Tag Archives: diversity

INVITATION TO LISTEN by Marlow Carrels, Final-year M. Div.

I am a white male who tries my best to be an ally for those who do not have a voice in our society. I am also a raconteur, a weaver of stories, and have enough anecdotes to fill many conversations. By contributing to The Persistent Voice, I have hoped to bring light to some issues that I have seen in my military career. This article is to remind all readers that there is still work to do, and a white male can help or hinder the voices of others.

It is important to remember the very beginnings of The Persistent Voice. In its first issue, the voices of female theological seminary graduates having to wait a long time for first call due to societal and ecclesial hesitancy were heard loud and clear. There was also a “Sign of Hope” about a seminary intern ministering to the Roman Catholic woman in the hospital. The woman said to the hospital’s priest, “Father, I want you to tell your sisters that they can do this [work] too!” A poem spoke to the oppression that challenges us and the liberation we can experience together. In its second issue, one article lifted up questions asked of a female candidate at a call committee interview: “How do you reconcile what the Bible says about a woman being subordinate to a man?” and “Are you concerned about legitimate social justice issues, or that silly women’s lib stuff?”

Some people think these issues no longer exist. No person has an issue with their voice being silenced; never would a call committee ask a candidate about their gender, race, sexual orientation, or immigration status. In other words, there is an existing illusion of a church in which every voice is heard and no person is afraid.

My friends, these problems still exist, and sadly they will likely persist. So how can I, a white male with military participation and a penchant for storytelling help the church? Perhaps I can interweave my stories with discussions that I have had with people of color, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and immigrants. Even better though, I could invite those whose stories I know to speak for themselves in my context. I could do my best to give them a space where their voice can be heard and where barriers can be broken down, walls can be destroyed, and bridges can be built. I have no specific answers; I simply hope that I am able to continue to use—and silence—my voice so that others may be heard.

“OTHER” LABELS by Paris Comentino, Second-year M.Div.

Citizens of the United States of America have a propensity to use labels. The assumption seems to be that white people are the only ‘true’ Americans. If one is not white, one is African-American, Asian-American, Native American, Latino-American, and the list goes on and on. In fact, US citizens often don’t recognize that there are many other “Americans” in the countries of North and South America.

People have spent decades coming up with the most appropriate label to place on people of color, especially black citizens, regardless of the fact that all are American. For example, if Euro-American is not a commonly used label in the United States, why is the label African-American so commonly used? Many African-Americans have as many ties to Africa as I, a Caucasian woman, have to Europe – none! White privilege and racism are still alive and well in America today and none of us can afford to deny it any longer.

Over the last few years the Black Lives Matter Movement has emerged and made waves all throughout America. This movement started from the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter after the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable for his murder, even though he had no reason for shooting Martin except for the fact that he was a young black male walking around at night in a hooded sweatshirt. Zimmerman claims he thought Martin had a gun, but all he had was some candy and tea. This is just one more tragic story of a black life lost in recent history. Alicia Garza, one creator of the movement, says this movement is “…rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist … dehumanization. #BlackLivesMatter  is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.” blacklivesmatter.com/about/

Some media sources portray this movement as starting riots and causing more harm to neighborhoods than good. Many individuals portray this movement as anti-police and insist on picking sides; either one favors the Black Lives Matter movement or the local police force. This is fed through the historical lens of white privilege and the drive to label all non-European-whites as scary, violent, and harmful to society.

Besides the division the media has made between this movement and the police, another counter-argument that has emerged is that all lives matter. Ah, yes. This is beautiful and so very true. But the sad truth is that not all lives have mattered and all lives cannot matter until BLACK lives matter. How long is this country going to deny history, facts, and lived reality? Denial allows people of white privilege to live comfortably in a dream world where nothing is wrong, but this same denial that makes some people comfortable is killing black people. How long, O Lord, can people sit by in silence? How long, O Lord, can people keep these problems out of sight, out of mind?

