Category Archives: Feature Articles

FROM FERGUSON: TWO INTERVIEWS WITH REV. RICK BRENTON, WTS GRADUATE, by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

December, 2014:

Rev. Richard Brenton, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, Mo, (WTS 2010) in a telephone interview, said, “People are in need of ministry and are asking difficult questions. My calling is to walk with them.” He reported then that he was just beginning to feel how tired he was. “It’s been like living in a fish bowl” since August 15, 2014 when Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

After the shooting, Pastor Brenton along with other clergy marched with the protestors. Thousands of people marched. The clergy took toiletries and food with them for the protestors who came not only from the area but from across the country. In late November, after the release of the Grand Jury decision, Zion provided safe Sanctuary. Rick said he stayed at the church and kept the doors open. This sanctuary also provided legal observers and medical help. Many people came through, engaging also in important conversation.

Zion Lutheran, is “quite conservative,” with many white members now over 65 or 75, said Pastor Brenton. “Most of them think all of this will ‘go away’ when ‘things quiet down.’ The congregation is 25% African American, most in their middle adult years. Their children and grandchildren make up the youth in the congregation. They see things differently.” Rick tries to help the people see that “change is among us.” He knows his calling is to minister to the entire congregation and that this is a challenge. “It creates a delicate tension, a fine line.” The people within the congregation love one another. Rick said, “Loving care is central.”

Rick added, “There is not division or conflict within the congregation. We have strong relationships. Everyone knows everyone in the congregation.” It’s the people that the white folks don’t know that causes generalizations from the old white guard. We hear words such as “those people” and “those protestors.” And “those blacks.”

Rick has completed four years as pastor at Zion and trust has grown over those years. He has long been part of the Ferguson Ministerial Alliance.

March, 2015:

With the release of the U.S. Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, there is “renewed angst and denial,” said Pastor Brenton, in another phone call interview. “People don’t want to face the truth. Over the years they have allowed this to happen, have become used to it, and don’t want to admit that it’s real.” The evening of the interview Rick was going to ask the Church Council to provide some open forums for the congregation. “We need an atmosphere of trust,” said Rick, “because the issues are very polarizing. It’s like going through stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, blaming and depression.” They say, “We’ve read all about it and we don’t want to talk about it anymore.” They are shutting down. It has been overwhelming all these months. Overload. With the spotlight of the nation on them again, Rick said, “We have to interpret the events in the light of the Gospel.”

They need to know that systemic racism is everywhere, not just in Ferguson, so that they can feel not just shame, but Christ’s suffering for all on the cross. This has been especially important when headlines lately have compared the shooting of an unarmed young black man in Wisconsin to them, saying, “Madison handled it better than Ferguson.” Comparisons are not the point. There is justice work to do in every community. Religious leadership is important wherever one receives a call.

When asked how he was doing personally, Rick said, “Some days are fine; others are a real struggle. It’s a challenge to say the least.” He added, “It is important to stay close to Christ and to Christ’s journey.”

Now well into his 5th year he knows the congregation and the community and understands that people hold on to their old ways of adapting to injustices around them. Now feeling judged by the Justice Department Report and the nation, the issues are not being dispelled, but amplified. There is both shame and sentiments of, “You are running down our town.” Pastor Brenton said, “The African Americans at Zion are much in tune with the Gospel, very understanding and forgiving. But how much longer are they going to feel comfortable attending Zion?”

Rick is trying to minister to the white members of the congregation and to support the African American members (He also feels support from them.) We referenced the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which thousands walked over recently marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In some ways, Rick is also a bridge himself. He added, “And I feel the footprints on my back.” He gave thanks for the support of his bishop and for many friends through Facebook. He added that his education at Wartburg had been one of God’s deepest blessings to him.

NO GREATER LOVE by David Tielbar, Final Year M.Div

When I think of my time in the service John 15:13 always comes to my mind No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” there is bond that is created between Soldiers when they are placed in a situation where humanity is at the peak of its brokenness, and that is war.

I have had the honor of serving with a very mixed company of people who come from different backgrounds, colors, and religions; the list could go on. Differences have caused divisions in our nation and in our world, yet there was something different about this diversity, something special, something I will forever hold close to my heart.

When the rockets, mortars and bullets come in, it is no longer about flag and country; it is no longer the color of your skin, or where you came from. It is about your buddy on the right and on your left. Some of the most profound moments of faith, some of the deepest theological thoughts I have had in my life have occurred when people were willing to risk their own lives for me and I for them. It’s a bond that is hard to find when you are out of uniform.

