Tag Archives: inclusivity

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.

BROADENING INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE IN WORSHIP by Thomas Schattauer, WTS Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel

Comment at Morning Prayer, Loehe Chapel
Feast of Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2015

“I want to address briefly a matter of concern about inclusivity in our community and in our worship. It has to do with the booklet we have been using for our singing of morning prayer the last few weeks [Marty Haugen’s Come Let Us Sing for Joy]. As you know, there are a couple places where it divides the singing between “women” and “men.” We need to think about that language as we seek to become ever more inclusive—for two reasons. First, it does not accurately describe what we are trying to do, which is to divide ourselves into “higher” and “lower” voices in our singing. When we use the labels “women” and “men” to accomplish that, where do young children fit into that picture, or women who sing low and men who sing high? Second, not everyone lives in a world that divides so neatly into men and women. Where, for example, will people among us who are transgender as well as transgender friends, colleagues, and neighbors find themselves in these binary categories? Where do they fit into the picture?

So, let’s try to shift our thinking a bit and start to use labels that more accurately describe what we are trying to accomplish and include the full range of gender identity among us. When we wish to divide into higher and lower voices, let’s say it exactly like that. As long as we continue to use this resource, we can at least make that shift in our minds and together translate it with a meaning that seeks to include each and every one.”

FAILURE AS AN UNDERLYING NARRATIVE by Christa Fisher, 3rd year M.Div. Student

“Your son is at a high risk for failure.” The school principal’s words settled on my chest like a leaden mantle. Unprepared for this phone call, I stammered a confused response. “What? Why? You must be mistaken.” My three-year old son was sitting at the kitchen island coloring, his small fingers gripping a fat red crayon. The principal assured me the call was not an error – she was speaking about my son, about Jacob. A week prior Jacob had participated in a 60-minute early-childhood education readiness assessment and according to the principal, Jacob’s test results warranted the phone call.

In the days following the call I was consumed with the need to understand how Jacob could be at a “high-risk for failure.” After Jacob was born I left my career to stay home and care for him. Needing order and predictability in my life, I created a schedule of activities to fill our days. We attended play groups, visited museums, hiked in the woods, baked cookies, made blanket forts, painted self-portraits, learned the alphabet, numbers, shapes and colors, and spent hours upon hours reading. As Jacob became older and craved more time with other children I enrolled him in a highly respected preschool program. His preschool teachers were perplexed by the school district’s assessment. Not only was Jacob doing fine in preschool, they assured me his skills were age appropriate, he came from a safe, loving home, with two devoted parents, who were both college educated. I shared my confusion with a neighbor, a professor of early childhood education. According to her, there was nothing about Jacob which suggested he was at a “high risk for failure.” My husband and I did not enroll Jacob in the specialized program the school district had created for “kids like him.” Instead, we continued to do what we were already doing and hoped this label would not follow him into kindergarten.

After much thought I deduced the school district’s assessment was colored by racism. You see, Jacob is biracial. My husband is black and I am white.

I should not have been surprised by the school district’s assumptions about Jacob. I grew up in a community of people who showcased their racism with pride and am therefore keenly aware of the assumptions we white people make about people of color. As a young mother I worked hard to ensure people had no reason to make such assumptions about our family.  As I focused on maintaining our image, however, I worried my efforts to shield my children from racism were actually depriving them the opportunity to claim their true character. I also worried that my actions were born, at some level, out of my own racism.

My mother-in-law once told me that by marrying her son I was black by association. At the time I didn’t take her seriously. Andre, my soon to be husband, and I were in our early 20’s and living in Berkeley, California. As a biracial couple in the San Francisco Bay Area we were in the norm. Surrounded by the appearance of racial unity I speculated within a generation or two racism would cease to exist. It was easy for me to be so hopeful. I had not yet experienced racism.

When Andre and I moved to Wisconsin I became acutely aware of the differences between the ways people treated us as compared to my previous relationships with white men. When the waitress escorted Andre to one table and me to another, we pitied her for her ignorance. When the mechanic refused to service our vehicle, we moved our business elsewhere. When Andre was defamed at work and offered no recourse, we swallowed our anger and bemoaned small town life. But when our children were born we could no longer simply joke about ignorant behaviors or tolerate inequality at work. Our precious children deserve better than that.

