Tag Archives: identity

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.

“THESE WOMEN ARE JUST LIKE ME, ONLY MORE SO” by Rebecca Goche, Final-year M. Div.

“These women are just like everyone else, only more so.” These are the words that Pastor Paul Witmer, Minister of Congregational Care for Women at the Well told a group of us on the “outside” while at a gathering of people who support Iowan women prisoners. I really had no idea what he meant by these words at the time until I went “inside” and experienced the Women at the Well, a United Methodist congregation located with the walls of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, in Mitchellville, Iowa.

I first heard of Women at the Well when Pastor Lee Schott spoke at the ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly about what it is like to pastor a congregation within a prison. I remember her passion and I knew then that I wanted to learn more about ministry with incarcerated persons. I took a group of 10 people from my internship congregation to worship with the Women at the Well congregation. I had no idea of what to expect. I was shocked at how full the Sacred Space (chapel) was with about 70 women worshipping with us that night. I was amazed at what I can only describe as “freedom” which I felt and saw as these incarcerated women worshipped. My brain wondered, “How can this be?” as I had not experienced such a freedom in a congregation outside prison walls. It was my wonderment over this freedom that urged me to go through the prison’s mandatory volunteer training and set up an independent study during J-term 2017 to delve deeper into the ministry of the pastoral staff with the Women at the Well and witness how God is moving in the women within the walls of the prison.

Some of my friends and family were concerned for my safety when they found out that I was going into the prison to work with the women. I had more than one person tell me that prison is “full of bad people.” After watching Pastor Schott interact with the women on my first day in prison, I realized that if I let others’ and my own fears get the best of me, I would be closing myself off to the women and to God’s work in them. As I opened myself up to the women and listened to their stories, I found most to be warm and caring despite what they had been through or what they had done. I still find myself wondering how any of them can be warm and caring knowing some of the statistics of the women who are incarcerated in Mitchellville: 60 percent suffer from mental illness, 80 percent have some type of addiction, and 90 percent have experienced some type of abuse whether domestic violence or sexual assault. For most of these women, the deck was stacked against them long before they ever entered prison. I find it deplorable that for many of these women, it seems that prison is Iowa’s mental health system.

With Pastor Witmer’s words, “These women are just like everyone else, only more so,” echoing inside my head, I quickly learned that pastoral care in prison is much like what I have experienced outside its walls, only the women’s issues seem to be magnified partly because of where they are. The women want someone who will listen to them and not judge them. They want to be able to share their joys and their sorrows just like the people I visited while on internship. Many of the women feel guilty for not being with their families, especially their children. Often times this guilt manifests itself in depression or acting out in an inappropriate manner. I had the opportunity to accompany Pastor Witmer on a visit with a woman who was on suicide watch. She was alone in a solitary cell wearing what I can only describe as a moving blanket-type gown. There was another offender outside her heavy glass and metal door whose sole job was to watch her in the event she tried to hurt herself. There were no moveable chairs near her cell, so both Pastor Witmer and I kneeled on the cold, concrete floor to talk with the woman through the small, 3 ½ inch by 10-inch tray opening in the cell’s door. It was uncomfortable and not ideal for holding a conversation. The woman was highly agitated and her mind and words jumped from one topic to another. She spoke about her mental illness and the difficulties she has had with various medications not working anymore because she has built up a tolerance to them. She talked about the abuse she has experienced from former partners and how she thought that was normal until she met and married her current partner who will not hit her even though she wants him to do so. The woman told us about having to relinquish her parental rights and had found out a few days earlier that her child had been adopted – the “final straw” that caused her to be transferred to the suicide watch unit. We spent just over 10 minutes with her simply listening. As we were walking back to the Sacred Space from her unit, Pastor Witmer said that he is still trying to figure out how to do better pastoral care with the women, especially in situations like we had just experienced.