It is that bond that I miss the most even after being out of the service for almost 4 years. It is that bond that has brought back many memories for me as I was writing this. These are memories that I will cherish forever and some that I wish I could bury and never come back to again. Yet they are a part of who I am and in many ways have affirmed what I am called to do today as a pastoral ministry candidate.

 

MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNDOCUMENTED CHRIST by Jon Brudvig, WTS Intern Prairie Faith Shared Ministry, WaKeeney, KS

Until I visited the border, saw with my own eyes what was happening, and listened to people recount their own experiences, I had no idea of the magnitude of the crisis of the large numbers of teenagers from Latin and Central America making their way north into the United States. Perhaps it was just easier for me not to know.

Last summer I had the opportunity to participate in a Hispanic Ministry practicum hosted by the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. The cross-cultural immersion experience included a visit to Eagle Pass, TX, a town located on the US-Mexican border, during a time when local, state, and federal officials argued about what to do. Many of the unaccompanied minors were fleeing drug-infested communities, horrific violence, and extreme poverty in search of a better life. Even churches were overwhelmed by the sheer scope and magnitude of the crisis that was unfolding all along the border.

The story of the “undocumented Christ” began in 2004 when US Border Patrol agents retrieved “a package” (code word for a lifeless body) from the Rio Grande River, the border separating Mexico and the USA. To their surprise, agents discovered that “the package” was a well-preserved life-sized statue of the crucified Jesus (minus the cross). Since no one stepped forward to claim the statue, border patrol agents seized the statue as unclaimed property. No one, it seemed, wanted to claim Jesus.

In time, the mysterious discovery of the “undocumented Christ,” particularly in a location where so many immigrants have died, prompted people on both sides of the border to embrace the statue as a message from God. Eventually the statue found a permanent home at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in Eagle Pass.

Looking back, something happened to me the day I encountered the “undocumented Christ.” A time in my life when I could no longer ignore the geo-political, religious, and humanitarian realities of what was unfolding before me at the border.

An encounter with the border crossing Jesus challenged me, then and now in this Lenten Season, to look for Christ in the least, the lost, and the broken, sisters and brothers created in the image and likeness of God. And though I fail to live this reality, time and time again, Jesus the border-crosser transcends the boundaries we make, compromises with evil that try to separate us from God and from one another. The “undocumented Christ” comes to us time and time again, lifting up the broken, joining the despised, comforting the ones who mourn, and standing with those being crushed, crossing every boundary — even death itself — that tries to separate us from the love of God.

 

VIOLENCE, PRIVILEGE AND FOOD WEALTH by Alexandra Hjerpe, first year M.Div.

A seminarian reflects on her journey towards humility, health, and faithful community living

Ignoring my body, and my relationship with food, was my supposedly faithful response to a superficial, commercially-consumed world. However, this focus led me not only into the murky bog of self-justification theology and hypocrisy, and to a deficit of poor physical health, but also into what I would call a state of abusive relationship with my fellow, living community.

By refusing to pluck my eyebrow arches, to wear the latest skinny jeans and to fast- myself-thin with salads, I believed that I could withdraw myself from the beauty pageant in which many of my young, female peers obsessively competed. I knew that the earthly values emphasizing physical beauty were transient, narrow and market-driven, and so I decided to separate myself by interacting casually and robustly with food in my physical body.

Through this narrowed and self-justifying perspective, I believed that denying attention to my external body would correspondingly mold me internally as a more mindful Christian individual: I would not be prey to the system of body glorification like the others. And so, while my college friends carefully examined the carbohydrates in their salad dressing before an evening out, I would instead confidently order a cheeseburger and fries, and eat it with great satisfaction (and zero humility). However, in this action, I did not recognize the inherent violence I was inflicting not just on myself, but to countless others, with this personal crusade of so-called faithful eating!

In the absence of attentiveness to my relationship with my body, I was actually turning my face away from the reality of my food privilege, and was denying own part in a system of wealth and individualism. What I thought was a spiritual habit of mindfulness was in fact a neglect of my responsibility and Christian deputyship—not to mention disrespect for the priceless, irreplaceable gift of my physical body.

Eating is a kind of measurable privilege; unlike race or age, it is one of few environmental privileges that I could personally–but did not–temper. Growing up in white, middle-class, Midwest America, I had luxurious privilege because of food availability. My parents were able to abundantly provide calorie-rich and nutritious foods, and not just as fuel for survival: the decoration of holiday eating, the social dynamic of family table fellowship, and the entertainment of experimenting with a variety of ingredients were all blessings to which I grew accustomed.

