WHY DOES “RIC” MATTER? By Luci Sesvold, Final Year M. Div.

Why does the designation “Reconciling In Christ” matter?  We often pride ourselves on the phrase “all are welcome,” so what’s the difference?

I was fortunate enough to work and serve in an RIC congregation for internship, and honestly, I didn’t understand what the big deal was.  I saw a congregation that really embodied the All Are Welcome motto, and that was cool.  And I went through the year hearing, “Oh, you work at THAT church.”  The RIC status seemed like just another identifier, that was, until the morning of June 12th when a congregation member informed the pastoral staff of the Orlando shooting.

I witnessed the ripple of that news throughout the congregation as they grieved, as they frantically checked on loved ones in the Orlando area, and as they sat overwhelmed in disbelief.

That Wednesday’s service was thoughtfully crafted as a healing service with an intentional focus on the heartbreaking reality of our world.  St. Stephen’s was the only church in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area to publicly advertise a prayer service of this nature.  The welcome and invitation spread through the news and social media and it was stressed that all are really welcome.

At St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, each candle on the altar represented one life lost during the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12

At St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, each candle on the altar represented one life lost during the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12

I share some of the words from my supervisor, Pastor Ritva Williams’ reflection that evening:

“We live in a world where some people say that a person is not worthy of our love and acceptance, because they perceive him/her/them to be the wrong age, the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong nationality, the wrong gender, they love the wrong people, hold the wrong economic, social or legal status, have the wrong disabilities, and so forth. We live in a world where some people seek to limit and prevent a person’s access to jobs, housing, medical care, and even restrooms for the same reasons. We live in a world where some people seek to justify opinions and actions like this by quoting biblical rules.

The good news, that Paul proclaims, is that Christ has put an end to all that. We do not need to spend our lives trying to prove to ourselves, or to anyone else, that we are worthy of love and acceptance by obeying rules, not even biblical rules. Our worth is not determined by how well we obey rules, or the work we do, or the groups we belong to. Our worth is based on the fact that each of us is created in the image of God.”

Candles in the corss represent the prayers of the members of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa following the shooting in Orlando.

Candles in the cross represent the prayers of the members of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa following the shooting in Orlando

And that is why RIC matters.  Because it’s more than saying All Are Welcome; it’s actually believing that every single person is created in the image of God.

THOUGHTS ON “BLACK LIVES MATTER” By Nathan Wicks, Second Year M. Div.

A few Sundays ago, people gathered and marched for the Black Lives Matter movement in Dubuque, Iowa not far from the neighborhood of Wartburg Seminary. About 200 gathered and walked a mile down Grandview Avenue. The majority of the gathering was white, as is the community in which we marched, but there was a good number of African Americans and representatives of groups such as the NAACP, Dubuque Area Congregations United, and the Children of Abraham interfaith group. Several seminarians and faculty members from Wartburg Seminary were among those who marched.

The strong turnout was a sign of the importance of this issue in the community. This movement began in order to raise awareness of the killings of African Americans by police officers, but has come to represent more than this single issue. It is also raising awareness of implicit racism which is becoming more shamelessly expressed in this season after the election. This is not a “post-racial” world.

As the organization and announcements for the Black Lives Matter march gained momentum through Facebook, discussion of a counter protest–to include the open carrying of firearms—arose under the guise of saying All Lives Matter. For myself, after I got over the shock and fear of that armed threat as a counter to affirming the worth of Black lives, I thought, “At least we are recognizing that this is a matter of life and death.” Amidst the fog of negative rhetoric in this disturbing exchange, however, important issues were obscured. The result of this kind of interaction is that we are unable to clarify our own identities enough to actually speak to each other. Instead, we use code words to speak against each other. This is only made worse in that talking to each other as a “community” comes from behind the safety of the screen in our individualized echo chambers like Facebook.

In the conversation between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, we forget how much we lose ourselves in losing our connection to each other. The farther our words get from our neighbors, the less we are able to say who we are anymore. We are unable to recognize the community in which we live, the simple community of proximity, of neighborhood, the people next door. What vast chasms of difference between us have opened up since we last saw each other face to face? Who are you anymore? Who am I? What are we saying when we say Black Lives Matter, or All Lives Matter?  The drive to a clear language with which we can actually speak to another human being takes something like the surprising radicalism of walking in the context of what we say. Walking the talk. To claim an identity and to walk it, open to what actual conversation might occur is very different than accepting the rhetoric of elections into our own mouths. The drive to a clear identity which is differentiated and knows why and how and what for takes something like an actual human being walking on a sidewalk in a neighborhood in the community in which they live.

