Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

CONFRONTING RACISM: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION By Derek Rosenstiel, 1st Year M.Div.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col. 3:14-15, NRSV).

The Wartburg community gathered together on campus as brothers and sisters March 4th in love and fellowship for the specific purpose of participating in God’s mission (mission Dei).  Individuals entered into conversation with their own past experiences of racism and the division that it causes.  Some entered desperately seeking ways in which to participate in God’s work of reconciliation and the healing of wounds caused by racism.  People were guided by the power of the Holy Spirit to struggle together with questions of what to do about racism within our Church, our communities, and even within our own selves.

Through the teaching, sharing, and practice of some skills on how to go about carrying out a conversation surrounding the topic of racism, the night progressed quite quickly.  As I observed the group with which I shared conversation and also looked around at other groups, I felt a strong sense of passion and emotion flowing among participants.  At the end, when the entire group gathered together for a sharing of final reflections, many ideas and emotions reverberated throughout the narthex: Heartache, Hope, Determination, Acceptance, Love, Pain, Resolve… These words along with the stories and shared experiences I heard that night will stay with me forever.

My hope is that others left that night with a sense of purpose and hope for the future just as I did. A strong mix of emotions flowed through my very being but one thought stuck with me:  the conversation continues because it must.  The Church has everything to lose if it does not continue to address racism through conversation and action.  We must realize that we, as the Body of Christ, are not whole when certain voices are being ignored or silenced.  My hope is that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir within us all, not only just in the Wartburg community, but in the whole world.  Let us not be content with the state of the Church right now.  Let the Word of God continue to unsettle us when we hear it and look around us at the walls that separate us.  Let the reconciling work of Christ work in and through us all, and let us come to the fullness of glory because of it. May almighty God give us God’s own peace.

 

KNOCK AT THE DOOR By Paul Waterman, Final-Year MDiv

I love to have company. The idea of having a house full of people, laughing and conversing, makes my heart swell. Providing hospitality and sharing my kitchen, dining room, and living room to host a gathering is among my favorite things. It all starts with a knock on the door! There is great anticipation to see who has arrived. However, I have a new perspective as a result of a January term trip in 2016.

A classmate and I were invited to a house in Austin, Texas, share a meal and conversation. The pastor, Pastor Joe, who himself is an immigrant from Central America, but currently serves a Latino congregation near Austin, Texas. prepared us for the home visit. We were given some details about the people which revealed the complexity of the living situation for this immigrant family. Three people lived in a duplex: one who is a dual citizen of El Salvador and the United States, their child, who is a natural-born citizen of the United States, and an ‘undocumented immigrant.’ I struggle using words to describe this individual who has arrived in the United States from Central America because of human-made boundaries (we call them borders). For this writing, I will use “undocumented immigrant” because it is the most fitting term. For this story, he will be referred to as Bill.

The family of three, the pastor, my classmate, and I were gathered around the family’s dining room table to enjoy a meal. We prayed and dug in. The food was absolutely delicious and the conversation was deep! All was well with our souls and stomachs as we reached for seconds. Then, things all changed.

There was a knock on the door. Time stood still. People froze. Silence rushed into the dining room. The atmosphere changed. The mood had taken an about face. There was another knock. The husband/father of the house, Bill, stood up and walked to the door. All eyes followed him. I can’t speak on behalf of the others around the table, but I immediately feared the worst, that ICE had arrived. We were going to see the ‘apprehension’ in front of our eye. This beautiful family was about to be torn apart! I was speechless and uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to respond.

Being an Iowa native, I was familiar with the ICE raids in Postville in 2008 and was faintly familiar with the difficulties that immigrants face daily. Bill had talked about being employed in the United States without having ‘legal documents.’ Bosses treated him differently, often withholding pay or only paying a portion of what was owed. Work hours were long; there are no ‘safety precautions’ for people without documents. They can be replaced easily by the next person looking for a shot at a better life. The working conditions were often treacherous. But what really got to me was the fear of driving. Every trip in the car could be the last time in the United States. Every law enforcement officer poses a threat of possible deportation.

