ADVENT: COME, LORD JESUS by Aleese Baldwin, Final Year MDiv Student

As families gather around meal tables, I’ve often heard a common meal prayer recited from memory: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.” But when was the last time that we actually stopped to think about just what we are asking God in this little prayer before our meal?  “Come, Lord Jesus”? Are we really asking, really ready, and really open to Jesus sitting down at our tables with us? Are we really asking, really ready, and really open to Jesus coming into the messiness of the world?  “Come, Lord Jesus”? Here? Now? Really?

Looking around the world it isn’t hard to spot instances of injustice, suffering, corruption, pain and fear. Indeed some days, we – along with all those who suffer – can only manage to cry out to God, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)  And yet it is in the midst of this reality that we continue to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus”? Do we really believe that God has anything to do with this world anymore?  Based on what hope or promise do we have to boldly ask God to come to us?

As December begins, the church shifts in its liturgical cycle to the season of Advent: a season of waiting, of watching, of longing.  Last year, while serving an internship at both St. Luke’s Hospital and St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, IA, I found myself in this season of Advent throughout the year.  I found myself sitting, waiting and longing with…

a teenager admitted for the fourth time to an inpatient behavioral health unit after attempting suicide with no outside help or support,
a husband of a patient in the Critical Care Unit who held his now deceased wife
with all that he had left in him,
and parents as they held their stillborn twins in their arms.

As a committed theologian of the cross, I wanted so desperately to proclaim the good news that God was present with them even in the midst of their pain. And to some extent I believe that I did. And yet at the same time, I could not help but wait, watch, and long with each of these groups of people for the hope of new life…a hope of a reality free from pain, suffering and injustice.  As people of the cross and resurrection, we boldly confess that God is present with us in every moment of our lives.  And yet we can’t help but wait, watch and long for the presence of hope of God that has yet to be fully revealed to us.

Looking at the brokenness of our world, we cannot boldly proclaim that God’s kingdom is fully among us; it just can’t be.  Justice has not come to all people.  Peace has not been obtained.  The kingdom has not dawned. Christ has not returned.  And in the season of Advent, this little Lord Jesus has not yet come.

So daring to believe that God still cares for all that God has created and that God desires to give life to all people, we boldly pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  Come, Lord Jesus, into a world that desperately needs your life, your love…your hope. We need your peace, Lord Jesus. We can’t do it on our own.  Come, Lord Jesus, into our hearts, into our lives, into our communities…into this broken world.
As we pray this Advent season, we all come from our own journeys, marked with our joys, sorrows, successes and challenges. But from wherever we come, we join with all the saints, waiting with eager longing while we watch for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom in our midst. But just maybe…maybe the waiting, watching and longing for Christ to come has just as much hope, promise and good news as the knowledge that God is present with us now. Maybe…just maybe, in the waiting, we have hope that one day, the world will no longer experience pain, injustice, violence and suffering.  In the waiting, we hold onto the Gospel promise that something better is really yet to come.

And that…that sounds like a promise worth holding onto.  A promise that is worth our continued prayers of “Come, Lord Jesus…”

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.

 

VISIT FROM SAMUEL PENI: PEACE AND RECONCILIATION IN THE MIDST OF DIVISION by Aleese Baldwin, Final Year MDiv Student

As representatives of the ELCA journey to South Sudan to break ground for a Lutheran Center in Juba, they join representatives who are already witnessing to hope of peace and reconciliation in a war-torn area. Of those working in South Sudan is Bishop Samuel Peni, bishop of the Nzara Diocese in the Episcopalian Church of South Sudan (ECS). As a part of his travel to the U.S, Bishop Peni joined Wartburg students and faculty on Nov. 2 during a luncheon sponsored by the Center for Global Theologies to share his perspective on the intersection of the ECS and the current situation of South Sudan. A 2009 graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary, he noted that his study here helped enhance his ability to live out his call in the ECS. While at Wartburg, he knew full well that he would be returning to a country ravaged by violence. But what he did not know, however, is that the level and character of the violence in South Sudan would change in the time that he was studying in the U.S.

