Monthly Archives: February 2016

BLACK HISTORY AND WHITE PARENTING By Elle Dowd, Candidate for Ordination in the ELCA

ElleAlice1

(photo credit Fresh Blend Media in St Louis.

When other white folks hear about the way my family was formed via transracial adoption, they will often respond with some well-meaning phrase that goes something like, “Oh how great!  Everyone knows that it doesn’t matter what color a child’s skin is, love is all they need!”

In some ways, I know what they mean. I agree that, as Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms puts it “Love is the most powerful force in the universe for social change.”  But when that statement is coupled with words saying my child’s skin color “doesn’t matter”, it gives me pause.

Because even though I grew up in white suburbia on a steady diet of Colorblind Ideology, my conversations with adult transracial adoptees [1], the anti-racism training I’ve received, and my work following the Uprising in Ferguson, Missouri have lead me to understand that while being “colorblind” sounds nice, it does nothing to dismantle the system of racism and only serves to erase the experiences of people of color.

That’s something that doesn’t sound very loving at all. [2]

“never
trust anyone
who says
they do not see color.
this means
to them,
you are invisible.”
― Nayyirah Waheed , salt.

I don’t want to erase my daughter’s Black skin.  I don’t want to tolerate it.  I want to celebrate it as one of the best parts about her.  “Dear one,” we whisper to her as we rub coconut oil over her luminescent dark, African skin, “Your melanin ties you to all kinds of beauty and power throughout the ages.”

Representation matters to children.  To be able to see themselves reflected in the world around them justifies their existence in the world and gives them role models to aspire to.  This is crucial for all children, but it is particularly important for children like my daughter who does not see her own face reflected back in the faces of her parents.  Our mainstream culture in general is awashed in whiteness, and so this takes some special consideration and effort.  Love might be enough, but often love requires mindfulness and intentionality.  Love requires sacrifice.  Love requires reflection, repentance, learning.  As a white parent of a Black child, I try to be conscious of the pictures on my wall, the neighborhood I live in, and the media I consume. This is a job for us year round. My daughter is Black all day every day, 24/7, forever and ever, amen, and thank God for that.

Yet I look forward to February.

February is Black History Month.  And in our family that means it is a special time to really lean into and celebrate our daughter’s Blackness. [3]

Calendar

In our family that means this: we go through her entire collection of books and pull out all of the Black History ones.  She has an enviable collection, thanks to gifts from family and friends who understand how important representation is for the development of her racial identity. After nightly prayers and family devotions, we have story time. We commit in February to only read bedtime books about Black History, with Black protagonists, or African/African American folk tales. This might mean that we read an illustrated version of one of Maya Angelou’s poems, read one story from “The People Could Fly”, a gift given to her by Womanist Theologian Candace Simpson, and then wrap up with reading a biography about Wangari Maathai from Kenya.

Books

Before bedtime each night in February, after our activities and homework and dinner, we like to watch a documentary or a piece of a biopic about Black History.  “Watsons go to Birmingham” is a favorite of my daughter’s, although between the recent PBS documentary on the Black Panther Party and Beyonce’s new lyrics  my daughter has become a fan of documentaries of revolutionaries with Afros.  A lot of the documentaries and films take a lot of unpacking. A lot of them are hard to watch. We leave plenty of time for questions and plenty of room for feelings.

And then each year for Black History Month, we do a project as a family.  Last year in 2015, my daughter interviewed prominent Black leaders in our community. She interviewed one West African immigrant who works for the Army, Johnetta Elzie, one of the important voices coming out of Ferguson and St. Louis as part of the Movement for Black Lives, one older church member who marched with MLK Jr. when she was my daughter’s age, 8 years old, and one trans Jew of color.  Our daughter knows that Blackness and the Black experience is as diverse as it is beautiful.  She wrote the interview questions herself, took notes, and wrote a report for each of them.