Bill answered the door, and two gentlemen were outside waiting for him. The one on the right had a hat on with the logo of a local collegiate sports team. The other one was wearing a camouflage jacket. They said something to Bill that I couldn’t hear, and he walked outside. Seconds felt like hours. The silence was deafening. The tension was thick. A few seconds later, Bill returned–smiling! The men were repossession agents who were looking for someone and they had been given the wrong address. Bill made a joke about them taking his wife’s car, and we laughed. Bill sat back down and supper continued. Things were the same, kind of, for the rest of the evening.

The thoughts and feelings I had during those brief moments of unknowingness led me to a reality outside of my own experience and into the life of the roughly 11 million ‘undocumented immigrants.’ Nothing is simple; there is no such thing as a quick trip to the store. Every element of public life is a heightened experience, with the thought of apprehension looming. I cannot fully understand what Bill was going through when he heard the knock on the door, but I am certain that it is much different than what I feel from unexpected knocks on my door. What I do know is I have been changed; I have seen my neighbor differently. Looking at this experience through Bill’s lens has changed my life. Every knock on the door now takes me back to a dining room with friends, new and old, when the rhythm of the world was out of sync for a few moments. Thanks be to God for opportunities of transformation.

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.

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.

CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION: CONFRONTING RACISM by Derek Rosenstiel, 1st Year MDiv Student and Angela Kutney, Final Year MDiv Student

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Ephesians 2:13-14

“Continuing the Conversation: Confronting Racism” was held at WTS Tuesday, November 10th as a response to Bishop Eaton’s call to address systemic and institutionalized racism in the church, the country, and the world. This gathering together in fellowship, conversation and worship was one step toward breaking down the walls that divide people from people. Facing the sin of racism brings us, once again, to the foot of the cross where Christ transforms hostility to peace.

In community we work to find a solution to this issue, ultimately trusting that God will bring about the justice and reconciliation desperately hoped for.  And so the conversation continues, because it must.

 

AN INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION TALK by Nicholas Rohde, MDiv Student

I am not disabled.  Let me say that again: I am not disabled.  I am not handicapped.  I am not crippled.  I am certainly not handicapable, whatever that means.  I am not a “gimp.” I am not a disabled person.  I am a person with a disability.  Person first, then disability.  Or maybe more accurately, person first, then my hair color, eye color, height, and about 20 other things that also don’t matter, then the fact that I am physically disabled (by definition).

Author Amos Yong writes about people with disabilities in relationship to the body of Christ.  Yong makes the argument that people with disabilities are equally made in the image of Christ, just as able-bodied persons, and are not people to be viewed as needing to be fixed, healed, or cured.

So, how can we be inclusive as fellow members of the body of Christ?  Personally, I think language, specifically body language, is the biggest and most powerful way to be inclusive of others.  Now, I’m not about to just give out a laundry list of Do’s and Don’ts because that doesn’t exist.  Literally every person is different.  Each person’s preferences are unique to them. Saying or doing one thing to another may offend one person, be appreciated by other, and have absolutely no effect on a third.

However, what I will tell you is to think.  Especially when planning something like worship, think about it.  Think about the physical space.  Can people with varying physical disabilities participate in worship with the way that the space is arranged? (For example Dr Nessan and I don’t use the same pulpit or podium because of our foot and a half height difference).   Are there ways for each worshipper to participate physically in the worship service, i.e. the standing, kneeling, and coming to the front for communion, being at the font?  And do those options make individuals feel a part of the assembly, or singled-out?

Listen to how people talk about themselves, and do your best to also speak about them or to them in the same manner.  ASK QUESTIONS!!! Don’t just assume things.  Yes, yes you will get things wrong from time to time.  Yes, you may annoy someone with the questions you ask, but if you treat them as a another member of the body of Christ, made in the image of God, it is better than assuming things about them as if they couldn’t decide for themselves.

Lastly, in all things, let there be forgiveness.  Being mindful and inclusive of one another is not a perfect science and therefore, we don’t always get it right.  There are times when we forget things, say the wrong thing, something slips our mind and we act incorrectly.  IT’S OK!!  Forgive one another and live life together as fellow members of the body of Christ.

2010 ADA Guidance Standards for Accessible Design