Shortly after Jacob started kindergarten we began receiving notes from his teacher, all assuming parental incompetence. In addition to urging us to read to Jacob for “just 5 minutes each night,” we were also cautioned to limit Jacob’s exposure to television, and to provide him a healthy diet, among other things. Though she did not know us, the teacher assumed our parenting skills were inadequate.

I met with the school principal to discuss the notes, which she quickly dismissed. The teacher was acting out of concern, the principal insisted, and I was over-reacting. In retrospect I should not have expected her to understand – she was the one who informed us Jacob was at a “high risk for failure.” Unprepared to fight this battle, we chose to ignore the teacher’s notes and continue parenting Jacob as we always had.

Andre and I are now more proactive regarding our children’s educations. At the start of the year we meet each of our children’s teachers to tell our story, beginning in the Bay Area where we received our educations and continuing to our present situation in Madison, Wisconsin. By the time we finish, the teachers know us well enough to refrain from applying stereotypical ideologies to our children or making uninformed assumptions about us as parents. Thankfully, both of our children are thriving in school – academically and socially.

Though I am concerned our children will suffer for having a white mother, I recognize that my race can work to their advantage. We are welcomed into places and conversations and afforded greater choices and opportunities due to my whiteness. Teachers and doctors, people who hold critical information, are generally more comfortable communicating with me than with my black husband. I am the primary driver in our family and do not fear racial profiling on the road. As long as our children are with me, I do not worry they will be attacked, physically or verbally.

Yet my whiteness will only benefit our children as long as they are dependent upon and near me. Eventually they will be functionally independent. Then when people look at Jacob with suspicion, whether a police officer, a college professor, or a vigilante citizen, Jacob will have to fend for himself. Under great pressure and amidst intense emotions, Jacob will be responsible for diffusing their anger by demonstrating that he does not warrant fear and is someone worth befriending rather than attacking.

While I still disagree with the school district’s assessment of Jacob, I now recognize a truth in their conclusion. Jacob is at a “high risk for failure” though not for anything he or we have done or failed to do. Jacob will likely experience failure in his life – we all do. Unlike Jacob’s white peers, however, his failure will be inseparable from an underlying narrative of antagonistic racial bias. This insidious evil, which began sabotaging Jacob’s potential before he could even write his entire name, will never just disappear. It is embedded in our institutions and communities, increasing peoples’ risk of failure by limiting their opportunities and choices. Racism, the underlying cause of racial disparities in incarceration, unemployment, poverty, and serious health conditions, justifies racial profiling and minimizes hate crimes. Whether or not Jacob recognizes it, he is in an abusive relationship with racism, from which there is no escape. Unprepared to battle this exhausting, humiliating, and dangerous intruder, we can only hope we are providing him the skills he needs to manage this relationship, so it is unable to consume his life, robbing him his true character and potential and ultimately rendering him a failure.

WARTBURG SEMINARY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY CONVOCATION 2014

Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament:

Welcome to our first convocation of the academic year. “Convocations” happen here at Wartburg at various times on topics that require—not simply disseminating information—but face-to-face conversation. These topics are typically not cut-and-dry issues, but matters of evolving, ongoing, dynamic conversation.

For many years Wartburg has hosted a convocation on “inclusive language.” This convocation is similar, but broader in focus. It entails not only concerns pertinent to inclusive language but also concerns pertinent to behavior and actions that foster genuine inclusion of “the other.”

Our language and our behavior do things, especially in community: by our words and actions, we consciously and unconsciously assume certain norms, characterize ourselves and our community ethos, and establish what is “normal,” acceptable, and appreciated. Sometimes we are deliberate about our words and actions, sometimes not so much.

This morning we have 6 individuals who will each speak for about 2 minutes on a particular issue that pertains to becoming an inclusive community.

– Hannah Benedict (concerning gender)
– Norma Cook Everist (concerning disabilities)
– Mack Patrick (concerning transgender)
– Stan Olson (concerning inclusive language for God)
– Gus Barnes (concerning race and sexual orientation)
– Susan Ebertz (concerning denominational backgrounds)

Afterward, we will dialogue with each other at our tables.

