As a second generation Indian-American woman, I often times struggle with my identity in multiple spaces and how my story is told into these spaces. This is both tragic and comical, as much of my work and ministry deals with the perception of identities within church settings. But identity is extremely complicated; what are the labels with which we use to self-identify, but also, what are the labels that are then placed upon us by outside forces? Who gets to tell our story? As a person who longs for a sense of place in the world, how a story is told and who tells a story matters a great deal to me.
But what happens when your identity is controlled by outside forces that strip away your humanity on a multitude of levels? What happens when the words that define your flesh are taken away from you? When your sense of place becomes literally dislocated and your own home becomes a place of wilderness? What happens when your narrative, the ability to tell your story, is taken away from you?
My first exposure to this came, of all places, on the shuttle from Tel Aviv to the West Bank. I told the driver of the shuttle that I needed to get to the Lutheran guesthouse at Augusta Victoria Hospital on Mt. Scopus near Hebrew University. In my naïveté, I asked one of the trip leaders for the address to the guesthouse so I could give it to the shuttle driver. The response?
“LOL address. There aren’t addresses in the West Bank.”
The first time I was in the Holy Land back in 1996, I was in places that had addresses. During my stays in Arad, Netanya, and Tel Aviv, I had a physical sense of location. I had a place with a street, a street name, and a postal code where I could tell friends and family my location. But this trip was to the West Bank; everything was now different. With my previous trip to the Holy Land and my experiences with having a physical address in the United States that I call home, I was entering into a new narrative.
This is how you start to strip away a population’s identity. Take away what names you, take away parts of the world that help tell your story. Then tell a singular story of who has access to land, thereby silencing a cacophony of voices desiring to be heard and recognizing the complexity of histories. Control the narrative. Control how information is used and distributed. If you take away the physical identifier of location, could a person, a community, a population reside there if their very existence and claim to the land is in question? What happens when the place you call home… is not deemed or deeded to be your home? What happens when you start to believe the stories placed upon your identity, being fed words, thoughts, and ideas that are no longer your own? Elias Chacour, former archbishop of the Melkite Church, a person passionate about reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews, and a Palestinian dislocated from his home in 1948, asks, “What was the true story of Palestine?” In addition to that question, I wonder, who gets to tell the story that is heard by the masses?
There is not one single way to tell stories. If you have to fight for your story to be shared with the world, sometimes storytelling has to happen in a subversive and surprising way. I experienced identity and narrative in a way I wasn’t anticipating while in the Holy Land; yet they felt oddly familiar to me as a former parish pastor in Oakland, California. I saw narratives written and drawn on the walls of the West Bank, telling so many stories of resilience, of lamentation, and of existence. These narratives, while not verbal, represented a cacophony of stories wanting to be acknowledged by the greater world. The ultimate cacophony of these narratives, these stories, came at the security wall in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, where on Christmas Eve so many sing, “Oh little town… how still we see thee lie” is not still, but stifled. The town is located in the West Bank and it is almost entirely encircled by a concrete security wall and caught between two bypass roads giving Jewish settlers easier access to Israel. While one side of the wall was pristine, the other side was filled with stories. These narratives had a physical location where they could exist, an actual mark on the land that made a claim that the storyteller existed in this space at this time.
This was the proof of being, the proof of “I AM,” the proof that there are multiple stories in a land where there is an immense danger in telling one sole story.
This post originally appeared on Rev. Tuhina Rasche’s website as Defining Identity and is shared here with her permission.
When guilt, shame, and blame transform to curiosity, grief, and humility, a door to liberation flies open.
For the past year and a half, the congregation of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle has been on an intentional journey of humble learning and intentional AntiRacism training. This is not the beginning of their work. In many ways they have been immersed in the work for years as part of their ministry with refugees, people living on the streets, folks in recovery and advocacy for justice in the areas of poverty, food distribution and gender equality. But what has been new is the formation of an intentional team of people who call themselves the AntiRacism Team.
For a year the team led monthly forums for the congregation, providing baseline education on terminology such as; Whiteness, White Privilege and Intersectionality. They facilitated conversations to clarify understanding of Gender Identity as a spectrum just like Sexuality. They made space for stories to be told about the disparities of the criminal justice system and police brutality. They accepted an invitation to share their experience as a workshop for other congregations. All the while, they humbly claim no particular level of expertise, simply a desire and willingness to be accountable to one another and to continue to challenge the congregation.
