By Jenny Sung and Jessica Harren
Jessica writes: #decolonizelutheranism is like breathing for me. It is the place in the church that feels, looks, hears, and listens the most closely to the ways I imagine the kin-dom of God. — cisgender middle class white woman, bisexual, lives with disability, Pastor, receptacle for the Holy Spirit (on good days)
Jenny writes: #decolonizelutheranism #decolonizethebase event was not at all what I had anticipated. The experience went deeper than concepts and information sharing. This experience reached down into the guts of healing and somehow. . . made me feel whole. -intern pastor, Korean adoptee, cisgender woman, and dancer with the triune God.
Why are we sharing together and separately? We both recently attended #decolonizethebase by #decolonizelutheranism at LSTC in Chicago. We come from different social locations, and are working on our own and each other’s liberation in some different ways. And yet, we came together to learn about healing, trauma, and faith-based organizing.
Base Christian Community training drew on the work of Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier and Rev. Alexia Salvatierra to teach us how to learn ways of being community, ways of organizing community, and ways of creating community from the perspectives of those most vulnerable and marginalized in the world. This is what it means to decolonize: that our brains, our emotions, our bodies, our patterns, our worldviews, our structures, our politics, our economies, our churches, our institutions, and even our relationships with the Divine Trinity — find new ways of being, new ways of doing things, ways that are the opposite of supporting the oppression of others.
So many things we’ve been taught, especially as white people, are rooted in oppressive ways of doing things. This process is so sneaky that we often do not recognize it, or know that we are operating in that way. We are taught by the world to think in terms of oppressor and oppressed, even if we’ve never named it or realized it before. We all have behavior and thought patterns that we think are normal and just how the world is supposed to work. We often think of ourselves as good people without realizing that some of what we consider normal might be hurting others. We do not need to feel guilt or shame about this, but it does help to name it as a reality and to work to find new ways of being that are about hope, love, listening, and healing.
Base Christian Communities offer us hope that once we learn new ways of being and communicating with one another, we can operate in ways that heal and transform, instead of ways that accidentally oppress others, even if we do not mean to do so. We learned that trauma happens for many. In faith-rooted organizing, in Base Christian Communities, healing from the oppressive systems of harm happen along with organizing to overwhelm the systems of hate and division with love. They are places where all people are seen, heard, and accepted, and places that offer healing to all.
That said, sometimes, the work of healing from trauma looks a little different for those in different social locations (that means your gender, class, trauma history, economic reality, religion, and sexuality). “The journey from ‘I’ to ‘We’ is the journey of liberation for people who have known privilege,” was taught to us by Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra. And yet, she makes more than enough room for that healing to happen. For those who already live under oppression, the journey is from object to subject.
It is important to note that in a decolonized space, attention is paid to different details then in most white middle class communities, such as the majority of the ELCA. In white spaces, we have observed that there is attention to time, schedules, perfection, and lack of errors. These are normal traits of whiteness. (If you want to learn more, read here.) In this space, a space that was run by Latina women and attended by mostly People of Color, people who are LGBTQIA+, and those with disabilities, different things mattered. Attention to healing matters. Attention to space matters. The reason this training felt so different from others we have attended is that there is room for our entire beings in this space, and we don’t have to all be the same.
For those of us with disabilities, the space was made as accessible as possible. There were lounge chairs in the back for those who needed to be in different physical positions to participate. There was a low sensory room so those who needed a break had a quiet space.
The attention to space translated to emotional and physical space as well. In the very opening activity, as amazing music was being led by the musicians, we were given flowers, chocolate, and apples/oranges and told “You are welcome here.” There were also spaces designated around the room for various things: The Wall of Life was a place where ivy hung, and a place to go to pray, meditate, to be prayed for, and to pray for others. The River of Life was in the baptismal font, where one could go to be washed and remember their baptism. It also provided a nice sensory experience, as many people ended up in the pool barefoot by the end. The Altar was the place of release — the place to leave things behind that are hurting us.
Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazer invited us into groups to make human sculptures of healing with our bodies. She set the scene by sharing a story about chickens who were tied up together waiting to be slaughtered. A person came by and purchased the chickens so they could wander and be free, however once the animals were free they chose to stay exactly as they were because it was all they ever knew. They kept walking circles around the pole, even when they were no longer tied to it.
Our bodies hold trauma and pain in ways that are sometimes hard to access. Having a space where we could give our bodies a new story was healing, to receive healing from one another was powerful. Many of the groups used images of connectedness, of being known, being open, and touch.
Within my group (Jenny) there were three of us. From a circular shape we wrapped one arm around one another and used our other arm to open and close, extending farther beyond the circle each time. Healing happens in waves crashing from one expansion of growth to the next in community with others and our triune God.
I (Jessica) was in a group with two others. After talking, we discovered that each of us have different things that need healing. For example, I can not carry anything heavy because of back issues, but I help can carry the grief of others to God. Our sculpture assumed that healing was careful and circular. You can heal parts of me, and I can heal parts of you, and together, we are beautiful.