Hannah Benedict, Final Year M.Div. Student: 

I don’t think much about my gender. I don’t have a constant internal track going, “I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman.” I say this fully aware that as I say that, I wear a particular piece of attire typically attributed to one gender–yep, high heels, those tortuous devices woman can wear. But I don’t wear high heels because of my gender. I wear them because of my 5’3″ height. It’s logistics folks! I truly don’t pay attention to my gender much, until a moment about which I’m going to tell you:

At the end of internship, a congregation member came up to me with what she thought would be a compliment. She said, “At first we didn’t know how a lady intern would do, but you did great, honey!” Her pleasant surprise was my harsh realization. Not only might I need to consider my gender, but that others could see my gender as a detriment.

She wasn’t the first to share such reactions. Others, mostly women and women my age, shared similar reactions, “You wanna be a what? Sweetie, don’t you know you’re a lady?”

It’s not that I don’t know my gender. I am fully aware of it and others of my kind. I’m one of three sisters, (an aunt two nieces; women outnumber men in my family). I attended a women’s college—go Suzies—and chaired the feminist group. I got that I was a woman, through and through. But what I didn’t get was how this somehow made me any less effective or valuable.

Being a woman never stopped me from doing all that God called me to do. Being a woman never stopped me from being compassionate, courageous, strong, determined, and dedicated. Instead, being a woman, surrounded and supported by them, taught me how to be all these and more. My gender provides a particular perspective, one no less important than any other. From this vantage point, I can see who God makes me through the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In Christ, we are no longer male/female, gentile/Jewish, enslaved/free. We are God’s.  Gender may be part of my identity but it is not all of it. Yes, I’m a lady—and a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and, occasionally I wear heels.  But I am first and foremost a child of God.

Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration and Educational Ministry: 

I’m Norma Cook Everist, addressing living together with our abilities and disabilities. We are all differently abled. Wartburg is a caring community where people try to live thoughtfully, respectfully and in solidarity with people with disabilities.

How can we do this even better?

By really seeing each person, rather than pretending not to notice. By asking, rather than presuming a person’s need: “What is helpful to you?”

By using person-first language: Not “a blind person” but a “person who is blind.” I have a disability; I am not my disability.

And by using inclusive language in worship. Our ELW does not say, “Please stand,” words hard to hear for those who cannot. Thomas Schattauer and Melissa Waterman encourage us to motion with our hands when the congregation is to stand. People with disabilities who were on the hymnal planning committee encouraged, “The Assembly stands,” an inclusive phrase which means the congregation stands for those who cannot. We’ve been doing pretty well this fall. It is important we remember as we are formed as leaders for an inclusive church.

Inclusive language matters: So we motion, or we say, “The assembly stands,” or we say, “Please stand as you are able.”

Nicholas Rohde and I conferred, discovering we’ve both been tempted to respond when we hear, “Please stand”: “No thank you, I can’t.” Let’s try that. I’ll say, “Please stand,” and you respond, “No thank you. I can’t.” [The people at tables did.] Now say after me: “The Assembly stands.” [“The Assembly stands.”] “Please stand as you are able”   [“Please stand as you are able.”]

Thank you very much.

Mack Patrick, 1st Year M.Div. Student:

To start this conversation off, one must understand a few basic things about transgender. The first is that transgender is commonly spelled as trans*; this is an important piece in the trans* experience. The asterisk represents that trans* is a spectrum covering a wide variety of experiences. Some are a bit more clear-cut than others. There is the complete change over: Female to Male or Male to Female, but there is also the non-conforming, non-identifying side of gender.

Along with recognizing that trans* is a spectrum—and you may not always know how someone fully identifies—it is important to realize trans* are still people. Asking if they have surgery, or inquiring more about their chosen gender, is not cool and rather offensive. No one cares about your private parts. You should not ask those questions of those who are trans*. That is a private matter.

Pronouns identify who we are on a paper form, but correct use of pronouns is also a good way to show someone that you care about them and want them to be included in a community. While society has focused on the popular pronouns of male and female, there are yet two other known sets of pronouns that someone may identify with. One of those other sets is the gender neutral set. It is commonly used with individuals who do not identify with a specific gender. [This set includes:] Ze (zee) commonly referred to as the subject, Hir (here) known as the object and possessive adjective, and Hirs (heres) for the possessive pronoun. While these are not commonly known and used, as the popularity and acknowledgment of the gender-neutral pronoun grows, they will be used more often. It is completely acceptable to ask people what pronouns they prefer.