The congregation has been warm and receptive to the work, seeking more than just 1-hour monthly forums. So the time came to do more. It was time for a retreat. The team, decided it was time to dive-in to the depths of #decolonizeLutheranism.
As their pastor, it is my humble joy to shepherd them in this work. So when they asked me to invite my beloved collaborator of holy chaos at Churchwide Assembly to come to Seattle and co-lead the retreat with me, there was only one possible response: HELL YEAH!
And so it was that this past Saturday that, the itinerant preacher, Rev. Tuhina Rasche, and the veteran youth minister with a social justice lens, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin, were reunited for a workshop titled: The Liberating Love of the #decolonizeLutheranism Movement.
PRISCILLA: Tuhina, Thanks for joining us in Seattle. My family is always happy to host you when you visit. But what were you thinking when you accepted this invitation to be here on your birthday weekend?
TUHINA: The Spirit works when the Spirit works. When I visited Seattle in March to meet with communities to talk about #decolonizeLutheranism, I mentioned that these are conversations that need to take place over time. I made a commitment to the people of Immanuel Lutheran and other communities where I spoke that I would return if they wanted to continue the conversation on what it meant to seriously work toward decolonizing the ELCA. The people of Immanuel wanted to continue that conversation, and they wanted to invite their ecumenical partners who are also invested in this work. The date that worked happened to be my birthday weekend. You promised me cake (I got two, as a matter of fact), but the work of liberation and love is a daily practice. I knew that I would be surrounded by my siblings in Christ to celebrate my birthday, but to also do the continuing work to profess the full inclusivity of God’s love in the world.
PRISCILLA: What surprised you most about your time in Seattle?
TUHINA: This is hard work. These are vulnerable spaces in which to reside. This is a work that will truly continue until Christ comes again. Yet the time that we spent together as a community wrestling with the brokenness of the world was a holy time… and it is a time that passed quickly. I often see tired faces following such retreats; at this retreat, I saw a look of yearning, of people wanting more and wanting to continue to explore these difficult and vulnerable conversations to make them into embodied action. I had people come up to me following the retreat stating they’re ready for even more.
PRISCILLA: I was deeply appreciative of your vulnerability as you shared your motivations and perspective on the history and origin of the #decolonizeLutheranism movement. Can you talk about what it means for you to share that story, not for the first time, but for the first time with this group of folks?
TUHINA: One of the aspects of my ministry with #decolonizeLutheranism is to model the sharing of holy stories. Many times, holy stories come from places of extreme vulnerability. Oftentimes, I am incredibly scared to show such vulnerability in front of people I do not know, and in predominantly white spaces. I have to remind myself of the theology of the cross, realizing that power can be found in vulnerability. If I am able to honestly invite people into a vulnerable and brave space, if people are invested in the work of love and liberation, I trust that they will follow. Part of sharing my story is talking about embodiment. When I share the story of my motivation for this ministry, I want people to know there is flesh attached to the words, that there are real lives that are risking their candidacy, their ministry, and their lives for this work. I am grateful that the story was held as holy within this community. I am also grateful that people were able to share parts of themselves and where they could see themselves within the narrative of #decolonizeLutheranism and parallel stories within their denominations.
PRISCILLA: One of the things I found most helpful was the conversation around permissions and invitations. The group was so deeply engaged and hungry for learning that we found ourselves jumping into stories that we thought wouldn’t come up until later in the day. Instead the Holy Spirit was totally in control of our day. It was so fruitful and unplanned.
TUHINA: Absolutely. No retreat or workshop I’ve ever led has been the same. I continue to marvel at the communities that continue to be formed through #decolonizeLutheranism. I also appreciate that people were so willing to be vulnerable and to come with a sense of wonder. I loved that so many questions came so early in the retreat; it was evident that the group was so ready and eager not just to learn, but also to embody love and justice in the world.