AlicesInterview

This year for Black History Month 2016, we chose an artistic, creative project.

Together, with help from her dad who is an artist, she made a mask out of her favorite influential Black folks. My daughter is a West African immigrant, so the mask symbolized Africa, since we have a lot of West African masks in our house it is a symbol that makes sense to us. They created the mask, paper-mache style, in the shape of my daughter’s face, connecting all the power and beauty of these Black Americans back to Mama Africa.  My daughter researched each of these people and chose them herself, from well-known historical figures like Harriet Tubman all the way to contemporary leaders like the founders of Millennial Activists United in Ferguson. These are the people who made a way for my daughter and whose stories and courage helped to form her.

AlicesArt2 AlicesArt1AliceWearingHerArt

This might seem like a lot of extra work, but unfortunately, its necessary.  The more I learn about Black History, the more I am aware that outside of Rosa Parks and MLK Jr, most of us weren’t taught much in our schools.  For example, how many of us white folks know anything about Fred Hampton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker?  How many of us have heard about the bombing of MOVE or Black Wallstreet?  More and more it is becoming clear, we are seeing a blatant white-washing of history because as Naoimi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “In this country we teach history to teach pride, not to learn from it’s lessons.”

As parents and as Christians, we are charged with telling the Truth.  And so here is where I plead with you, parents and faith leaders:

It should not only be Black children who are learning Black history.  White children, white adults, white churches need to take up this task.  We must be able to see the image of God in our neighbors, and in times such as these, that means our Black neighbors especially.  We need to know that Black Lives Matter because Black lives, like all lives, were created in the Image of God.  When we teach and learn about Black history and Black contemporary leaders and issues, we are showing that we believe that Black people matter, that their contributions were important. We are saying, “We see you. You are not invisible to us. We are willing to learn.”  During this season of Lent, this means confessing that as white parents and as church leaders, consciously or unconsciously, we have not always taught that Black Lives Matter, that they are made in the image of God, that Black history and Black representation is essential. I am challenging you to do this, as a faith leader, but as a parent, I am begging.  I am begging you to help create a world where my daughter can grow up safe and celebrated, knowing that she matters to her neighbors because she matters to God.

It’s a task that must happen year-round, 24/7 for a lifetime, for generations.

But maybe we could start this February.

ElleBLM

Elle Dowd is a candidate for ordination in the ELCA, planning to attend seminary this fall. She has been active in the Uprising in Ferguson, MO. To read more of Elle’s writing, check out her blog.

[1] To hear what adult transracial adoptees have to say about their experiences, read Simon’s “In Their Own Voices”.

[2] For an amazing article on why Colorblind Ideaology is harmful, full of tons of links, please see the article 7 Reasons Why ‘Colorblindness’ Contributes to Racism Instead of Solves It.

[3] In some ways I find this rhythm similar to how I work with the liturgical calendar. As Christians we are called to confession, repentance, and special care for the poor YEAR ROUND, yet during Lent we have a special time to be reminded and to really lean into it.  My daughter is Black year round and representation for her is always a top priority. But February is a time to lean into it, to be reminded.

Advertisements

FOR THE BORDER CROSSERS/PARA LOS QUE CRUZAN LA FRONTERA By Carina Schiltz, Final Year MDiv Student

January term is a time of exploration and learning outside the classroom. The “Encuentro”, or encounter, is offered through Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest, in Austin, TX. Five Wartburg students went to Texas to encounter the borderlands and the people who live there. This class was centered around the political, social, pastoral, and missional aspects of immigration. This photo is taken at the banks of the Rio Grande, and the experience of the “encuentro” inspired the following poems by two Wartburg students.

River

Perhaps you have once stood on the edge of something new
The unknown stretches out before you
It has the opportunity for life
Something better
Than what you have lived so far.
But it is a risk to cross.
Es un riesgo, sabes?

Do you have what you need
To make it to the other side?