For someone who identifies as trans*, asking about pronouns is a great first step. Admitting that you have no clue what to do or say is good, but first and foremost ignore their gender and focus on the person. I know that hearing the correct pronouns being used when talking about me, is huge, as acceptance is growing. Even though I identify as trans*, I feel full included and accepted in the Wartburg Community. Inclusion starts with the ability to recognize you may encounter individuals in your community that are different from you. Take the first step and get to know them as a person.

Rev. Dr. Stan Olson, WTS President:

My privilege today is to talk with you a little about language for God. The topic of this convocation is inclusive language. I could talk about inclusive language for God, pointing to the importance of speaking of God in ways that allow all to be included.

I’ve given that talk. However, over the years I’ve concluded that it’s far better to speak of expansive language for God or, simply, appropriate language for God. Speaking appropriately of God is an expression of faithfulness.

Sixty years ago, J. B. Philipps wrote a book titled, Your God Is Too Small. He challenges the reader to think more expansively about God as made known in Jesus Christ, to embrace the depth of meaning. The book was very important in shaping my early thinking. I recently reread it and can’t now say that I commend the book to you. I do, however, commend the title. Let that title push you firmly as you do theology, preach, teach, counsel, write, and pray—your God is too small.

To embed this push in your thoughts, I invite you to shift from the second person pronoun and use this as a response: Our God is too small. Say it with me now, Our God is too small, and then in response.

If we speak of God using only a few of the words and images available, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the New Testament, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the Hebrew Bible, Our God is too small.

If our talk of God uses only masculine images and pronouns, or only feminine images and pronouns, or only combinations, Our God is too small.

If we limit our language for God only to words actually used in the Bible and neglect the church’s rich history of devotion and thought, Our God is too small.

If we casually and carelessly use familiar hymnic and devotional language that conveys limited or false images of God, Our God is too small.

If the God we convey seems distant and unknowable for any to whom we speak, Our God is too small.

If we think that God is ours alone, Our God is too small.

If we ever allow ourselves to think that we have arrived at language that is finally and completely appropriate, Our God is too small.

God is not too small!

Gus Barnes, 3rd Year M.Div. Student: 

I am Gus Barnes Jr. I am one of a kind, created by God and my parents. I am a fifty-three year old man in seminary. I am a tax-payer. I am a product of the sixties. Here is the shocker surprise: I am an openly Gay African American man. In my time in this temporal place we call earth, I have had many doors shut in my face because of the things that describes who Gus is. Here at Wartburg Seminary I assume when people speak of Gus being Gay, it’s because often I am happy as Gus; I am welcomed here as Gus.

I am thrilled to have lived a lifetime to see a Black President in office, and this week I met the ELCA’s first openly Gay Bishop. The ELCA has struggled with sexuality issues. And after its decision in 2009 to be more open to gays and lesbians serving in ministerial leadership, it has lost many congregations. Sadly I am reminded daily when I look in the mirror as I prepare my day that I need to ask,”What doors will be opened, and which doors will be shut because of who Gus is?” Spend some time to get to know me and others. I promise if you stay out of my closet, I’ll stay out of yours!

Susan Ebertz, Director of the Reu Memorial Library and Assistant Professor of Bibliography and Academic Research:

I’m speaking on inclusion of a variety of denominational backgrounds. I think that there is only one student here who is not Lutheran and she is a TEEM student. I think I am the only faculty member who is not Lutheran. There are a number of the staff who are not Lutheran. I mention this because sometimes it is easy for some of us to forget that not all of us are Lutheran.

At one time we had more non-Lutherans here. The other faculty member and the students would talk with me about some of their experiences. I’m not at liberty to share those stories. It wasn’t a secret club but it did create a bond between us.

I don’t think that the difference in denominational backgrounds is as hurtful as other sorts of discriminations. If we all realize that not everyone speaks Lutheranese and not all of us believe Lutheran theology, we go a long way into including those of other denominations.