And that was the interesting part of this march. We gathered based on this issue of Black Lives Matter amidst a vague but announced threat of a counter protest of All Lives Matter. I confess I imagined there would be more of a confrontation, perhaps people on opposite sides of the street shouting passionately at each other. I didn’t bring my son out of fear of this. I really did want to see who these people were who consider openly carrying guns a major issue, because I don’t understand it. And then there wasn’t much of a counter protest at all. We didn’t get to see the people who say All Lives Matter and the confrontation didn’t happen. The cohesion of the group uniting on this issue was there; it was exciting to do this. One esteemed professor said she hadn’t done something like this since marching out of her seminary in protest in the 70’s. There was a striving for that exuberant hopefulness of a common cause and a real fight, but in the absence of the open conflict we were left with ourselves much as we were before the march. We stuck to our own little groups and didn’t talk too much. There were hesitant starts of chants like “White silence equals violence,” but none acquired the inertia and sustaining energy to last more than a minute or two. When I look back, there was an air of grief to the march. The community embodied itself as it is and instead of a fight there was sadness, a kind of election PTSD stumbling along, a husk of a former self. Or perhaps it was a steeling of oneself in expectation of the cold of winter to come. Or maybe it was more a funeral march than anything else.

For public conversations to happen a community needs a foothold on its identity. The act of walking is a powerful way that words can finally find purchase in bodies, in earthen vessels full of hope and disappointment, lament and praise. A march gives our hope a chance to become who we are in this place as we find a common ground. Walking shows a way that commonalities overcome differences in the same way that hopes live in the midst of disappointments, friendship happens in relation to the love mustered for enemies, and lives are lived in the fearful human reality of death. These commonalities worked through the political arenas of life rarely make it to the ground of conversation in the actual ground of neighborhood that the soles of our feet walk upon.

Words are powerful things. Words are promises which create worlds. To say “’Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14), is to use words carelessly in treating the wound in our public conversation. To say “All Lives Matter” is akin to saying “All men are created equal.” It partakes of the self-fulfilling prophetic language of the Constitution, the ideals upon which the United States was founded. To be plain, this prophetic utterance of “All Lives Matter” is a way of pointing out sin, as all prophets do. It partakes of the pervasiveness of this nation’s sin, a mirror on the ways all lives do not matter, the way the grand claim of a country founded on the belief that “all men are created equal” left out so many and in fact created this world in which persons are violently kept from being who they are created to be. It is a statement of the oppression and frustration of equality parading openly under its opposite. It is a cross-shaped word seeking redemption and reconciliation for what it says to be true.

We can come home to ourselves, to our communities and neighborhoods, only when we recognize the ways we are not at home, the ways we are exiled in this place we call home. To deny the exile from self, neighbor, and community is to ignore reality itself. The purpose of speech is to evoke a reality in which we would actually like to participate. Words, even words like “exile,” are for a community to talk to each other, not only to describe a reality in which no one is relatable any longer. Words create those relationships in the words themselves. Conversation is an act of faith which imagines a future together where exile is not the primary experience of reality.

If we read the words of Isaiah 55 in this place we can trust that a word which will “accomplish that for which (it is) purposed” (v. 11) is speaking. Perhaps the best thing that happened in the midst of our gathering and marching, our hope and disappointment graciously brought to earth in our walking, was the words shared between police officers and African Americans. Of all the failed conversation, the words left unspoken, the community unrealized yet united in unspoken grief, those most caricatured as enemies were the ones speaking to each other. The officers who helped us cross the street and kept off to the margins of the gathering, keeping a protective eye on us and what might come from outside were the ones to whom many African Americans went for a real conversation.

There are words spoken that cut through the illusion of the rhetoric and create new and transformed worlds in which we walk every day. There are words spoken plainly, promises in the midst of what seems like a reality which contradicts them. The Word is free in ways we are not and in fact freeing us is Its work among us. In the barrenness of words our emptiness was filled in this gathering as the words of conversation will continue to bear fruit in ways we cannot expect.