Over the course of the training, we also learned that being #decolonized often means letting ourselves be uncomfortable. To make room for those who operate best in a right brain way (creative, visual, artistic, nonlinear) and a left brain way (organized, linear, often academic learning) sometimes we have to be uncomfortable. To make room for both introverts and extroverts sometimes we had to sit in silence, and other times we were invited to share. There was truly room for everyone, and it is was somehow ok and even healing to allow ourselves that time to be uncomfortable for the sake of our siblings in Christ. There was great freedom in knowing that we all belonged and that there was room for all of us.
Rev. Alexia Salvatierra taught us tools to build authentic base communities. One tool offered was the echo chamber. The process begins by someone sharing their story of unnecessary and unjust suffering. Before they tell the story, the listeners are instructed to listen with their whole hearts. In each of us whenever we are made to feel small our “cry” grows. The echo chambers give space for us to release some of our cry. She was very careful to say that people need to have time to build trust with one another, and that the training did not offer enough time. However, due to some great relationships made during the training, and our learning to trust one another, several women agreed to try it at night after the training. We agreed that we trusted one another, had built relationships, and shared our #metoo stories using some of what Rev. Salvatierra taught us.
Often times when sharing stories of trauma or unjust suffering the person sharing laughs. This usually signals there is denial and instead of leaning away and laughing with the person, the group is taught to lean in. This deep listening, and refusal to lean away gives the sharer space to process and let out some of their cry. Given the amount of material we were covering during the seminar we were not able to practice the echo chamber with one another. To do this well, it requires the space of time so that those sharing can take as much time needed to let their cry out. We ended up organically doing some of this the evening after the training had ended. It was powerful, connecting, and wonderful.
Once we have experienced this liberating group work our hearts begin to do something brave. We begin to hope. That is a very fragile moment in the process. We begin to encounter hope in our inner life, our intimate life, and our mission in the world. We begin to feel a stirring and desire to leap forward. As we do, we hear a whisper in our minds and hearts. The whisper echos the words said to us, or read that caused a lie to form in our spirit. These curses make it hard to go where God is calling.
It is said the rainforest holds the antidote to every disease. With each curse God gives us a blessing, a divine word. We were then given space to write the curse we hear most often, and then on a seperate piece of paper we wrote out the antidote, the truth that tells you the curse is a lie. We entered into our small groups. Everyone was encouraged to share their curse. After their curse was read out loud, the person sharing had to tear up the curse. This was critically important. Then they read their blessing.
In my (Jenny) small group I shared my curse. I am too much, and at the same time, I am not enough. As I shared this I realized this lie invites me into living small. Don’t be brave because you are already too much, and even if you did choose to be brave you wouldn’t have enough of what it takes to make a difference.
“I have all I need. I am enough. I am whole. I am healed.” To have space to be this honest, and brave turned that flicker of hope into a holy unleashing of liberation!
#decolonizelutheranism gave us an experience of what is at stake if we do not #decolonizelutheranism. If we do not give voice to the architecture of who we fully are as Lutherans.
One of our final activities involved Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier laying on the floor while the outline of her body was traced. She then invited each of us to put our initials onto the body outline. We were instructed to share why we chose the two spots we did, which part of the Body of Christ we use for the church. Jessica chose bone marrow and kidneys. She is ready to filter the oppressiveness out of Lutheranism, and hopes to help create more red blood cells to breath new life and oxygen into the ELCA. She said she thought she could help raise up other leaders, especially those on the margins, by supporting them. Having more leaders (red blood cells) from many different social locations is important to the kin-dom of God, and also important for the future of the ELCA.
Overall, the training was inspiring and healing. We learned so much more than we can put down in just one article. We would like to encourage everyone to attend Base Community training if it is offered again. There was so much room for all of us. We had a model whereby some people journey from “I” to “we” and others journey from “object” to “subject”. We healed one another, honored one another, and made space for every kind of person. Please consider learning more in the resources below.
More Resources — While you can learn much from books and articles, there is something so powerful about being at an event like this in person. Please consider attending #decolonize18, as the written word will never help you experience being surrounded by healing love with room for everyone.
- Read this article from We Talk, We Listen where the event coordinator shares about the training from his perspective.
- Faith-Rooted Organizing by By Rev Alexia Salvatierra, Peter Heltzel
- The Gospel in Solentiname by By Ernesto Cardenal, Donald D. Walsh (Translator)
- A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation by Rev. By Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, S. Steve Kang, Gary A. Parrett
- White Supremacy Culture by by Tema Okun . dRworks . www.dismantlingracism.org
- Jessica has found this resource to be incredibly helpful at relaxing into and learning from these experiences, such as base community training, as they come. She has had to work hard to have different expectations of events that run with a worldview of love and inclusion. When she goes in knowing that many of the traits in this article will be absent, she can learn more fully.