I know that some of you grew up in a different denomination and the transition to Lutheran theology may be difficult. I think it is important for you to know and understand Lutheran theology and to live into that. That is okay. That is not what I’m talking about.

Many of you will be ministering in communities where you will need to work with ecumenical partners. Understanding what they believe or how they “do worship” can be an important learning experience while you are in seminary. Figure out ways to experience that.

If you want to talk more, I welcome conversation with you.

Table Question for Communal Conversation:

  1. When have you experienced “exclusion” in a community or church setting?
  2. What practices have you observed to be some of the most helpful for facilitating authentic inclusion and openness in faith communities? How have they worked?
  3. As leaders, how can we go about being allies or advocates in the communities we serve for inclusion concerning some of the issues named this morning?
  4. As leaders, what do you think will be some of the most pressing issues of inclusion for which we will need to be advocates in our unfolding ministries?

You may also appreciate the following previously published posts:


ME & MY COLLAR

Submitted to The Persistent Voice by Rebecca Crystal, Unitarian Universalist MDiv Intern, written by one of the women clergy with whom she works in Houston, TX.

You may run into me on a Friday, in my neighborhood, so it’s time I let you know what you might see.

When I was doing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my supervisor suggested that any of us who came from traditions where a clerical collar was an option, take one “collar week,” to see how we were treated, as opposed to wearing regular professional clothes.

After a couple of days, I joked to the Catholic priest, “How do you manage the power?”

In regular clothes, I would walk into a patient’s room, and it would take about 5 or so minutes of introductions and pleasantries before we could really get down to talking about their feelings, their fears, the deep stuff.

With most people, as soon as that clerical collar walked in the room, with me attached, they began pouring out all the heavy stuff they were carrying.

I was riding the bus back and forth every day, and though not quite so dramatic, the collar effect was alive there, too. More people would chat with me, and they’d get “real” faster. Rarely was “How’s it going?” answered with a polite, “Fine,” as normally happened. People spoke about having a stressful time at work, or how they couldn’t find their cat, or their joy because someone special was coming in town.

It was great … and it was exhausting. At the end of the week, I confided to my CPE team that I was glad to take off the collar. As long as it was on, I was “on.”

I never expected to wear one as a Unitarian Universalist minister, unless I was doing social witness.

That’s the norm. We wear it in those situations because it’s important to give a message that religious professionals are there, especially when so many times, (LGBTQ issues, reproductive health), the impression is that religion is only on the conservative side.

A few of my colleagues wear it, though, especially my good friend Rev. Ron Robinson, who wears it around Turley, where he runs a missional community. And the Humiliati wore it as part of their practice.

It Started As an Experiment.

There’s a lot of “conventional wisdom” about the collar, among UU ministers. One that I heard many times is that it will turn people off, it will be a barrier. So after I was ordained, I decided to experiment. I would wear it out in my neighborhood, and keep a log of my interactions. I was just curious.

The first two or three times, I noticed some small things — it seemed that people, especially among the more economically or otherwise marginalized communities — were a little friendlier, a little more open to talking. But the collar has its effect on me, too, and perhaps I was just being friendlier myself?

The more definable result were the conversations I had with other women — especially younger women — about the collar. Was I a priest? No, a minister? A woman … how did that work? What did people call me?

Well, I do live in the Bible Belt.

And Became An Act of Social Witness.

I wasn’t doing it on any regular basis, I must admit. In regular clothes, I have the privilege of being invisible. But these questions, about being a women and a minister, prompted me to occasionally go out in my collar, in the community.

One day, I had to run several errands, including a trip to the post office. I kicked my rear (not literally, I’m not that flexible), put on the collar, and went about them.

At the post office, I futzed around awkwardly, looking for the right size box. The clerk at the counter waved me over, asked if he could assist me. He advised me on a cheaper way to ship, and helped me assemble the package. His co-worker joked, asking if I could give him holy water. The clerk said, “I don’t need that, but would you pray for me?” I smiled and said, Yes, and asked his name. His co-worker said to pray for her, too. I asked her name. When I left, I said, “Thank you, Ray.” And came home and prayed for Ray and Naomi.

So, It Developed Into A Spiritual Practice.