Christians are called to insure all lives do matter. The Gospel places all of us in the midst of what is broken in this world. As Christ descended into the brokenness of humanity, we, too, are called to these places to walk with each other as brothers and sisters, and to bring the healing and hope of Christ to the world.

“In these trying circumstances, the black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws – racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

WHEN PEOPLE SAY, “I DON’T SEE YOUR WHEELCHAIR” by Rev. Lisa Heffernan, M. Div., WTS 2013

This might surprise a lot of people, but it bothers me when someone says they don’t “see my wheelchair” or my disability. It’s taken me a number of years to figure out why this bothers me so much. Of course, I want people to recognize my humanity first, right? Of course, I want my friends and family to see me – the weird, “Lord of the Rings” loving, occasionally overly-emotional, funny, theology nerd they’ve known for 30 years — first, right? Right!

But here’s the thing: having been born with spina bifida and being a full-time wheelchair user has shaped me and who I am in the world. The fact that I have a disability is a part of my reality I want others to see! That’s because, along with the wheelchair, they will see a young woman whose father’s death due to complications of multiple sclerosis has driven her to continue his work of advocating for people with disabilities. They will see a sister and daughter who would not have completed college or seminary without the encouragement, pushing, and support of her mother and brother. They will see a disability theologian and pastor who would not have been open to the work of the Holy Spirit in her life without friends who said, “You’ll become a pastor. Just wait.” or “The Church needs to hear your voice.”

In the end, “the thing” is that I would not be the person I am without my disability. Sure, I have bad or “down” days (sometimes weeks) because of the physical and relational struggles that have come along with it. It would be foolish or dishonest to say that I don’t sometimes wish I hadn’t been born with spina bifida when I have one of those bad days. As I get older and have begun to own who I am and all I’ve been through, though, those days don’t come as often as they did when I was a child. Today’s struggles are like those of a lot of women who are my age: trying to discern what comes next in my early 30’s as I look ahead to my future in ministry and academia, and figuring out where future relationships and family fit into that. I just get to navigate those things sitting down, rather than standing up!

As I navigate this life from my wheelchair, my hope and prayer is that the “-abled” world around me can understand this: When you tell me (and perhaps others like me) that you don’t see my disability, we may hear it in a way other than you intend. For my part, I hear you saying: “Having a disability is bad, and something to be pitied or unwanted. You’re more than this negative thing in your life.” The message that comes across is that others believe I hate my disability, so I must want it to be forgotten about so I can be viewed as a whole person by others.

Newsflash: I am a whole person. All persons with disabilities are “whole.” Our realities don’t match up with a world that looks to ridiculous standards of beauty, wealth, and physical and mental perfection in order to be seen as a whole person — as fully human. And you know what? That’s OK! People with disabilities have the same range of emotions, desires, and aspirations as those without disabilities. The problem is that attitudes and structures exist which limit how we can participate in the world. That is maddening and heartbreaking for me, not just because of my own life experiences, but because I know so many people with disabilities who could live into the fullness of who I believe God created them to be if the “-abled” world would open up even just a little bit more.

Great strides have been made with that since the ADA was passed, but we are still far, far from true equality and inclusion in this world. I don’t know how to fix it or make it better, but I feel called to help do that someday. I’ve made a start or two to “get my wheel in the door,” so to speak, but I’ve got a long way to go. So, when you see me or someone like me, please don’t assume I need you to validate my humanity by downplaying my disability. Nor do I need you to start believing the negative stereotypes that make people with disabilities seem helpless. Just get to know me — spina bifida, wheelchair, nerdiness, and all — and see that my life is not to be pitied – or something “inspiring” either! It’s just my life, one I want to live as freely and interdependently as I can. It hasn’t all been bad so far, and it wouldn’t be what it has been or will be down the road, if it weren’t for this speedster that helps me down that road — my wheelchair.

First published at: https://themighty.com/2017/04/my-disability-is-part-of-who-i-am/

Rev. Lisa Heffernan is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chamberlain, SD.