Here at the border places
People have experienced it all—
Loss, hope, despair, another chance.
There is a thinness here,
Where life and death are only inches apart.

Who will meet you in the beyond if you manage to cross?

You have heard the stories.
There are some who attempt this crossing six, seven times
Only to be dragged back
Half of who they used to be
Because they only crossed with their dignity,
Their human worth,
But that’s the first thing they take away over there.

But you have people who depend on you.
So you will cross.

She’s going to make it.
Si Dios quiere.
She’s going to make it because
They don’t understand how she’s already lived on the borders her whole life.

She knows the ins and outs of shadows and sunlight
Life can be found in both places.
She has already learned how to stand on both sides of the river at once

There are other ways of knowing
And other ways of surviving.
It is worth it, for the sake of her family.
It is worth it, for the sake of her soul.

With la imagen de la Virgen de Guadalupe
In front of her face, her foot touches the water and she transcends space
She overcomes the politics of boundary and finds herself on the blessed earth
Which belongs to no one but God.

Passage. The other side holds many things for her, but first,
She finds her way to a church whose doors are always open
Concrete slab on concrete slab
Another borderland entre el cielo y la tierra,
And gives thanks to God.
Hands still raised in prayer, she walks back outside on this new land, with its new rules
And is intercepted by border patrol.
And though her wrists are now shackled
As she rides in the back of the SUV to the holding facility,
she continues to pray.
Her soul is not bound.
She knows to her very core that God is faithful.
Yo estoy segura que Dios me va a liberar.

BORDERLANDS By Nathan Wicks, 1st Year MDiv Student

January term is a time of exploration and learning outside the classroom. The “Encuentro”, or encounter, is offered through Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest, in Austin, TX. Five Wartburg students went to Texas to encounter the borderlands and the people who live there. This class was centered around the political, social, pastoral, and missional aspects of immigration. This photo is taken at the banks of the Rio Grande, and the experience of the “encuentro” inspired the following poems by two Wartburg students.

River

“At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes.” – From: La Frontera/ Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua

The “American Dream” is a history of lines
And who has the power to draw them.
The earth is just the earth, the lines are ours,
And the reason, be it theft or money or slavery or death,
Can be justified and erased in the history books in one generation.
“Our Land” is the history of facilitating
The travel of money from place to place.
“Our Land” is not defined by these lines, or this land,
But sold for cheap in the definition of “us”.
The “American Dream” is a dream of us, the U.S.,
And it looks like the detritus of plastic wrappers and shopping bags
Blowing across the landscape, washed into rivers,
A dream stuffed into our souls to muffle the terror growing in our hearts.
The land cries out, and the rivers swell, enraged at the injustice.
They are calling for judgement,
But it is for those upstream who never feel the punishment,
The ones already bearing the heaviest of burdens,
The real hope and disappointment
Of the “American Dream,” feel the pain.
They suffer for us, yet we walk in a fever dream,
Sleepless, unable to awaken and see ourselves downstream, face to face.

And of course “America” is something else entirely,
A land stays put wherever lines may be drawn,
A U.S. dream of identity doesn’t change the face of the land,
And we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.
A dream is not a denial or escape from reality,
It is the place communicating to its people,
It is the Spirit speaking plainly about the Kingdom.
And those who are seeking first the Kingdom,
What will be given to them?

We came here to look at a river.
We, narcissistic, delusionally dreaming,
Came to see ourselves in this river,
And all we see are shadows.
But why am I struck blind at the sight?
When the invisible is seen there is a glaring darkness,
A shaded shape glimpsed in outline in front of a bright light.
What does your reflection look like, Narcissus?
Is it what you expected?
As your eyes adjust you will look up and see,
It is far more beautiful and full of life than
You ever thought you could be again.