Unfortunately, I assumed that my patterns of casual and pleasure-oriented eating were “normal” for everyone—which is perhaps the most dangerous possible state of existence. On the contrary, my eating habits and health expressed a limited and privileged position of food wealth—one that participated in a cycle of power and appropriation unaware that it was at the expense of others.

Rather than attentiveness to each bite of food, I gulped and swallowed rapidly, hardly chewing, my snacks in front of the television. I ate food for myself. I ate food out of boredom. I ate food for a buzz. I ate food to cover up my own problems and distractions—and none of which were any fault of the food. My orientation around food was not about physical vanity, yet it was vain; it was focused entirely on myself and individual desires, without regard or gratitude for the significant amount of sacrifice in its production. I did not consider the amount of land and rain the earth had consumed in order to nurture this food in my hand; the amount of energy and sacrifice by laborers who received low wages in order to grow and harvest it; the amount of smog and gasoline burnt into the receding layer of sky in order to transport it; the amount of toxins and garbage that would accumulate in order to package it. I had no awareness, no relationship with this food, and my eating habits communicated that same disrespect. I abused my food privilege. In a word: I consumed violently.

And so it happened that gradually, in this micro-environment of passively receiving food wealth, I grew just as much a drone to consumerism as the next mascara-laden, Cosmo-reading teen girl I was so mercilessly judging. I was a privilege-hypocrite, accepting the marketing of the food industry, and marching to the beat. I was not living up to my “faithful” standard at all.

To be a bit more gentle with myself, I was not intentionally trying to be violent with my food wealth. My habitually practiced calorie survival skills also functioned to patch up deeper hungers that arose from creeping depression and low self-esteem: I regulated my profound anxiety and mood swings with hormone-blunting, feel-good food chemicals. And yet, the continued use of chocolate to take the edge off of my sadness was still an appropriation of a life-giving, communal phenomenon—food—and covering up my mental illness with accessible calories was an expression of my privilege. I was still engaging in a system that violently swallowed up the resources and gifts of others for the sake of sustaining myself, rather than seeking alternative, healthy sources that could truly help me correct and prevent these deficits.

At seminary, after a process of education and exposure to the most subtle levels of power and control embedded in my culture, I have gradually became aware of, identified and named much of my food privilege. Claiming and naming my power, I have begun the process of taking ownership of my wealth and responsibility, and have decided to change how I interact with the generous world around me.

Focusing more on a model of accompaniment with creation than a model of appropriation, I feel called to an awareness of my time and place in history as one that is saturated in the privilege of accessible, high-calorie, nutritious food. With this contextual awareness, I can begin to accept my civic duty as a steward of creation by responding in a healthy, generous and life-giving way to this environment in which I have been placed. Instead of passively and ignorantly allowing an unhealthy, violent food system to determine my behavior, I am choosing mindfulness, and seeking a counter-cultural relationship of reconciliation with my sources of food energy, my food-providing community, and my body.

So now, when I decide what I am going to eat, I take the time to slowly and deliberately savor every morsel of food. I praise God and offer thanks before, during and after my meal, to honor the high cost to the earth and to others to bring this food to my plate. But perhaps most significantly, I have re-oriented my relationship with food towards an open-system model of energy usage rather than an inward-system. Intentionally using the glucose-energy derived from the nutrients of food in the most God-glorifying, life-giving ways discernable, I am devoting myself to listening to and participating in God’s active mission of love, grace, mercy, justice, compassion, hope and reconciliation in this world by serving the needs of others before myself. And with each day, my head and my heart become more active; my body and my lungs become more healthy; and my soul becomes more awed and grateful to the mercy, and communal nature, of God.

25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PERSISTENT VOICE: Articles from the First Issue

The Persistent Voice began as a networking newsletter January/February 1990, and has continuously published for the past 25 years, becoming an on-line newsletter in 2008. A woman graduate waiting months for a call, initiated the idea of a newsletter to keep those graduates in touch and supported. At that time there were 8 women and 2 men waiting call. Over the years the mission of The Persistent Voice has expanded to include many issues of “Gender and Justice across the Globe.”

Some articles from the first issue:

EXCERPTS FROM A MESSAGE FROM WARTBURG SEMINARY PRESIDENT ROGER FJELD

It is a commentary on our church that we are simultaneously preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the decision of our churches to welcome women into ordained ministry and at the same time seeing the beginning of a newsletter which has a concern for the lack of welcome. More than l000 women are now part of the clergy roster of the ELCA and uncounted thousands participate in various forms of professional lay ministry in the church. Their ministries have been overwhelmingly positive. Their contribution is undeniable. Yet there are those who deny women the opportunity to serve—either in first calls or in succeeding calls. Together we need to address this. In the meantime, this newsletter will be one link. . .  . I lament its necessity and I support its mission.

