Decolonize the Body of Christ

Guest post from LSTP seminarian Lindsey Beukelman for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which falls this year on the same week as Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday in our liturigcal calendar.

This is a very important time in the church year.  Many church have just listened to the disciples staring in wonder at a dazzling Jesus, proclaimed as the Son of God.  We have buried the Alleluias and have started our walk toward the familiar season of Lent.  However, this year the beginning of our Lenten journey also coincides with another week long journey I walk each year, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

In May 2012, my life took a dramatic turn when I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder and began treatment with The Emily Program, an amazing holistic recovery community in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Now make no mistake, this eating disorder of mine was nothing new and likely isn’t even something that would sound terribly foreign to most people across the country.  This monster has consumed the majority of my life, convincing me that the self-inflicted harm of extreme diets, constant rumination around exercise and what counts as good food or bad food are imperative.  My eating disorder convinced me that if I could just lose more weight, eat the perfect meal, or make sure I was involved in enough sports I would be thin enough, beautiful enough, worth enough.

This is a painfully recognizable story in our culture.  In the U.S. alone, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer with diagnosed eating disorders and anorexia is the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.  And even with that knowledge we are surrounded by a culture that glorifies the one particular body, the body that upholds and perpetuates the values of the empire.  Thin, white, perfectly sculpted, and blemish/ailment-free bodies are traded like currency in an effort to grasp for status, happiness, and success.  And for those of us whose bodies fall outside of these parameters, frankly we’re just shit outta luck.

While this whole system of ranking bodies in our culture is utterly horrific and in deep need of decolonization, it is not the most painful part for me.  The far more real and far more damaging part to me as a fat woman, as a person struggling with the bondage of an eating disorder, is this… the church has often been one of the most unsafe places for me.  Rather than pushing away the empire’s view of body in favor of the body of Christ, I have witnessed a church that clings to cultural distortions and then couches their diets and body perfection in theological jargon and scriptural gymnastics.

I come to church hoping to feel safe to share my brokenness and pain with my siblings in Christ, but instead often feel ignored, or deemed less faithful or competent because of how I look.  I come to church hoping to feel welcomed into community, I have found myself surrounded by food while being subjected to our cultural body shaming track about what we should eat, shouldn’t eat, our current diet, or what we will have to do to make up for that cookie or full-fat creamer.  I come to church hoping to encounter God’s unconditional love for me just as I am, but often find myself tangled in a web of law, especially during the season of Lent when we glorify acts of self-denial as the holiness that will bring you closer to Jesus. While I believe that just about anything can work as a genuine and faithful practice for someone, I firmly believe that because of our cultural climate, much of our Lenten language does more harm than good.
Clergy types spend a whole lot of time circling around language fasting and “self emptying” during Lent.  We stand behind our pulpits and Bibles, looking down at the congregation while yelling “REPENT” like we are some kind of extra holy modern day John the Baptist.  Christians spend much of Lent finding ways to hold on to their failed New Year’s Resolution, convinced that this time will be more successful because Jesus is behind it.  We talk of repentance as if everyone is unaware of their shortcomings and their need for control.  I am deeply and painfully aware of the ways my desire for control can keep me captive and the very last thing I should do with that is further self-denial.  Lent is not just about a sanctioned time of corporate shaming.  When we lean too heavily on language and actions of guilt, we twist the pain and dehumanization of the empire into the eucharist, serving up a cultural agenda rather than the life transforming and life sustaining body of Christ.

We have been given a gift, Church.  Our scriptures are absolutely overflowing with a wealth of counter cultural body positive messages.  Our theology is incarnational!  We worship Jesus who slipped into a human body as God with us.  We are reminded of the importance of all members of the body, each with their own structure and purpose, but all imperative to the body’s ability to function in the world.  We are called to a table to taste the goodness of God.  When intertwined with a world that shames, excludes and tears down, living an embodied faith can be painful and complicated.  The whole church will never approach the table all in the same way.  As people come to receive ashes this week, some will already be far more aware of the frailty and “betrayal” of their body than any smudge or pray could remind them of.  So, in this season Lent, let’s explore ways that finding our way back to God might actually look like living into the fullness of who we are claimed as in the waters of baptism.  Let’s lean more heavily on language that builds up, that acknowledges our flaws but looks for daily ways to name God at the center of our lives.  Let us find our way back to a whole and beautiful vision of the body of Christ; a living, breathing, diverse witness of God’s love in action!