The spirit was willing, but the self-consciousness made me weak. It’s just so much easier to be invisible. I’d go out sporadically,  have an experience that made me mentally promise to be more regular about it … but life just keeps happening, busy schedules, things to make happen, ministry to do …

And then I heard about a teen in my area, who was gradually coming out as gay, exploring trans*. Hadn’t told their parents, don’t know how they’ll react. Someone told this teen about Unitarian Universalism – they went online, read about it, and were blown away that not all faiths are anti-gay.

In some places, this is still a shockingly new idea that people have never heard of.

There is a Starbucks across the street from my kids’ high school, where they often congregate after school. I decided I’d collar up with a rainbow flag pin on my shirt. I didn’t expect any teen would talk to me — I’m still an adult, after all. But I figured I could sit by the door, just taking care of some work on my computer, and maybe, just maybe, the juxtaposition of the collar and the pin might introduce the idea into some teen’s head that “Hey, maybe religion and gay aren’t enemies.” Maybe even, “Hey. Maybe Goddoesn’t hate me.”

So, I didn’t expect any confirmation. But sometimes we do things, even aware we’ll never know if it made a difference. That’s faith, I guess.

I was waiting for my lime refresher when the girl standing next to me said, “I like your flag pin.”

She said it, but her face looked doubtful. It was one of those rare times when I’m pretty sure I could read her thoughts. Does she know what that pin she’s wearing actually means?

I smiled at her. “I think it’s important, especially in this area, to send a message.”

I watched her eyes bounce back and forth between the pin and my collar.

“Are you a priest?”

“I’m a minister, a Unitarian minister. We’re an LGBT-friendly church.” I rethought the words. “Mmm, LGBT-welcoming?”

“LGBT-friendly is a good term,” she said. She squinted at me. “You mean, your church is okay with gay people?”

“Mmm-hmm. Some of our ministers are gay, too.”

She blinked and it seemed apparent this was a brand new idea. We had a conversation of a couple of minutes as she clarified that yes, I really meant it, it was fine to be gay at a Unitarian Universalist church.

“What’s the name of your church? My mom has been wanting to go to a church.”

I told her, and mentioned another in the area.

She repeated that her mom wanted to find a church. “We’ve been to a couple of churches … but the kids were mean to me. Because I’m gay.”

Deep breath.

I told her that I was so sorry. That that should never happen at a church. That it would not be tolerated at one of our churches. Not at my church, I emphasized, conscious of the collar I wore, conscious that it represented, to her, an authority far beyond me.

She asked if I could write down the name of my church. I handed her a business card. She read it slowly, standing there.

“I’m Joanna,” I said, shaking her hand.

“I’m —-,” she said, shaking my hand, looking me straight in the eyes.

That’s When it Became a Discipline. 

Every Friday afternoon, that’s where I am. I take my ipad, catch up on emails and whatnot.

What makes that a spiritual discipline? my mentor asked.

Presence.

Awareness.

As I mentioned, when I started my St. Arbucks ministry, my only thought was about presence. And I still think that’s important. It’s not about me being there. I am merely representing something — church, God, religion, spirit. With a message of inclusion.

But my experiences have taught me that it’s not just enough for my body to be present, I have to be fully aware. Which frankly, is not always one of my strengths, especially if I’m working on something else. I can have deep conversations with someone and after they leave, if you ask me whether they were wearing glasses, or wearing a red shirt, I’ll look at you blankly. Not very observant.

It’s like an exercise in spiritual peripheral vision. Being casual, certainly not staring at people as they walk in … yet being aware, so that if someone wants to begin a conversation, I’m open and willing. It’s not easy. My own teen was sitting near me one Friday and hissed, “MOM! That guy just said he liked your pin!”

I missed it.

And that’s usually how the conversation begins. “I like your pin,” they say. Sometimes, that’s the end of the conversation. Sometimes not. “I like your pin,” said a boy the other day. “Thank you,” I said. He turned to a girl sitting by him. “She’s a minister, but she likes gays.” The girl smiled at me, and with a British accent told me that in her country, gay marriage was legal now. We talked a bit, the three of us.

I often wear the pin on regular clothes. I get smiles, but it’s not the same.

It’s the collar and the pin. Religion and inclusiveness. God and gay.