 

ELIZABETH LEEPER INSTALLED

Elizabeth (Beth) Leeper was installed as Assistant Professor of Church History November 10, 1989, bringing the number of women professors at Wartburg to four: Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Educational Ministry and Church Administration; Dr. Anne Marie Neuchterlein, Contextual Education and Pastor Care; Dr. Patricia (Patti) Beattie Jung, Social Ethics. Two women teach part-time in the Biblical division: May Persuad and Cindy Smith.

 

THE GLOBAL SCENE

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zimbabwe is planning to ordain its first two women pastors when they complete seminary this year. In Tanzania the faculty of Makumira Lutheran Seminary is urging the church to ordain women.

 

ASSOCIATE IN MINISTRY IN RESIDENCE

Rebecca Grothe, a 1981 MA graduate of Wartburg, was recently Wartburg’s first “Associate in Ministry in Residence,” spending a week on campus, addressing classes, preaching in chapel and speaking informally with students. Becky is Senior Editor for Leadership Education at Augsburg Fortress in Minneapolis. She previously served as Director of Christian Education at Bethel Lutheran in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and at Zion Lutheran in Luckey, Ohio.

 

MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR MONTREAL

The Wartburg Community held a Memorial Service for the 14 women killed Dec 6 at the University of Montreal’s engineering school by a man walking into a classroom yelling, “You’re all a bunch of feminists!” Wartburg’s “Liturgy for Women” was planned and held the evening the news was released. The Homily was entitled “The Extravagance of Violence.”

 

POEM BY Ray Blank

FREEDOM
Freedom to be,
All that you can be
Unless that offends me.
All that I allow you to be,
Is what you can be,
Says ME.
OPPRESSION.

FREEDOM
Free to be,
All that you can be.
You challenge growth within me.
To reach to be able to see,
All that I can be.
Together WE.
LIBERATION

(Written in WTS Feminist Theology and Ministry Class, 1989)

 

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.

THRESHOLD OF LIVING By Tami Groth, final year MA Diaconal Ministry

Standing in front of the strips of paper I read the directions again: write the names of the saints in your life. The names of the saints that have died and gone before us on the white paper. Use the strips of colored paper to write the names of the saints in your life that are still with us. I began writing.

I wanted it to be something I did quickly before the next thing on my growing “to-do” list that day. I could not. Here in the space between Chapel and the refectory, and on my hurried way to the library, this request moved me outside of the carefully accounted for and scheduled moments of my day. I lost track of the slips. Name after name. Moment after moment.

I put down the marker, and held time still with my breath as I remembered standing in deafening silence surrounded by life and yet alone with death — unable to move out of the between and back into time.

I am standing in front of her fresh grave. We buried her exactly a week after I birthed her still body. In all respects it was a glorious sunny mild November day. I was told later that an eagle flew overhead right as the silence fell. The silence that deepened my numbness.

The moments I had not been able to imagine had come to pass  — the awful processional out into the world Emily wouldn’t know. First she was carried by her father in that tiny casket step-by-step down the church aisle, then the drive to the cemetery. We survived watching that tiny pink casket go into the ground next to her great-grandparents. We listened numbly to prayers.

In the first second of quiet we put single roses on top of that casket before it was1117_close buried in earth. Emily’s older sister, Megan, gave me the gift of being her 4-year-old self when nobody could convince her to give up the rose she was holding. In that moment I wanted to take her and gather her in my arms and twirl her around and around until we were both dizzy. I wanted to be in her moment of joy in the beauty of the rose.

Instead I continued to stare at her sister’s fresh grave–the still green grass, the black dirt, and pink. An eternity of quiet; holding my breath on the threshold of living into a reality of “forever changed.”

Just mere hours ago I had been encouraging the stream of people entering the church to look at her: “she’s so beautiful.” My heart ached to hold onto that beauty like a 4-year-old with her hands on a rose stem.

“I can’t do this anymore” I said not realizing my thoughts had broken the silence.

“Then don’t,” my mom said as she took my arm and gently guided me across that threshold.

I wiped my wet eyes and gulped in deep breaths of fresh air as I made my way from one Wartburg building to the next attempting to return to place and time — 13 years of living later — on my way to the library and the life of to-do lists. A glance at my watch claimed the moments connected in minutes.

The next week in chapel names were read, candles were lit, Gospel was spoken, and those slips of paper — white and colored — hung together in sunlit windows and air stirred them as if with the dance of eternal life.