Lindsey Beukelman is a ELCA candidate for ministry finishing up her senior year at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and preparing for her capstone internship.  She is loves drawing/painting, being outside, and snuggling on the couch with her fabulous partner Brady and fluffy pets.

Dear Church: Why Some Folks Are So Threatened By #decolonizelutheranism?

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglass

Greetings Church. It’s been a little bit and so much has happened. First #decolonize16 has happened. For all those who attended, watched online, supported in spirit, or donated, thank you. You have my heartfelt gratitude. Often I have felt the urging of the Holy Spirit, but I have ignored Her urgings. Y’all didn’t. Simply put you are my hero’s.

Second, during #decolonize16 we proposed 11 mid-term goals for the movement.  I must be honest I’m loathe to propose midterm goals because liberation is not a check list. Also, often with a check list its easy for the dominant culture to write you off after all is “accomplished.”

Here is a link if you haven’t seen them yet.

 

Third, we announced that #decolonize17 will be at United Seminary. That’s the artist formerly known as The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia to you. Here is a Link to that.

 

Today I want to address something that has been happening since the beginning. Since the birth of this movement within our beloved church. Resistance. At first it was blatant and easy to dismiss.

“A bunch of social justice warriors.”

As someone who has experienced first-hand most the things I write, preach or talk about, that one is the worse. I advocate for the prisoner because I was one. I advocate for the poor and marginalized because I spent years in West Philly praying for a meal at night and over a decade homeless. I talk about #blacklives because I’m living one.  I’m doing this in a country where it has little to no worth attributed to large portions of the population. I could go on, but I always find it disingenuous in the extreme when it comes from mostly white pastors. These same folks  who would lock their car doors in the neighborhood I grew up in. Lower their eyes as they drove through scared to make eye contact with folks. Cowards. Even the POC ones who have something to say negative. Comments like this dismiss my lived experience as some political platform rather than the bloodied and bruised body of Christ my experience is.

Or the communal experience of millions like me stretching back to the Atlantic slave trade.

It is the language of white supremacy couched in church polity.

It is the boot of oppression painted to look like an altar rail.

It is the self-inflicted wounds of other marginalized folks who have come to accept the dominant culture as the only one they have ever known or is right.

This doesn’t mean I don’t think critique is critical. We are discussing something else here, but I’ll get to that.

 

“Why are you Lutheran then?”

It’s funny you know we are so proud of being the first to protest the Church and survive. To thrive. But 500 years later we have become the people who sell indulgences to get butts in the pew. The indulgences look different. They may be shaped like an LBW and a church bully we refuse to battle because of how much they tithe. It may be our portico retirement we aren’t willing to risk by “preaching about another thug’s death.”

“This seems like a bunch of seminarians whining”

Let me translate this for you. You mean the future of the Church, you claim to love. By the way, so was Seminex. We are also PHD’s and Rostered Leaders, and even have the interest and support of a few Bishops but don’t let that stop you. Ageism looks good on you.

 

I could go on but these are examples of blatant resistance. I can only relate this next thing to my lived experience with liberation but the next step will be subtler. It is theological gas lighting, and ecclesiastical dog whistling.

 

It will perhaps look like this. “When was the Gospel about diversity?”

This statement is so intellectually dishonest I’m not even going give it a go. I would suggest this person read about Jesus. Or Acts. Or anything Paul wrote. I mean its stunning in its lack of hermeneutical understanding.

This is the next stage, seemingly innocent comments that don’t mention #decolonize directly but get to the heart of it. Why? Why dog whistle now?

Fear.

 

The edifice is falling. We are rooted in the Gospel, the Augsburg Confessions and the liturgical calendar. Our deep love and abiding respect for the Church is clear to anyone who cares to be honest with themselves and all that is left is fear. Fear that the brown folk maybe taking over. Fear that the queer folk you have lambasted from the pulpit may be your Bishop. Fear that the changes reflected in an ever increasingly diverse and richly beautiful society may be happening in your congregation.

