Tag Archives: advocacy

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

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.

DISCUSSION SUMMARY OF “INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE, INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY” CONVOCATION compiled by Kirsten Lee, Second Year M. Div.

Students, faculty, staff, and guests gathered in Von Schwartz Refectory this fall for the first convocation of the WTS 2016-2017 academic year, focusing on “Inclusive Language, Inclusive Community.” Hosted by Professor Nathan Frambach, Professor Thomas Schattauer spoke, and students Becky Goche and Chris Lee also shared personal experiences, all of which are included in this edition of The Persistent Voice.  Those who gathered discussed the following questions through many table conversations, and additional conversation was had via Zoom for off-site learners.  Second Year M. A. student Kathryn Kvamme gathered the discussion notes from each question.

Begin by allowing time for each person to share “where you are at” with regard to using inclusive and expansive language. What commitments do you bring to the conversation? Identify motivations for using inclusive and expansive language.

  • We recognize this is a theological issue.  Who is God? How does the image we use to describe God influence how we see God and think about God?
  • We recognize that this is an ‘old’ topic and while we have made progress there is still much growth that still needs to occur. At the same time, we realize that this is a new topic for some, one that may be confusing and even alarming.  Numerous examples were shared on how we can be more inclusive with our language and the challenges in doing so.  For example, repeating ‘rise if you are able’ serves as a reminder for some of something they know they cannot do. Another example was shared about a young girl who questioned “If Jesus tells his disciples to be fishers of men, does Jesus want women to follow him?”   Lastly, a question was raised of how we handle the often used “Father” language.
  • There is a commitment at WTS to bring more awareness to using inclusive language in our daily language.  We also commit to helping people become more aware, without coercion, as we educate, explore, struggle and rejoice together.

How can we best carry out our collective calling and commitment to live together in mutually respectful communities where all persons are honored? What specifically can we do? What is challenging to you in this calling and commitment?

  • There is a need to listen to the less dominant voices present in our communities so that a greater variety of voices are heard and considered.   Intentional, careful listening is necessary in order to hear everyone’s voices.
  • Inclusive language goes beyond the topic of gender.  Just as people are more than their gender, so too ought our conversations be broader and deeper.
  • Creativity and patience are necessary in having these discussions.  We practice respect and create safe learning environments to have these discussions. We strive to listen with open minds and hearts while being secure in our non-negotiable points.

The following questions were also offered for the table conversations, but due to time constraints, discussion was limited. Nevertheless, these are important questions to keep in mind as we continue to develop the practice of inclusive language.

Invite each person to share an expansive image of God that has been and/or is meaningful and important in your journey of faith.

How can we provide leadership that helps congregations embrace the practice of consistently using inclusive and expansive language in all aspects of our life together? Furthermore, how can we help re-frame predominant (and often stereotypical) views on what is “normal” to include all persons in the body of Christ, regardless of ability or any other “isms”?

As we go out into our communities away from Wartburg, these questions can act as springboards for future thought and dialogue.  We pray and ask God to guide us as we go about our work, joyfully spreading the Good News.

THE GAIN OF THE LOSS — HONEST ADVOCACY by Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I have the choice to walk away from here: That is part of why I keep returning.

Cars, people and crumbling autumn leaves bluster on by the windows of the shelter, not minding the world around them, unaware that the lives of the people inside have lurched to a sudden stop. I hear the tick of a clock as I pass my mop over the creaking, wooden stairs. This sound is the evidence that time is indeed moving; otherwise, it is as if the whole shelter, as well as the women and children who take refuge here, have been crystallized in amber.

Time passes slowly, and does not heal all wounds.

I’m here at the shelter for my weekend shift as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s a part-time, paid job that involves tasks of maintaining a safe-house shelter and current residents, as well as responding to a crisis hotline for future residents. It’s also is a full-time, costly job that requires a certain sacrifice of trust, and loss of control, in humanity.

Trust often requires a kind of the will to not notice.

As a shelter advocate, I often find myself struggling to balance in a tension between practical restraint and compassionate openness when interacting with residents. On one hand, these individuals are highly resourceful, frequently dishonest, and every bit the survivors forged from the worst of experiences. On the other hand, these residents are persons who deserve the greatest attentiveness, honor and empathy of any God has created, and each were formed of, and will return to, the same dust to which I shall also return.

It could be me, living in this house. It could be Christ, bearing these open wounds.

Many of the people who take refuge at the safe-house would otherwise be homeless. Supported by donations of local community organizations, the shelter provides basic health supplies to these individuals that have been otherwise denied. I never knew it could be empowering to allow a woman to choose the color and size of her pajamas and slippers. I did not realize that it was a privilege of personhood for a child to have his own fresh toothbrush and toothpaste.

There are so many small, ordinary pieces of personhood that we do not know we own until we experience someone with impoverished autonomy.