Students and faculty from Wartburg Theological Seminary attending the Black Lives Matter march in Dubuque, Iowa

Students and faculty from Wartburg Theological Seminary attending the Black Lives Matter march in Dubuque, Iowa

MY PROUD YANKEE HERITAGE By Jean E. Peterson, Volunteer Assistant, ELCA Region 5 Archives at WTS

As a New England Yankee (50% Connecticut Yankee and 25% “Downeasterner” [Maine]), whose roots were firmly planted in earliest English colonial days, I inherited 300+ years of “Yankee pride.”  Until two years ago when I first enrolled as an auditor in Prof. Craig Nessan’s seminar titled “American Genocide 1 – Native American,” I hadn’t given much thought to the people who inhabited these lands for many, many moons before my progenitors sailed across the ocean in the early 1600’s, and invaded, seized, and settled on land stolen from Native nations who already lived here. Our course readings pointed out the horrendous slaughter of thousands, perhaps even millions, of natives by the uninvited Europeans. They stole the land and its resources from those who had lived here for thousands of years before white people appeared on the shores of the North American continent.

Quickly, my Yankee pride turned into a deep sense of guilt and shame.

Prof. Nessan suggested that we don’t have collective guilt for sins committed by our predecessors before we were born, but we can experience collective shame for the actions of our forebears and our nation. Just as we cannot individually go back in time to undo the sins we’ve committed so also as a people collectively, we cannot undo what our nation or our personal forebears did throughout five centuries of genocide.  But we can take note of current situations, and of the residual suffering of people today.

I see a way of currently doing that by educating ourselves and by becoming aware and supportive of Native Americans who are trying to preserve what land and resources they still have.  We can refuse now to permit an oil pipeline to be buried across their existing reservations, desecrating traditional sacred places, and with the potential for polluting natural resources: clean drinking water, produce from the soil, or shade and fruit from whatever trees may be left.

My Yankee pride has turned into a deep sense of “collective shame,” but also of personal shame.  I am ashamed not simply of what generic white European colonists have done to North American Natives, and to captured and enslaved Africans, but for what was done by my own identifiable direct ancestors (including clergy).

In her book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, © 2014, published by the Beacon Press, Boston, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, in Chapter Three, on page 51:  “The old stock against which they [later invited European immigrants] are judged inferior includes not only those who fought in the fifteen-year war for independence from Britain, but also, and more important, those who fought and shed (Indian) blood, before and after independence, in order to acquire the land.

Recently, I have been reading the stories of dozens of my own known ancestors in context of their negotiations for land or their relationships with the Native Nations. Clearly many of my direct ancestors fought them in the Pequot War of 1636-1638 and in King Philip’s War (1675-1678).  They bartered with the Natives for land.  They depended upon the Natives for provisions to get them through a very severe winter.  And at least one of my forebears apparently kept an Indian maiden as a slave, as his will provided that she should have her freedom when she reached the age of 26.  I have also learned that l have at least a few slave-holders of Africans among my ancestors.

Lord, I as a Yankee pray for forgiveness for racial arrogance. I pray for   remembrance and honor for the lives of the millions of Natives who were senselessly erased by my racially “privileged” white ancestors.

30TH YEAR FOR INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE AND COMMUNITY CONVOCATION By WTS Prof. Nathan C. P. Frambach

The “Inclusive Language—Inclusive Community” Convocation was held at Wartburg Seminary earlier this Fall. Presenters were Professors Nathan Frambach and Thomas Schattauer, and final year M. Div. students Rebecca Goche and Chris Lee.  This is the 30th such convocation held annually in the Fall at Wartburg as the church continues to grow, ever expanding the meaning of inclusivity. Professor Frambach’s opening comments begin below.

This convocation is about our life together as persons in community who use language as a—if not the–primary means of expressing ourselves, both to one another and in our praise of God. Language reflects and forms human perceptions and actions. In worship, the language we employ has the comparable impact on our perception and understanding of God.