PINE RIDGE CONVOCATION DISCUSSION by Kathryn Kvamme, Second-year M. Div.

Students, faculty, and guests gathered for a convocation this winter to learn more about the Pine Ridge Reservation. Following the presentation by representatives from Pine Ridge, as well as students who traveled there over January-term, round table discussions were held to further explore personal responses to the presentation.

This is the story, not of the entirety of the convocation led by the January-Term group who visited Pine Ridge Reservation, but of simply one table. Our conversation was, perhaps, a bit halting, for none of us are experts on the subject of Native Americans, either in the past or the present. However, we did exhibit a good deal of heart and caring for the subject, showing openness to what others said and being open with our own thoughts.

The first question we were asked to address were the differences between a mission trip, a service project, and cultural immersion. A mission trip, for our group, meant traveling somewhere else for a lengthy period of time. While ideally it will include cultural immersion, too often it instead takes the shape of works based tourism. Many of us have images of buses of youth showing up to a site, doing some work, and leaving again, without ever meeting people or learning about the culture. For many in the group, service projects were similar to mission trips, though locally based and short term. Participating in a service project entails hearing from an organization what they need done and then providing the labor for the task. On the other hand, cultural immersion is being with people and learning about their lives and culture by being in it. It can often happen by accident in an organic way. It is about interacting with people and building relationships, not merely giving and working.

Question two asked us to explore our views on Native Americans and the church. In our table discussion group, we quickly discovered that there were vast differences in our answers to this question based on our ages and where we grew up. Those who went to school in the mid-west learned a different history than did those who grew up on the east coast. However, we all agreed that the lives and stories of Native Americans were never shown in a favorable light or were never shown at all. We who were not Native Americans did not know a good deal about missionary work with Native Americans, but were sure that it did not go well and was not always effective or based on God’s love. Often missionaries entered situations carrying incorrect assumptions about those with whom they were working. Our impression as a group of non-Native Americans was that missionaries were trying to civilize Native Americans and convert them to Christianity in any way possible, claiming it was for their own good.

Our third question focused on how people treat Native American today. One group member noted that non-Native Americans are both responsible and not responsible for the sins of the past. Regardless of how one’s ancestors may have treated Native peoples, guilt should not hinder care of people, for we are called to serve our neighbor. This led to questions about whose land is this? While non-Native Americans or their ancestors may not have been directly responsible for the death of Native Americans, they may still have destroyed livelihoods and uprooted lives. This land non-Native Americans inhabit was not theirs to begin with, so why do they cling to it so tightly now? People are tempted to say that the way things are now has nothing to do with past policies and actions. However, history is one long narrative connected with the present.

When we see the problems and do nothing, we carry blame. We are invited to change our reality. Instead of hiding, we have the privilege of communication, asking questions, listening, and showing hospitality, not because of fear or guilt or blame, but because we truly love each other as God’s beloved children. We are all called to spend quality time with people who are not the same as us, getting to know their real lives, their joys and their sorrows, their pain and their stories. In this way, we can help break the cycle of degradation, displacement, and fear.

RECONCILING IN CHRIST CONVOCATION Compiled by Kirsten Lee, Second Year M. Div.

The following information was compiled from documents written by WTS student Rebecca Goche, staff member LisaMarie Odeen, Rev. Amy Current, Prof. Thomas Schattauer, and Prof. Troy Troftgruben.

Students, faculty, and guests gathered for a convocation this fall to mark the formal designation of Wartburg Theological Seminary (WTS) as a Reconciling In Christ (RIC) community. Reconciling In Christ is a program of Reconciling Works, a national Lutheran organization. Program and Development Associate with RIC, Ryan Muralt, presented the seminary with a certificate from Reconciling Works and shared in discussion with students and faculty during the convocation.