As Bishop Peni spoke of continued dissension and conflict in his home country, he continually returned to themes of power, religion and tribal differences. Though Sudan has a long history of violence resulting from various power struggles, the region has most recently been negatively affected by two civil wars. Following a brief period of peace after the first civil war, the second civil war began after President of the Republic of Sudan, Gaafar Nimeiry, declared Sudan an Islamic state in 1983. The civil war continued until 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi. Though this document was signed, Bishop Peni attested to the continued violence even after 2005. By July 2011, South Sudan declared its independence from the Republic of Sudan.

However, since South Sudan gained its independence, conflict surrounding the availability of oil resources and tribal differences has continued. During the civil war, the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army/Movement committed violence against many villages in an attempt to disarm rebellions. As a result, inter-ethnic fighting has intensified. Bishop Peni spoke to this reality, noting that people often look at each other first in light of their tribal association.

In an attempt to help foster an environment of peace and reconciliation among tribes, Bishop Peni helped organize leaders of different church bodies to work together against the effects of continued violence and discrimination in their country. He took this group of leaders to Rwanda where they learned about the effects of the Rwandan genocide and how Rwanda has healed from its past and embraced new beginnings. From there, these leaders engaged in conversation and training, helping them embrace a future of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.

Now, Bishop Peni notes that he, along with other church leaders, are integral in the effort to unite tribes and influence government on the county and state levels. Bishop Peni explained that while the church’s connection with legislative bodies has changed over time, that he and other church leaders have been invited to offer prayer at government meetings. In doing this, Peni stated that this gives him – and other church leaders – an opportunity to state their voice in the midst of discussion.

As the church continues its work in South Sudan, Bishop Peni stressed the need for theological education of church leaders, asking numerous times for students, pastors and professors to come to South Sudan to teach. He spoke very highly of his education at both Wartburg Theological Seminary and of his short time at the University of Dubuque Theology Seminary and stated that the future of the ECS is intrinsically related to its continued education. Additionally, he stressed the ECS’s continued role in systems of government to advocate for peace and reconciliation. Finally, Peni noted that the ECS has a good working relationship with the Catholic Church, helping to foster more relationships in pursuit of peace. With a connection of both education and work for justice, Peni witnessed to a hope for a new day in South Sudan.

As Bishop Peni continues his work, he noted that he must often consider his and his family’s safety. He noted that often needs to sleep in different homes throughout the journey of a trip in South Sudan to protect himself. He spoke of how his bodyguards protect him so that he can continue to do his work, and he shared that his family is temporarily living in Uganda based on the volatile situation in South Sudan. But even in light of this, Peni spoke with hope concerning his work and the work of the ECS. He openly asked for prayer and for people to learn the story of the Sudanese, imploring us to embrace a vision of peace and reconciliation for all peoples as a part of God’s good creation. As people united in Christ, we join Bishop Peni’s quest for peace and give voice to the continued story of struggle in South Sudan.

I AM . . . by Mytch Dorvilier, Final Year MDiv Student

I am a woman.
I am a black woman.
I am a non-African, American black woman.
I am a non-African, American black woman with a strong accent.
I am a Haitian woman.
I am a product of slavery.
I am a foreigner in a foreign land.
I am a foreigner with a strong French/Creole accent.
I am a human being created in the image of God.
I am a human being for whom the Son of God incarnates.
I am a human being God calls “my beloved child” the day of my baptism.
I am a human being for whom Jesus died on the cross.
I am a human being who longs for relationships as God shows us in the Trinity.
I am a human being who regards every other human being for whom Christ has died.
I am a human being who by vocation loves the neighbor as Christ loves me.
I am a human being who every day sees God’s work in the world.
I am a human being.

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

AN INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION TALK by Mack Patrick, 2nd Year MDiv Student

Cisgender. Heterosexual. Homosexual. Bisexual. Transgender. Genderqueer. Queer. Pansexual. Asexual. Questioning. The list goes on and on when we are talking about the language we use when we identify ourselves in terms of our sexual and gender identity.

You might notice I left out a few words that are commonly used within the LGBTQ+ community and the larger society. I purposely left out the words straight, gay and lesbian for they do not fully grasp what it means to be living within the LGBTQ+ community and, honestly, I have yet to understand what straight means in terms of gender and sexuality.