This community long ago adopted inclusive and expansive language commitments, as stated in the Student and Community Life Handbook (p. 84). This policy reflects an institutional value, a commitment to providing leadership in the movement toward inclusiveness in church life and the church’s use of language. This convocation is an occasion for this community to discuss this commitment and the leadership that we will provide.

In preparing for this convocation and perusing my own inclusive/expansive language resource file, I came across material–task force minutes and notes, convocation literature, papers–from Wartburg as well as from my own tenure in a seminary community as a student. I left Trinity and Columbus well over 20 years ago and we were working on this then. Will we still be working on it 20 years hence? When I first encountered, or was encountered by a commitment to inclusive and expansive language in my seminary community, it was disorienting, difficult and challenging. But I was open to it, or I was opened to it, and gradually I lived and practiced my way to somewhat naturally using language in a more inclusive and expansive manner. It is now a non-negotiable for me. For instance, using “he” to refer to God, while acceptable in some circles, is finally unacceptable because it is fundamentally inadequate. Most significant is how my perception and understanding of God has been broadened, deepened, and enriched. The impact of inclusive and expansive language on me has been such that without it, I suspect my conception of God would be genuinely impoverished.

Finally, this I will claim: The call to be a Godbearer, to convey the gospel, to be a messenger of Jesus Christ, contains within it the call to give up the right to use language in a way that people experience as excluding them. I will own that statement, but it is not my claim. It is a direct quote from a paper entitled “Pastoral Ministry: All Things to All People,” written by an esteemed colleague almost thirty (30) years ago. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. The mantle is passed to each new generation of those called to share and serve the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s our watch, God’s people, and continue this work we must.

SOME THOUGHTS ON INCLUSIVE AND EXPANSIVE LANGUAGE By WTS Prof. Thomas Schattauer

The use of inclusive and expansive language in chapel and classroom reflects our effort within this community to speak about ourselves in a way that includes all genders, races, ethnicities, and varying abilities and also to speak about God truthfully, as God has no sex or gender identity.

Here’s how I prefer to think about such a practice. It is not about following or enforcing a set of rules. Rather, it is an encouragement to some common habits of speech that show the wideness of God’s mercy, the depth and breadth of God’s generosity in Jesus Christ for each and every one. For me, it is also important that we demonstrate that generosity in the ways we encourage one another as we learn these habits.

Some examples of these habits of speech within the common practice of the Wartburg community—

  • Avoid the use of third person masculine pronouns for God.
    • God does not have sex/gender.
  • Expand the images and words we use to address and speak about God beyond masculine images and words.
    • The Bible gives us examples.
  • Say and print “the assembly stands” and “the assembly is seated,” instead of “please stand” and “please sit,” or even “please stand if you are able.”
    • Such instruction describes what we are doing together, not what any particular person is being instructed to do; it also avoids calling attention to ability or disability.
  • When dividing the assembly by pitch range for singing, say or print “high voices” and “low voices,” rather than “men” and “women.”
    • Such instruction is descriptive, more accurate, and avoids reinforcing a binary understanding of sex/gender identity.

This is a topic for continued conversation and learning.

DITTO By Chris Lee, Final Year M. Div.

“I could just say ‘ditto’ and sit down, I guess. But what’s the fun in that?

Dr. Frambach gave me a time limit so please don’t mind my phone sitting here keeping me accountable. Nate asked me to speak today and I wasn’t sure quite what to say… so, by way of introduction:

Hi. My name is Chris and I am a multi-racial, multi ethnic, ELCA Lutheran with Baptist roots, and I was baptized in a Wisconsin Synod congregation.

We, as the ELCA, have been working on diversity as a church for 25 plus years. Look around; things have not changed much.  Well, things have changed, but not as much as anyone expected or hoped for. I’m a non-White Lutheran and I can tell you that it can be pretty lonely out here.

So we talk about inclusivity, and that includes our language.  And it matters! Inclusive language is an invitation to the conversation.  When we use and talk about language, here’s what we confess. Our language, any language we try to use, is ultimately insufficient.  Our language is incapable of describing God.  That is simply true. God is bigger than any definition, attribute, or revelation we hope to have.  God is God, and we are not.

