of the Christian faith, the cross symbolizes God’s participation in human suffering and death. An empty cross signifies, on the other hand, the resurrection, or the important message about the final victory of life, over suffering and death. When the cross is interpreted particularly in light of women’s experience, it signifies God’s compassion with women, who suffer, amongst other things, because of domestic and/or sexual violence. Sometimes this compassion (or co-suffering) is portrayed in a female body on the cross.

In the past the cross has sometimes been used to discourage people from resisting injustice. When the cross is understood as a symbol of kenosis  of patriarchy, the self-emptying of male dominating power, the power of the cross becomes the power of love instead of the power of control.

For centuries women’s has been justified, based on the idea of its salvific meaning. Despite the abuse of theological arguments in order to justify women’s suffering, women have been able to experience Jesus’ solidarity with them not only in their suffering but also in their fight against unjust causes of their suffering. This is why the christological question, “Who do you say I am?” receives a response with yet another dimension, when answered from the perspective of women’s experience of suffering. Hence, the Christ who sided with women as “the oppressed of the oppressed” reminds us that also today the knowledge of God is to be discerned in the midst of suffering. By identifying with the suffering women, the foreigner, the deserted, the sick, and the social outcast of our time, we are identifying with Christ among us.[i] At the same time we are participating in God’s ongoing struggle against injustice, inequality, and oppression.

The power of the cross is not to be understood on the basis of our knowledge of power as control. The power of the cross is the power of life, as both unexpected and ongoing.

Christa – a Crucified Woman

Since the mid-seventies a number of images of a crucified female Christ (often referred to as Christa) have stimulated interesting discussions about contemporary interpretations of the passion story. Christa-figures have pushed for important discussions about the meaning of the contextualization of the Christ-event, especially the gender-question.

Christ as Christa liberates not by condoning the suffering of abused women, or proclaiming that there is an innate redemptive quality in it; but by being present with and sharing in the brokenness, identifying this as the priority for God’s healing love, Christ gives hope, empowers and enables the process of resistance.[ii]

Indifference is truly something we should worry about in our western societies. All of us have probably heard stories about people passing by, instead of helping those who have been assaulted or hurt and need help. Those stories remind us of the story of the good Samaritan, when the priest and the Levite saw him lying there “half dead” and decided to pass by without helping him (Lúk 10.30-37). Too often people do hesitate to intervene when they are witnessing violence of some sort taking place next door – because they don’t want to intrude on people’s privacy. They also hesitate to intervene when somebody is being bullied, maybe because they are afraid of risking being bullied themselves.

Compassion- to be able to feel with somebody, can be passive, meaning to express solidarity,to listen to and to offer to go along with the one who is in pain, which can prove invaluable for the one who feels left alone in his or her suffering. But compassion can also be active, encouraging resistance and not submission to injustice. We have examples of both in the gospel stories. This is why imitatio Christi, or to follow Christ’s example, can either mean to suffer with the suffering one (com-passio) or to stand up and resist, hoping that eventually justice will prevail. Sometimes we need to be creative in order to come up with effective ways to practice nonviolent resistance, like Jesus certainly was.

There has always been a strong tendency to silence women’s experience, particularly their experience of oppression and abuse. Churches and other faith communities have been slow in responding to the danger many women are faced with, due to violence and abusive behavior. Initiatives by large church communities have signaled an increasing awareness of the problem. As a follow-up to the Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women 1988-1998, the World Council of Churches (WCC) decided to confront the challenge of violence directly, by establishing a Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace, (2001-2010).[iii] While the WCC focused on manifold expressions of violence, violence perpetrated against women and children was among their central concerns. Bishop Margot Kässmann in her book Overcoming Violence. The Challenge to the Churches in All Places: “The inability of churches to deal with domestic violence is one of clearest indicators of the urgency of a Decade to Overcome Violence for the churches.”[iv]

Following the WCC’s initiative, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), in its document Churches say ‘NO’ to Violence against Women. Action Plan for the Churches from 2002, called its member churches to act on behalf of violated women. By offering this contribution to the WCC decade against violence, LWF sought to direct the focus of the international church community to the effect violence is having on women in their home as well as in the church and the society at large. In the foreword to the document the General Secretary of LWF, Ishmael Noko, depicts violence against women as a theological problem, and not simply a social one. Noko writes: “When those who are victimized suffer, so does God. Let us work together to overcome all forms of violence that are an offense against God and humanity.”[v]

A cross from El Salvador was painted in memory of María Cristina Gómez. Here we see a close relationship between the cross event and the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the cross remains an example of one more victim of evil; of  one more person who lost her/his life life for a good cause.  That is why it is crucial to keep the close relationship between the cross and our hope for the final victory of life over death, good over evil.

María Gomez spent her life fighting for a better living conditions for women in El Salvador. She particularly cared about women who were victims of rape or suffered from domestic violence. Among other things, she taught them to read. Eventually Gómez was murdered by her opponents in the year of 1989. This cross is a sign of hope because of the story told by the pictures of the cross. It is a sign of hope for those who want to improve the living conditions of  victims of violence and abuse. This is not only a story of the power of evil amongst us, and the sufferings caused by it; but a story of the power of non-violent resistence. It is also an encouragement to follow to imitatio Christi, not to give up, but to stand up and resist evil, holding on to our hope that good will eventually prove stronger than evil.

[i] Mt 25.31-46.

[ii]  Quoted by Clague, see ibid., 106.

[iv]  Kässmann, Overcoming Violence, 45.

[v]  Churches Say ‘No’ to Violence against Women. Action Plan for the Churches, 5.