Everyone thinks gender and sexuality is binary, where you can simply check a box on a form and that is the end of the question. However, the reality is that gender and sexuality are a spectrum, where you can on any day be at one point and a different point the following day. Understanding that gender and sexuality are a spectrum helps in working towards more inclusive language and community.

When thinking specifically about how to be inclusive when someone falls outside of the binary there are a few basic things that will not only help you in ministry but in society as well.

In terms of gender, think of it in a two-fold way, gender identity and biological sex. Gender is how the person identifies. The way they dress and how their mind is wired. Biological Sex is about the hardware one is born with. When talking to someone who may identify as transgender or gender queer, do not ask them about what they were born as. It shows that they are not valued as people in our current state, and honestly asking about biological sex is only okay in a health care facility, no one needs to know what is in your pants but yourself and your doctor, so be aware of the language you are using and the reason for asking.

Sexuality is not the same as gender identity; it is about the attraction you personally feel towards others. Moving towards being more inclusive in terms of sexuality, it is more about a shift in attitude rather then in language. New language is being created and used each day but a change of attitude can last a lifetime. Opening your mouth and asking questions regarding who someone is attracted to is not always the best thing for the moment. Think about why you are asking the question and if you would want your grandmother to hear it. Sexuality is personal and needs to be kept that way. Avoid saying “wife” or “husband” or “partner”; it limits what one defines as a relationship. Sticking with talking about the person first and the relationship last lets them choose how they want to be labeled.

Being inclusive takes time. It also takes grace and forgiveness from everyone. Remember you are not perfect and asking questions in proper ways help you avoid assumptions and allows you to get to know the person. Allow yourself to make a mistake and learn from it. Remember, getting to know the person for who they are is the most important thing you can do.

AN INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION TALK by Denise Rector, 1st Year MDiv Student

One of the central points—truths—to consider when thinking about inclusive language, is our power to name things. It’s one of the things God gives humans right up front.

We can name for good, or for ill. From naming, to classifying, to including/excluding, to judging . . . it’s a slippery slope.

Lots of things about this next story make me cringe. I used to work with a group of friends who had an inside joke about the name “Target.” There was a nice, big, new, shiny (all of those words are important) Target in the rich suburb south of town. That was the Targét (pronounced Tar-jay). Not just Target— Targét. The other Target was in a mall that people thought was dying. Not as nice, big, new, or shiny. That was the Tar-ghetto.

We have the power to name. And I am not proud of how I used that power. How I used that power not just to name, but to judge. Reflecting on that story, one of the most important things, scary things, to me is that it was an inside joke. It was something I shared with some people, and not others. So that shows me personally what exclusive language (as opposed to inclusive) is: “Can I say it to anyone?” Is it appropriate everywhere?

That was a socioeconomic example. Here is a race/ethnicity based example: I have heard very well-meaning people, kind people, friends ask me what I would like to be called, “African-American?” “Black?” I’m sure people who have lived through the decades of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc have wondered about African –Americans: “Well, what do they want to be called now?”

There is so much packed into that question. The “they” is a separation, designating an ‘us’ from a ‘them’, whether the question is asked sincerely, faithfully, with concern, with annoyance, or with a sense of insecurity. All of those things are present.

Also present is the idea that the many names for African-Americans, from the slurs (n-word/darkie/ coon) to the ones that are socially acceptable and progressive for their time (black/negro/Afro-American/African-American) have all been reactions. They are all reactions of one person looking at another and thinking, “You, your skin, your culture – you are not like me. What are you?” In other words, African-Americans have never had a way of naming themselves that isn’t a reaction to a normative culture from outside classifying, judging, naming, including/excluding. That slippery slope again.

Those groups that have been named from the outside have often taken those names on internally as a defining characteristic and point of identity. Consider the pink triangle, or the n-word with a gangsta ending. Why would a group do this? Because naming is powerful. Inclusion and exclusion are powerful.

The ability to name is the possession of power, God-given power. As leaders in the church, let’s work to change the balance of power.