 

You have been begging for the millennials, and the nones, and the unchurched to show up.

They are here.

They are the most interconnected, inclusive generation this country has ever seen and they have seen through your thinly veiled hatred and scriptural warping.

They will be the candidacy committee. They are already on your synod council. They have been elected to Church wide positions.

I think the real fear is they may actually let Jesus in the door.

Lenny Duncan 

 

 

 

You don’t see color.

Yo, homes, lemme holla atcha for a minute.
I gotta tell you a secret.
Shh, com’ere.

your brother’s blood is calling out to you from the ground, but you can’t hear it, because your ears are attached to your eyes, and well,
You “don’t see color.”

You don’t see color.
You don’t see me in all my caramel macciato with an extra shot of mocha deliciousness.
You don’t see me.

You don’t see color, so I know for damn sure that you don’t see my coffee, chocolate, chicory-colored brethren as their blood is pouring out on the ground.

Because their pants sagged
Because their music was too loud.
Because their hoodie made them look like a hood rat.

Because they wouldn’t shut their uppity mouths and just go along to get along.
Because race doesn’t matter, because you don’t see color, because its not discrimination-it’s just that their skin probably blended in too well with the color of the pavement, yeah?

You don’t see color.
Can you see the Son of Man,
See his feet approaching in all their terrifying burnished bronze loveliness?
See that mighty sword he’s got for a tongue?
Nah, me neither.  I think maybe I could? A long long time ago? But, nah-I forgot how.

You don’t see color.
You don’t hear the whispers of your brother’s blood.
“Sing me the song of your people!” You cry.
Siyahamba! Alabare!  We’ll get tambourines and whatnot! You people like tambourines, don’t you?
But not too often. Don’t get used to it. Not often enough that it starts to feel normal. Not often enough that these words, these shouts, these songs might be coming from God’s lips. That’s just a bridge too far.

So we won’t.  We’ll just gather ourselves, our chocolate, caramel, chicory, coffee-colored selves at the river, as we always have done.  Can you see us now, our skin bright shining in the sun?  
We’ll gather, and we’ll take our harps down from the poplars, and we’ll shake our tambourines, and we’ll SING. Just loud enough that you can hear our voices wafting on the breeze.

just shh, be quiet
just shh, be quiet
just shhh, be quiet
you’re protesting too loudly to hear my heart.

Can’t you just be still for a moment and know that I am?
That I am enough?
That I am worthy?
That I am created from the same dirt as you?

That I am Adam.
That I am Holy
That I am Saved. From myself, and from you.

That God-Father, Mother, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Deliverer-bound and bloodied and broken deliverer-that she wears my face, too?

No. Me neither.  I think maybe I could, a long, long time ago, but I forgot how.

But when I am still, when I am really still, when I am wearing my colors and not feeling afraid, I think I know something.  I think I hear…something. Something-a whispered song rising up from the pavement draped in blood.

I think it’s calling your name…In sighs too deep for words.

 

Jessica Davis

Persistence

I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing quite like the opportunity to preach.

At the seminary from which you graduated.

On a vague parable.

About 24 hours in advance.

 

I think this right here could either be attributed to outright insanity or the Holy Spirit. As we’re a people of faith, let’s go with the Spirit and just take it from there.

 

This parable brought up a lot for me in the past 24 hours. In prayer and reflection, I thought of my mother. She became a widow over one year ago, and she’s been trying to navigate this world without her spouse of over 45 years. My brother and I have done everything humanly possible to look after our mom, to make sure she receives just and fair treatment from the institutions and organizations she now has to deal with. My mom immigrated to this country from India when she was 18 and as a newlywed… and if she didn’t have my brother and me… where would she be today? The thought is almost too much to bear, if she had to navigate this present climate on her own, having so much already that defines her as an outsider (like being an immigrant), and she would be then even more on the margins… as a widow without an advocate. She would have no one.

 

A widow with no one. What does this look like in the world of this Gospel lesson?

Commentary after commentary states that this widow is the ultimate loser.

When it comes to telling stories about marginalized people, she’s lowest of the low.

She’s low because, well, she’s just a she.

She doesn’t have a husband or a family to be her advocate and to be her voice.