The WTS Board of Directors approved the designation of becoming an RIC community in June, 2016. As stated in the faculty proposal to become an RIC community, “This designation of welcome makes clear that people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer are welcomed and affirmed.” This welcome furthers “the seminary’s longstanding and enduring commitment to being an inclusive community that reflects God’s reconciling purpose in Jesus Christ.”  A copy of the news release about this designation can be accessed through this link: https://www.wartburgseminary.edu/wartburg-seminary-board-directors-approves-designation-ric-seminary/.

Through table discussions, participants had the  opportunity to learn about RIC and what it means to be an RIC community. In addition, Prof. Troy Troftgruben hosted a lively Zoom gathering of Distance Learning students. The following is a summary of the discussion:

Describe a time when you experienced abundant welcome in a worshiping community.

Many stories were shared of communities across our world who were exceptionally welcoming and friendly. One student mentioned a RIC church in Ann Arbor Michigan that had a sign in their entryway stating, “Everyone is a child of God.” Other students mentioned feeling embraced and included in places such as Holden Village and Namibia. Stories were also shared of those who were aware of being well welcomed because they were heterosexual and Caucasian. Many shared of feeling embraced and included in our seminary community.

Describe a time when you experienced exclusion or disregard in a worshiping community.

Stories were shared of how churches have changed after the 2009 ELCA resolution to allow men and women in homosexual relationships to serve as rostered leaders. Examples were discussed of how some churches have become less welcoming, whether the church chose to remain a part of the ELCA or leave the ELCA. Examples of exclusiveness were shared through stories of visitors feeling isolated from the worshiping community because of non-inclusive language and ethnocentric messages. Many stories were related of segregation and discrimination witnessed within worship communities, some of which included a refusal to share communion or a blessing to people who had differing beliefs.

If our seminary is already welcoming, why do we need to say so?

There was dialogue that this is a good reminder to proclaim a clear welcoming identity and keep complacency in check. We have an opportunity to serve as a witness for other communities and people who have previously been hurt by their worshiping community. Dialogue continued from the perspective that this is also a good reminder to maintain compassion for those who are still discerning what it means to be an RIC community. It is important to preserve humility and not use our welcoming identity as a badge of pride or weapon to be used against those with differing beliefs. Dialogue also included how we continue to progress as a church, seminary, and congregational leaders. One person pointed out that inviting is greater than welcoming and we need to show true friendliness and include communities outside our seminary and place of worship. Many participants voiced concern of a lack of awareness regarding RIC in some communities, such as rural areas or African American churches. There is a need for continued conversation and prayerful reflection, and discussion participants felt this convocation was a good place to begin the necessary dialogue.

Share ideas about how you might engage in or foster conversations about the Reconciling In Christ community in the WTS community and in congregations in which you participate or (will) serve.

Participants shared that there is a need for leadership with compassion to allow individuals to grow into this idea and foster relationships through dialogue. Questions were also asked, such as, “How are we each living out God’s call to love ALL of God’s children,” and “How do faith communities promote healthy and effective dialogue that welcomes all voices without shame or fear?” Some expressed that there is confusion and a need for education regarding the differing terms of identities included in this designation, and this kind of discussion can only be had in an open, safe, and inviting atmosphere. One participant also shared how the ELCA social statements can be helpful resources.

Wartburg Theological Seminary joins over 600 other ELCA communities, congregations, institutions, and theological seminaries that welcome and affirm the LGBTQ community. As we look forward and ask ourselves how we can progress, WTS Dean for Vocation, the Rev. Amy Current, offers this guidance, “As leaders of the church, we must continue the dialogue and continue engaging the conversation. There are numerous resources to assist in learning, listening, and engaging in this conversation.”

Here are a few resources to begin:

Good resources for everything to do with RIC
http://www.reconcilingworks.org/

Our Congregation is already welcoming. Why do we need to say so?
http://www.reconcilingworks.org/resources/ric/whysayso/

You’re an RIC. Now what?
http://www.reconcilingworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/RIC-now-what.pdf

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