So, yes, inclusive and expansive language matters. It is our faithful attempt to get as close as possible to accurately describing God.  It is a matter of our call to proclaim the gospel – our calling to the ministry of word, service and sacrament. What we say counts. It is a matter of our faithful, inclusive confession of who God is, a God for all people, regardless of whatever barrier we might try to erect between God and another.

A FLOOD OF REACTIONS By Rebecca Goche, Final Year M. Div.

The following comments are Becky’s from the convocation. Interspersed with her comments are several quotes (in italics) from the sermon she references. The scriptural texts were 1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a and Luke 8:26-39 (the Gerasene demoniac).

 

I want to share an experience with you from my internship this past year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. I had the privilege to preach the week following the mass shooting at the gay nightclub, The Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. I felt led by the Holy spirit to preach from my unique perspective as a lesbian.

I experienced a flood of reactions. I was angry. I was sad. I was numb. And I was afraid. Just like Elijah in our 1 Kings reading today, I wanted to find a cave and hide in it. I wanted to hide from the storm of emotions raging inside of me. I wanted to hide from the rabid, non-stop media coverage. I wanted to hide from those who condoned these killings in God’s name because they believe that homosexuals like me should not be allowed to exist. I wanted to hide from the trite statements about prayer from those who just weeks ago were spewing hate against my transgender siblings as to which public restroom they can use. I wanted to hide from those who were offering up another Muslim as another scapegoat to another mass shooting. And I wanted to hide from those people who feel that it’s necessary to minimize those who had died and were injured by saying, “All lives matter, not just LGBTQ lives”. But I heard a voice deep inside of me ask as I was searching for my cave, “What are you doing here, Becky?”

It was a gut-wrenching experience for me to both write and deliver this sermon because I knew that the words that I chose to use would elicit strong responses. These responses ranged from icy, cold stares to warm embraces that enveloped me with love that I can still feel today. I want to share a portion of an email that I received from a lesbian woman who heard my sermon. She wrote:

“Dear Becky…I want you to know how important it has been for me to hear sermons from you and Pastor Rachel that boldly proclaim God’s love and acceptance of LGBT people. I always thought I was lucky that while I was growing up my pastors never preached hate ad never told me I’d go to hell. I had other church members tell me that, but my pastors never did. But that wasn’t enough. I sat in the choir loft every Sunday, sometimes quite confused about my sexuality, and I just got silence on the matter. Homosexuality was not something we talked about in church. I had a couple of mentors in my church who made it a point to let me know that God loved me even if I was a lesbian and they never judged me – thank God for them. But it’s different to hear that message from a pulpit. Until I heard you and Pastor Rachel preach, I had never heard a pastor mention LGBT people and issues in church. Most of the time I just felt like that part of my life didn’t belong in church. But you and Pastor Rachel changed that for me. So thank you for being brave in your sermons and letting all of us know how loved we are.”

Inclusive language matters because words are powerful.

It is easy to view another’s life as not worthy and expendable if you do not see him or her as a human being in the first place. Throughout history we have examples of what happens when people are de-humanized – the witch trials and executions of women, the mass killings and corralling on reservations of Native Americans, slavery of Africans, the Jewish Holocaust, and the internment of Japanese Americans. And still to this day acts of violence happen at higher rates to people of color, LGBTQ people, women, children, and to those who suffer from mental illnesses, addictions, poverty, and homelessness. We push the “others” to the edges of society through our systems of unjust laws and through economic disparity. We sometimes even use or interpret the Bible in such a way that it seems to strengthen our case against those whom we perceive as other. And then we demonize the people even further by attaching names like “the savages, the blacks, the illegal aliens, the terrorists, the fags,” and so many other derogatory names. In this story, the man doesn’t seem to know who he is anymore and simply calls himself the name that’s been attached to him – Legion.

And then Jesus arrives on the scene in this amazing story. The Gerasene man asks, “What are you doing here, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” And really, what is Jesus doing there…ignoring social and religious boundaries to reach Legion?…Jesus does not show up to reinforce the way things are in this community…When Jesus shows up, the kingdom of God starts happening. The world is turned upside down…This man, who was once considered an “other” and known only by the name attached to him, has now become Jesus’ disciple in Gentile territory…Jesus met him right where he was at. Jesus will meet you and me right where we’re at, too.

As church leaders, you and I have a responsibility to take great care in the words that we use, and do not use—for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.