She has no property.

Theoretically, her community in this city is supposed to take care of her, but that’s all good… in theory.

But there is something amiss.

 

This woman is repeatedly, over and over and over and over, confronting a judge to grant her justice against an opponent. We’re not given much information on this opponent; the title of opponent means there is some form of conflict between them and the widow. Time after time after time the judge is unmoved. But then… the judge’s thoughts run away with him. He outright says to himself, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” If we want to get to the nitty gritty of the translation here, let’s rephrase it to the more honest and more brutal, “I shall avenge her, or she will give me a black eye.” Oh, violence and vengeance. Only when the judge thinks that violence will be inflicted upon him does he decide to finally act, because heaven forbid that violence be inflicted upon those in positions of power? Yet violence has already occurred with the judge; he should have moved to act not upon threat of violence. The judge’s inaction in the face of obvious need is evidence of his own spiritual brokenness. This system of oppression has damaged the judge, too.

 

It is important to state that both the widow and the judge are under God’s purview. Because God’s grace is ultimately unfair, we cannot talk about one being outside God’s grace and the other being the sole recipient. What we must come to understand, especially in situations where we seem to be pitted against one another, where one has offended the other, where one has done damage to the other… the Gospel is still for the widow AND the judge. But what they may hear is different. The Gospel comforts, but if it only comforts, we would be a people of cheap grace. The Gospel also challenges and afflicts. We are a people of both and, simultaneously saint and sinner, and we are to be both challenged and comforted. We cannot simply be mere recipients of grace and not respond to the Gospel message. We are called to respond.

 

But there was something to the widow’s response in her persistence. She kept coming back to the judge. She kept using her voice to advocate for herself. She used the strength of her voice to advocate for her survival. She spoke out, she moved. This was her embodied and Incarnational prayer. This prayer for her survival against her opponent was her life of prayer. In that prayer… we need to be persistent. The lives of our neighbors depend upon it. Our prayer should be that of movement, that of action, that response. If our Lord and Savior was of flesh and blood, that can be the embodiment of our prayer life.

 

If we are to take on this title as reformers and as people of faith, we must realize that there are persistent people in our midst. We are called in our identities to seek justice and to act, even when it takes us to those places of discomfort, and even persecution.

Were it not for the actions of many, that holy moment of 45 years ago would not have happened with women being ordained in our church. Yes, our church.

Were it not for the actions of many, some sitting in this chapel today, that holy moment of the vote in 2009 for LGBTQ+ siblings in committed relationships to be ordained would not have happened in our church. Yes, our church.

 

Oh, siblings in Christ, our need for persistence is not over, by any means. We are still called to reform; we’re at this time in our history, looking back on our almost 500 years of being reformers, but are we looking forward? Are we even aware of what’s happening around us today? Are we hearing the cries of the present day widows around us? There are people who are repeatedly coming to the judge, over and over and over and over. Are we truly hearing them, but more importantly, are we acting on them out of response to God’s love and grace? Don’t just hear those stories and those narratives that are not your own. Do not be complacent; we are being called to use these bodies. We cannot look away. We cannot sit idly by.

This is #decolonizeLutheranism.

This is #BlackLivesMatter, why we must #SayTheirNames.

This is #Pulse.

This is a litany that goes on and on and on where we have siblings who have been crying out and demanding justice for far too long because their blood screams to us from the ground. Do not let your inaction be your action, thereby denying righteous justice.

 

We are called into action, into persistence, into an active, lived, and embodied prayer. I do not know how this will look for you; that is a conversation you have to undertake with your siblings in Christ and with God.

We are not called to give into the conforming nature of this world.

We are not called to give into the conforming nature of Empire, which will constrict us… and kill us.

 

We cannot look away from one another.

We are intertwined with one another; we are accountable to one another. That was professed to us in our baptisms, that we belong to God… AND we belong to one another.

We’re called to do something. We’re called into a form of action. We’re learning that people’s identities, people’s lives are very much depending on how we act… or how we do not act.

 

Your prayer is your action… let your action be your prayer.

 

Go. Do. The crucified and risen Christ is with you in the midst of all of it.

 

The Rev. Tuhina Rasche
@tvrasche