Women at the Well tries to address some of the women’s needs by offering various pastoral care-type groups. I had an opportunity to sit in on a grief group led by two Methodist pastors/counselors. I listened with an aching heart as a woman in her late twenties shared her story. This woman had been raped at the age of 13 by a relative, became pregnant and gave birth to a baby. Five days later, she watched this same relative smother her child and then place the dead child into a garbage bag to throw away. Her child would have been 16 years old. The woman continues to feel guilty about not stopping her relative from killing her baby and grieves the loss of her child. In an effort to numb her pain, she began using drugs and did whatever she had to do in order to get them. I wanted to give the woman a hug, but touch is not allowed inside the prison. I watched as the other women in the group, who also could not hug the woman, enveloped her with their words of love and comfort. I listened to other women’s stories during the hour-long session. I cannot imagine the grief that many of these women must carry, buried deep inside of them because if they let it show especially in prison, they will be preyed upon by others for being weak. Women at the Well offers these women a safe space to share their grief in a community.

Roughly 10 percent of the population or about 70 women are released from the prison every month. Women at the Well offers a voluntary, faith-based re-entry program to the women for one year after they are released from prison. Volunteers from various denominations make up the re-entry teams located in communities around the state. These teams serve as an important resource to help the women move back into society. I had an opportunity to be a part of two sessions of the women’s preparation course for the re-entry program. Thirty-two women attended the four-week course. Many were looking for resources to help them once they got out of prison. Some were looking for a deeper connection with God. Others were looking for help in finding a church home once they are released. I heard much hope in their discussions sprinkled with a heavy dose of their current realities.

While participating in worship with the Women at the Well congregation, I found it surreal to look out the windows of the Sacred Space and see the orange glow from the security lights reflecting off of the razor wire atop the fence that surrounds the prison grounds. Once again I was mesmerized by the sense of freedom that I felt within the space, worshiping God with these women who could not be on the other side of that fence until society through the courts said they could, if ever (there are currently 39 women who will never get out and will die in prison). I sensed a palpable hope and a strong desire to serve their neighbors outside the walls of prison as evidenced by the congregation’s support of a different organization/charity each month. These women earn anywhere from $0.27 to just over one dollar an hour at their prison jobs which can be used at the prison commissary to buy phone cards to call loved ones, toiletries, and so on. I was humbled by their acts of stewardship as they eagerly shared their money with neighbors whom they may never meet.

Today, prison is big business and many in our society would rather spend money on building more prisons to house more people rather than spending money to help prevent people from being incarcerated or rehabilitate those already incarcerated so that they are not repeat offenders. I was naïve about how racially biased our criminal justice system is, but my eyes have been opened wide after reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and seeing the disproportionately high numbers of people of color within the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women when compared to the population for the state as a whole. I find hope in the ELCA’s Social Statement on The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries, but I wonder how many of our pastors and congregations actually read it and apply it to their lives. After my experience with Women at the Well within the prison walls, I can no longer close my eyes and block my ears to the cries of those who are behind bars and to those who must forever live with the label of criminal, as less than that of a second-class citizen. These women truly are just like you and me – they are beloved children of God.

SILENCING OUR HEROES by Marlow Carrels, Final year M. Div.

I am a veteran who is currently interviewing veterans for my Senior Thesis dealing with the Just War Tradition. From my research one statement resounded clearly from a former Staff Sergeant in the US Army: “I am not a hero and I didn’t fight for your rights to anything, stop calling me a hero and a savior. I did my job and that is all there is.” This sentiment was echoed by many I have interviewed.

So, this begs the question: Why do we call service members heroes? Certainly they are a small segment of the population, less than one percent, who leave family ties and their geographic “home” to be stationed across the nation and the world and possibly enter into harm’s way during their career to do their part in wielding the might of the United States Military arm…

But does that make each and every service member a hero? There are many civilian jobs where people leave their family and home behind to move across the country or world for better pay or simply because of globalization. There are many civilian careers that also carry inherent risk. In fact one could argue that there is literally an equal civilian counterpart to nearly every Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

There is an MOS for personnel management, financial services, hazmat cleanup, firefighters, police, carpenters, machining, and mechanics; further there are civilian counterparts to special tactic Infantry units (Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Teams) and even mortar platoons as there are certain ski resorts that mortar avalanche zones prior to opening their lifts. While I am sure that there are MOS’s that do not have a counterpart in the civilian world, yet through my career in the Army I have not run across one.

