Tag Archives: race

FROM FERGUSON: TWO INTERVIEWS WITH REV. RICK BRENTON, WTS GRADUATE, by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

December, 2014:

Rev. Richard Brenton, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, Mo, (WTS 2010) in a telephone interview, said, “People are in need of ministry and are asking difficult questions. My calling is to walk with them.” He reported then that he was just beginning to feel how tired he was. “It’s been like living in a fish bowl” since August 15, 2014 when Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

After the shooting, Pastor Brenton along with other clergy marched with the protestors. Thousands of people marched. The clergy took toiletries and food with them for the protestors who came not only from the area but from across the country. In late November, after the release of the Grand Jury decision, Zion provided safe Sanctuary. Rick said he stayed at the church and kept the doors open. This sanctuary also provided legal observers and medical help. Many people came through, engaging also in important conversation.

Zion Lutheran, is “quite conservative,” with many white members now over 65 or 75, said Pastor Brenton. “Most of them think all of this will ‘go away’ when ‘things quiet down.’ The congregation is 25% African American, most in their middle adult years. Their children and grandchildren make up the youth in the congregation. They see things differently.” Rick tries to help the people see that “change is among us.” He knows his calling is to minister to the entire congregation and that this is a challenge. “It creates a delicate tension, a fine line.” The people within the congregation love one another. Rick said, “Loving care is central.”

Rick added, “There is not division or conflict within the congregation. We have strong relationships. Everyone knows everyone in the congregation.” It’s the people that the white folks don’t know that causes generalizations from the old white guard. We hear words such as “those people” and “those protestors.” And “those blacks.”

Rick has completed four years as pastor at Zion and trust has grown over those years. He has long been part of the Ferguson Ministerial Alliance.

March, 2015:

With the release of the U.S. Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, there is “renewed angst and denial,” said Pastor Brenton, in another phone call interview. “People don’t want to face the truth. Over the years they have allowed this to happen, have become used to it, and don’t want to admit that it’s real.” The evening of the interview Rick was going to ask the Church Council to provide some open forums for the congregation. “We need an atmosphere of trust,” said Rick, “because the issues are very polarizing. It’s like going through stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, blaming and depression.” They say, “We’ve read all about it and we don’t want to talk about it anymore.” They are shutting down. It has been overwhelming all these months. Overload. With the spotlight of the nation on them again, Rick said, “We have to interpret the events in the light of the Gospel.”

They need to know that systemic racism is everywhere, not just in Ferguson, so that they can feel not just shame, but Christ’s suffering for all on the cross. This has been especially important when headlines lately have compared the shooting of an unarmed young black man in Wisconsin to them, saying, “Madison handled it better than Ferguson.” Comparisons are not the point. There is justice work to do in every community. Religious leadership is important wherever one receives a call.

When asked how he was doing personally, Rick said, “Some days are fine; others are a real struggle. It’s a challenge to say the least.” He added, “It is important to stay close to Christ and to Christ’s journey.”

Now well into his 5th year he knows the congregation and the community and understands that people hold on to their old ways of adapting to injustices around them. Now feeling judged by the Justice Department Report and the nation, the issues are not being dispelled, but amplified. There is both shame and sentiments of, “You are running down our town.” Pastor Brenton said, “The African Americans at Zion are much in tune with the Gospel, very understanding and forgiving. But how much longer are they going to feel comfortable attending Zion?”

Rick is trying to minister to the white members of the congregation and to support the African American members (He also feels support from them.) We referenced the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which thousands walked over recently marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In some ways, Rick is also a bridge himself. He added, “And I feel the footprints on my back.” He gave thanks for the support of his bishop and for many friends through Facebook. He added that his education at Wartburg had been one of God’s deepest blessings to him.

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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?