Once in a while I have the opportunity to sit down with a resident in my office, offer him or her a cup of water, and listen to their story. Never offered an objective ear prior to the shelter, these persons may be long overdue for a time to express feelings, and become emotionally explosive: shivering with tremors of anxiety, churning with long-suppressed anger, or flowing with open facets of grief.

While these moments are a privilege, I cannot say they are a gentle blessing, inspirational, or personally intimate; they are frightening, painful, and very difficult to hear. I cannot underscore this loss enough, and urge you to not glamorize advocacy as you imagine the scene. Instead, I can feel my own Self and soul stirring, desiring to provide, as I listen—and then, compassion takes the form of an objective, silent listener, who will provide a tissue or a hand, upon request.

Part of advocating for the powerless means an intentional release of your own power and need.

I find this submission of my desire to comfort, provide advice, and to generally “fix” things to be the most challenging part of my work as a shelter advocate. The recognition of my innate privilege–and the loss that comes with realizing that others do not share this privilege!–conjures in me a mixture of guilt, shame, sadness and anger. Yet, feelings are messengers. Yet, this emotional energy is signaling my Soul to work: it is transformed into action, in which I engage the reality of privilege, and put it to work, per the context. With these persons who have been traumatized by the violence of physical – and truly, a deeply spiritual– abuse, the task required of an advocate is a release of his or her own choice, own need, and own power in a situation. Then, one may watch in wonder as a space opens up for bruised people to breathe on their own.

It is a marvel to help others realize that they indeed have a voice, and a choice, and a Soul that is precious, and worth holding on to.

This is the gain of the loss for the shelter advocate: that you pause, so that others may become.

Dr. Norma Cook Everist Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

Consecrated as a deaconess in 1960, I served Ascension Lutheran Church in St. Louis for 4 years (Before 1959 deaconesses had to choose between service to the church and marriage) In the early 60’s Concordia Seminary opened its doors to Lutheran teachers (which included women). I went over and enrolled, 1 woman among 800 men, and received an MA in Religion in 1964. However, that very year, when Burton and I adopted our son, Mark, I received a letter saying, “Thank you for your service.” I was removed from the roster because I had become a mother.

 For twelve years my call to ministry was as a community organizer in the inner cities of Detroit, MI, and New Haven, CT, as a bridge between church and world. Yale Divinity School is in New Haven. One day I went up the hill and enrolled. Yale welcomed me and Concordia’s degree.  After receiving an M.Div in 1976, Yale invited me to teach there as a lecturer in the Area of Ministry. Meanwhile women in our deaconess community took on leadership, and passed a resolution that all consecrated deaconesses were still deaconesses.  I became the first woman president of the LDA Board of Directors. In the early 70’s the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod went through a schism. I became a member of the Board of Directors of Seminex in the AELC.

 The ALC and LCA began ordaining women in 1970; my deaconess community area conference encouraged me to seek ordination, particularly since I was now teaching women and men who were studying at Yale to become pastors. The path to ordination was difficult, however.  I was approved for ordination by Wartburg Seminary. An LCA pastor tried to stop the ALC from ordaining me.  Dr. Roger Fjeld, prevailed, and I was ordained at Yale Divinity School in 1977. I believed if a door opened a crack, I should walk through and open the doors wider for others to walk through, too. I continued to be part of my deaconess community.

Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Norma Cook Everist,
Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

 In 1979 I received a call to Wartburg Seminary, becoming the first woman to teach in a tenured position in a seminary of the American Lutheran Church. I received my Ph.D. from The Iliff School of Theology and Denver University.  Even though other opportunities presented themselves later, I have been blessed and privileged to continue to serve Wartburg, and through Wartburg, the larger church and world.  I believe in collaborative ministry and the partnership of women and men, ministries based, not on gender, but on gifts. Thanks be to God.

Dr. Gwen Sayler Shares Part of her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

I remember… being told as a child that for a woman to become a pastor would be a sin while at the same time relishing access to Luther’s Works;

I remember… the excitement of being allowed full access with the boys to university theology classes even while realizing we girls were allowed in them on the assumption we’d never really use the theology we were being taught;

I remember… the male students who mocked me every time I raised my hand to speak at Seminary as well as the male students and faculty who bravely welcomed and incorporated me;

I remember… being told as the first woman theology instructor at Valparaiso University that the Dean was counting to see if I could attract male students and that I could neither counsel students nor lead in chapel worship as well as the male and female students who filled my classrooms and the brave colleague who invited me to preach in his chapel week;

I remember… the sheer joy of graduate school at the University of Iowa, where gender counted not at all;

I remember… as newly ordained in 1982 some parishioners leaving church when they saw I was preaching that day as well as developing a relationship with them and and later officiating at their funerals at their request;

Gwen-Sayler

Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible, The William A. & John E. Wagner Professor of Biblical Theology, Director of Lifelong Learning, Wartburg Theological Seminary

I remember… the hostility of some male students when I first came to teach at Wartburg as well as the many men and women who warmly received me;

I remember… as I celebrate how far we have come and begin to prepare to let go to the female and male leaders who will take the next steps toward full partnership in the 21st century.