Yet, in this reality it still seems that service members are placed on a pedestal and separated from their civilian counterparts. When asked, many civilians on the street will call a service member a hero, and when they are pressed further one finds that, often, the reason is because “They have sacrificed so much, they fight for freedom… and that’s why the VA and the Military will take care of them.”

This last statement is, I think, the real reason that service members are called “hero.” It is a way of separating those who serve from the rest of “us,” effectively turning the service member into a “them” that does not need to be heard or cared for. If the service member becomes someone greater than me, someone who is a hero, then I can believe that they have the superhuman ability to deal with their issues, or, at the very least, I can pretend that I am not qualified to help them deal with their issues because I am nothing like them. I can go on thinking that they are different than me, that they are better than me, and most importantly I cannot relate to them because my life experience is different (read “less heroic”) than theirs.

There appears to be a thought that every story that a service member is going to share will be one of war and gore and death. The humble reality is that many veterans do not see combat. They travel to combat zones and do their jobs, the same job they would do in an office “back home.” And while they are gone they think about who and what they left behind, and when they come home they have the same issues everyone else has. They worry about work, their family, promotions, finances, political affairs, and the pain of losing their loved ones to suicide, car accidents, heart attacks, and strokes. But many of us don’t know their individual woes. We don’t hear them… because we won’t hear them… We call them a hero and send them to the VA; to those who are “qualified.”

None of this is to say that there are not service members who are not heroes. There are those who ran into the hell fire of combat and died for their sister and brother on their right and left. There are those who slogged through mire and pain and were sole survivors of battles. There are those who have had a medal pinned to them after their death and those who had a medal pinned to them or hung around their neck after enduring things that I, another service member, can imagine but have not seen. I mean to take nothing from these brave women and men; they deserve the accolades. They deserve the name hero. But I cannot call them a hero in an effort to silence them, and often when one speaks to these men and women who have their service cross or star or V device for valor they will tell you, simply and clearly, that “I was just doing my job” and that “the real heroes didn’t come home on their feet, but under a flag.”

Service Members are just like any civilian, and often we are just doing our jobs. I encourage anyone reading this to become acquainted with the Centurion Connection. This is a new program provided through the ELCA that tries to bridge the gap between civilians and veterans, between pastors and chaplains, between heroes and the rest of us…

So how do we lift up the voice of the veteran in our ministry? How can we help the hero speak?

  • Start with the Centurion Connection, an outreach of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
  • Find out who has a military connection. Don’t simply focus on the veteran or the spouse; focus on the whole family… kids, parents, kin, friends…
  • Start an education system in your church, first about the military and the ELCA’s feelings, not your own feelings, about the military. Invite veterans to speak at some Adult Education classes on the hard decisions that people are coping with, the reality of moving, mobilizing, and feeling at home in a congregation.
  • Start a military ministry. The military has become disenfranchised and marginalized because many think “they” will be taken care of by someone else.
  • Send out care packages on Veterans’ Day to members who have joined the military, rather than Memorial Day, through their entire career. This will allow the member to know that the church is keeping up with them and caring about them on a deeper level. It is nice to know that people are praying for you, but few things remind you of home like a batch of cookies and lefse from the bake sale, beautiful fall leaves preserved and sent to you, fresh wheat, or simply a snapshot of the congregation on Veterans’ Day.
  • Create a safe space and time where vets—all vets—are welcome and can speak to each other and provide wisdom to youth who think they want to join the military.
  • Finally, thank veterans for their service, but don’t let that be the end of the conversation. Engage them about their current lives, not just about their time in service.

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

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.