Category Archives: Spirited Action

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.

 

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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.

BROADENING INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE IN WORSHIP by Thomas Schattauer, WTS Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel

Comment at Morning Prayer, Loehe Chapel
Feast of Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2015

“I want to address briefly a matter of concern about inclusivity in our community and in our worship. It has to do with the booklet we have been using for our singing of morning prayer the last few weeks [Marty Haugen’s Come Let Us Sing for Joy]. As you know, there are a couple places where it divides the singing between “women” and “men.” We need to think about that language as we seek to become ever more inclusive—for two reasons. First, it does not accurately describe what we are trying to do, which is to divide ourselves into “higher” and “lower” voices in our singing. When we use the labels “women” and “men” to accomplish that, where do young children fit into that picture, or women who sing low and men who sing high? Second, not everyone lives in a world that divides so neatly into men and women. Where, for example, will people among us who are transgender as well as transgender friends, colleagues, and neighbors find themselves in these binary categories? Where do they fit into the picture?

So, let’s try to shift our thinking a bit and start to use labels that more accurately describe what we are trying to accomplish and include the full range of gender identity among us. When we wish to divide into higher and lower voices, let’s say it exactly like that. As long as we continue to use this resource, we can at least make that shift in our minds and together translate it with a meaning that seeks to include each and every one.”

SIGNS OF THE TIMES – Dubuque Prays for Racial Reconciliation

Members of the Wartburg Community took part in the  Dubuque Community Prayer Event Sunday night October 18th. This was a significant and united witness of the Christian community in Dubuque for repentance in the face of racism and the need for racial reconciliation. The event included an extraordinarily diverse representation of the Christian community here in Dubuque. There were people from the great variety of Dubuque congregations: evangelical, Pentecostal, Reformed, Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Orthodox—white, black, Latino/a, and Marshallese. And the offerings of song and prayer, reading and proclamation were equally diverse.

Thomas Schattauer, WTS Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel, offered this prayer at the event.

Almighty and ever-living God,
you are the the source of all life, and all things find their unity in you;
you gather a people from every tribe and nation, from every race and station in life;
by your word you call them into the one body of our Lord Jesus to show forth your love and mercy for all people;
you pour out your Spirit to empower and unify your people and renew the face of the earth.
Give us your life.
Gather us in the name of Jesus to be your people.
Send us in your Spirit to renew this weary world with your forgiveness, life and salvation.
And especially here in this place—Dubuque, Iowa—this day and in the days to come,
enliven the witness of your people gathered in every community of faith;
make us one in the service of your life-giving purpose;
in the light of your truth and righteous judgment, heal the wounds of prejudice and the divisions of race and place within our community;
in the promise of your reign of justice and peace, unite us in all our efforts for the common good.
Most high and holy God, pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in every part of your church a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Amen.

WARTBURG MARCHES AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE by Norma Cook Everist, Professor, WTS

The Sunday before the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, Wartburg Seminary joined with Loras College, Clarke University and the University of Dubuque for a march and rally at UD. “Life is irreplaceable. End gun violence” was the theme. Dr. Jeremy Brigham, who had been at the University of Iowa during the mass shooting on that campus in 1991 and is now the Executive Director for Iowans for Gun Safety, was the main speaker saying that “Guns create a climate of fear.”

Professor David C Cochran of Loras College was one of the local professors to introduce the main speaker. Here are some of his opening remarks: “Human violence is complex. Innate aggression, brain development and impulse control, peer groups, cultural, and economic forces make it more or less likely. And that is why it can be difficult to address and make sense of showing violent acts. Gun violence shares these underlying complexities. Guns make it much easier to kill. They amplify violence and make it far more deadly.”

Cochran went on to say that gun violence is primarily a function of access to guns. “The United States with 4.5% of the world’s population has almost half of all civilian-owned guns so we shouldn’t be surprised when people use them to kill each other. Our rate of violent incidents is similar to other countries. We are not any more violent. What is different is the number of dead bodies that result. Homicide is much higher than comparable countries. Suicide is much greater; the success rate of guns (96%) is much higher than other methods (8% for poison). Mass shootings now has risen to an average of around one a day in 2015.” For more information, click here.

“‘Guns don’t kill people, people do’ is correct. People do kill people, which is why the more available guns are to people, the more we kill each other with them. The United States has made a choice. We have plentiful and accessible guns. By choosing this, we pay the price of more people dead than would be otherwise. In other countries people sometimes behave violently. We are unique in making it much more likely that there will be a gun around when doing so.”

Dr. Cochran is author of Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War (Orbis Books).

The students and professors marched with townspeople. Sponsoring organizations were Dubuque Coalition for Non-Violence, Dubuque Area Congregations United, Children of Abraham, and Dubuque International Day of Peace. They did not know that a few days later their contemporaries would be gunned down in Roseburg, Oregon. But they knew that in rural areas, small cities and urban metropolises everywhere, we are not safe from one another.  My taking a gun to class and students having a permit to carry a concealed weapon will not make our campuses safer.  Together we marched.  Together we talked, and listened, and planned and took action.  We can be dangerous to one another.  Or together we can act and change things in this country.

“CONFRONTING RACISM” CONVERSATION HELD ON WARTBURG SEMINARY CAMPUS by Carina Schiltz, Final Year MDiv

Wartburg Seminary held a community-wide conversation on “Confronting Racism” during the first week of fall semester classes. Faculty, staff, and students were invited to attend this conversation to further engage in the complexity and implications of racism, to share stories, and to continue in this dialogue for the sake of change.

The community viewed the ELCA webinar featuring Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in conversation with ELCA church wide council member William B. Horne II about racial justice in the United States. This webinar was created in response to the massacre of nine people, including two pastors, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, as well as in response to other racially-motivated violence that has been taking place all through the history of the United States, but particularly over the past year.

After viewing the webinar, members of the Wartburg community shared stories of witnessing and experiencing racism first-hand, even within the walls of Wartburg Seminary.

How will we, as a seminary, as a gathering of faithful people who worship the God who breaks down barriers, continue to contemplate and take action when it comes to the evil of racism in our world and in our midst? This conversation must be continued, and this conversation must result in change.

Click here to view the webcast, or for resources to assist in beginning conversations about confronting racism on the ELCA website.