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DISCERNMENT IN SLUMBER by Christa Fisher, M.Div. Junior

 The curriculum and faculty of Wartburg Seminary are constantly challenging us to broaden our awareness of the human experience and recognize the danger of assuming our experiences are the norm that should be applied universally.   At the same time, we are challenged to effectively communicate the message of Scripture in a contextually relevant way to a wide variety of people, without diluting the message. How do we meet this challenge when there are an infinite number of “others” and our grasp of the human condition is limited to our own experiences?   I recently had a dream which wove together complex ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, class, language, identity and reverence for the Word of God.  I understand this dream to have been my psyche attempting to process these complicated ideas. However, I wonder if it might have also been a visual representation of my calling within the Church?  While the location, languages, and people of my dream are quite specific, the message and themes could be applied to most any situation.  Imagine yourself as the main character of this dream.  What aspects of this dream resonate with you?  In what ways would your dream be different? 

Loaded down with many heavy bags, I slowly venture into the church where I have been invited to serve as a guest preacher.  It will be my first time giving a sermon.  Meeting me at the door, the junior pastor introduces himself to me and quickly leads me to the sanctuary, where I take my seat in a side pew and wait for the service to begin.

Midway through the greeting I realize I do not have a copy of my sermon and cannot recall the sermon text.  Anxiety sets in.  Am I to preach on a text from 1 John?  Is 1 John even in the Bible?  Am I unable to recall 1 John because it does not exist or because I am biblically illiterate?  How can I give a sermon on a text I can’t remember?  I assure myself it would be alright.  The Bible on the lectern will be open to the sermon text.  There is no need to panic. 

Looking at the assembly I note that the congregation is divided into three sections.  The right-side consists of Spanish-speaking immigrants and first-generation families.  There are men, women, and children of all ages dressed in faded blue jeans, plaid oxford shirts, polka-dot dresses, tan polyester pants and mid-riff tops.  “Don’t forget these people,” I tell myself.  “Make sure the sermon speaks to their situation.”

Taking a deep breath, I prepare to read the sermon text.  To my surprise and bewilderment the Bible is in Spanish, a language I do not speak.  What am I to do?  I look to my host for clues and he motions for me to read from another Bible. The lectern is a light-pine, circular kitchen table, much like the table my parents have in their dining room, and it is covered with a multitude of Bibles.

Selecting another Bible, I once again look at the congregation.  This time I focus on the center section of the assembly which consists of white, Midwestern men and women, old and young, wearing sweater vests and blazers, slacks and pant suits, blue jeans and Green Bay Packer shirts.  “Remember these people”, I tell myself, “make sure the sermon has relevance for them.” 

I open the Bible, only to discover it is a Children’s Bible.  If 1 John is a biblical text, it will likely not be in this Bible.  Or, if it is, it will be an illustrated paraphrase in a juvenile vocabulary.  This will not work. 

Taking a deep breath, I select another Bible.  Before opening it, I again turn my attention to the congregation.  This time I see African-American women, men, and children, in elegant dresses, pressed suits, polished shoes, and fancy hats.  With conviction, I tell myself “Remember these people; speak to them.” 

Looking down, I realize a dish towel is hanging from my cincture.  It is a damp, wrinkled white towel with blue stripes.  I have no idea where it is from but feel strongly that it needs to be part of my message.  The towel serves as a reminder of the women in the assembly.  “Don’t forget the women.  Don’t forget you are a woman.  Speak from your experience.  Speak the truth.” 

All of these people are sitting, waiting for me to tell them something important.  Something which will change their lives.  They deserve to hear something fresh and meaningful – not a regurgitation of something they already know.  They yearn to know Christ in a way which offers them wholeness and shalom.  With my dish towel in hand, standing at this holy kitchen table, amidst a community of individuals united in their Christian heritage, I decide to tell them a different story.  I will tell them John’s story of the Adulterous Woman.  Though this story is not part of the lectionary calendar, it is an important story.  It is a story of liberation and life.  Liberation from the restrictive judgments, identities, and expectations imposed upon us and which we impose on others. Life reclaimed through the practice of a perpetual and intentionally intimate relationship with God.  These are important messages for all people.  People who may impose judgment on others and people whose lives are dictated by such judgments.  People in need of the unconditional and life-affirming love of God.   

Once again, imagine yourself the main character of this dream.  What would words of liberation and life would you offer this assembly of people, each uniquely shaped by their life experiences, yet united as heirs of Christ?