Yes, this American Dream is still a shallow grave,
This is still no Promised Land.
It is an escape from violence through violence into violence.
But in which dream is the Spirit growing?
Thorny, gnarled unfurling, vibrant color in the desert places,
The richest Earth in the “American Dream,”
A threshold of epiphanies, a thin place in between places.
And what are they dreaming about here, in the Borderlands?
Is someone standing here
Broadcasting the corn far across the land,
The seeds of another Kingdom?

And here we are, gathered at the river,
Seeing this place where everyday life goes on
While something is seeking a mending of the breach,
This open wound borne in the bodies of many who have crossed it,
Baptized into something else entirely.
There are people who come together here
And cast a very different line
Across, towards each other.
It is not as grandiose as that other line,
But it is more real; nearly invisible,
Tiny, but tangible and full of hope,
And they are hungry and trying to catch some fish.
I see them reaching towards each other,
Throwing out little lines of longing,
Yearnings for wholeness, prayers of a normal life,
Seeking nourishment for their human need,
Sustenance from the life of this river
As people have done for centuries,
A life to which this river has drawn people
As a point of communion.
They are fed.
Their bodies bear this mark of knowing,
The dream of a New Creation.
The body of Christ is alive and well here,
The Spirit is flourishing on the food of this Tierra.

LEVY L. LARSEN By Elan Hacker, WTS TEEM Intern, Louisburg, Nassau and Marrietta, MN and East Highland, SD.

Levy Larsen

On the outskirts of Billingham, MN, there is a beautiful cemetery. The graves are lined up in neat rows with different types of markers and stones. If you look in the north east corner, far from the other graves is a single stone monument. It is hard to read; the letters and dates are weathered. Levy L. Larsen. Born on August 22 1896. Died February 27, 1906. That is all the story the stone will tell us. A child, a boy, ten years old, is buried there. The words tell the who, but not the why.

In the days when Levy lived there were a few reasons why his grave would not be included with the rest. Why would anyone have chosen to bury a child at a safe distance from the other graves? None of the reasons are kind.

If Levy had not been baptized, if he was a different race, or if he had been born into a world where his parents were not married, he would not have been welcome to lie with the communities’ beloved dead. Several people had heard stories through the years; there are two versions. One is that his parents were not married, that Levy was born and died in a world that ostracized a child, and the mother of a child, born outside of a marriage covenant. The other story has more detail: Levy died of some plague or disease and was buried away from the other graves to protect the dead from contamination. The story goes that people had to walk along the outside of the fence, not even being allowed to step foot on the sacred ground, as though one could die of a disease so repugnant that the fear of it would necessitate the guarding of the other dead, as if they could die again. The only evidence of the truth is the reality shouted by the deliberate placement of his grave: the 10-year-old body of Levy L. Larsen was unwanted and unwelcomed in his death. We can only pray he was loved during his life.

In John 11:32-44 Jesus Christ demanded that the grave clothes be removed from Lazarus. As they were, the stench of his death, evaporated into the wind, replaced by life and laughter and love. God promises to make all things new. When we confront the things in our world that are permeated with the stench of death, and in the name of Jesus, remove the covering of death, new life springs forth. There are situations today that cry out to us and touch our hearts. Our sighs stretch up to heaven, and they are answered.

AMAZING LOVE By Charles Wesley Altered & Expanded by Ralph Quere, WTS Professor emeritus

“Amazing Love, how can it be
That you my God should die for me!”
Amazing Grace, it cost Christ’s life
It cost His life instead of mine
He set aside His super powers
And used them on demonic foes!
He took the blame for all our sins
Suffered and died to wash us clean!
Offers us life that will not end!
Our disbelief makes us be ill
We play and think that we are gods
While hellfire’s wars burn all ’round us
By Jesus’ deeds we are made right
No evil power can overcome
What God the Son has bravely done
Reserved as gift by faith alone
Amazing Grace has roots in Love!
We sing “The Lord of Lords did die for me!”
We praise the God of Love who died for you and me
And for relief eternally.