PRISCILLA: On a personal note, I want to thank you for sharing your birthday weekend with us. There are moments in my life when I find myself feeling cynical or jaded by the world, even by the routine of the daily grind of ministry. But I stay in it because of moments like this weekend. Sitting next to you in worship, hearing you proclaim the word and watching you delight in praising Jesus was like a revival to my soul. Plus, without your visit, I might have never gone out to find the statue of Jimmy Hendrix. Traveling and partnering with you in ministry and life is such a blessing.
I Hope You’re Somewhere, Praying
A Meditation on Kesha’s “Praying” Music Video
“Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me,
or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest…
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
like an infant that never sees the light?”
“Am I dead?
Or is this one of those dreams?
Those horrible dreams, that seem like they last forever?
If I am alive, why? Why?
If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere,
why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything
I’ve ever known, I’ve ever loved?…
God give me a sign, or I have to give up.
I can’t do this anymore.
Please just let me die.
Being alive hurts too much.”
A victim’s story is only theirs to tell. No one else—not the victimizer, not a judge, not a jury, not the court of public opinion—can tell it. No one else can tell a victim how to react, how to move forward, how they should or shouldn’t behave.
Unfortunately, all too often, we do just that. We blame victims for what was done to them and refuse to hold victimizers and abusers accountable. And then, when we have collectively decided it’s ‘over,’ we demand that victims forgive and forget, that they move on. We expect them to fit a specific, saint-like mold of infinite patience and beatific smiles. We don’t want them to be angry. We don’t want them to show us their scars, physical or emotional or spiritual. We don’t want to be reminded of what happened—even if they are unable to forget.
Last week was completely upended for me when Kesha released her new music video, “Praying.” I will be honest and say I never expected a music video to have such an impact on me. My first reaction when I saw the link was, “Oh, she’s back! I’m so glad she’s finally able to make music again.”
Then I started watching the video. If you haven’t watched it yet, if you’re not sure what the buzz is about, go watch it. Right now. This piece will wait ‘til you get back.
It begins in a twisted parody of a funeral, no music. Kesha asks, “Am I dead?” Floating on debris in an empty ocean, she says, “If I am alive, why? Why? If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere, why have I been abandoned?”
I don’t know if Kesha meant to create a lament in the ancient tradition of the Hebrew Bible, but that’s what it sounds like. It is a voice that cries out from the deepest, darkest places in the human experience. Like Job, like the lament Psalms, she questions God and begs for an end to her suffering. “Please just let me die,” she says. “Being alive hurts too much.”
There is a reason the ancient laments still resonate in our modern ears. We know suffering. We know darkness. We know what it feels like to cry in the dead of night “Why God, why?” and mean it as an accusation.
On the cross, Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He died a death of pain and humiliation and injustice. His body was laid in a tomb. His disciples grieved. This was not the end of the story.
In “Praying,” Kesha does not stay in that desolate, black-and-white ocean. She does not stay in the hellish funeral. She wears a feather boa and angel wings and a veil of butterflies, and covers her face with brightly-colored paint.
It’s a resurrection story. An Easter story. Or in the words of the Psalms, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Kesha moves from death to new life. She starts out in lament, but she finds her voice and sings (and my God, does she sing). 
This is a resurrection story. It’s also a reconciliation story. Not in the simplistic, simpering way we want victims to reconcile with their victimizers. Kesha doesn’t forgive and forget, she doesn’t move on, she doesn’t make nice with the man who tormented her. She doesn’t apologize to us, her audience, for making us uncomfortable or for not being a ‘perfect’ victim (as if there were such a thing). She is beautifully, brutally honest, and it’s powerful to watch.
How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness? How do you forgive someone who is unrepentant, who perhaps would deny that they’ve done anything that needs forgiving? How do you reconcile with someone who abused you and could abuse you in the future? There are no Bible-school answers for these questions.
Kesha sings, “You brought the flames and you put me through hell. I had to learn how to fight for myself. And we both know all the truths I could tell. I’ll just say this as I wish you farewell—I hope you’re somewhere, praying. I hope your soul is changing. I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees, praying.” This is probably the kindest message she could possibly send to her abuser. She’s not interested in making him feel better. She’s certainly not interested in sharing the burden of guilt. But she hopes that someday, he realizes he needs to repent. She hopes that his soul changes. And when that day comes, it’s not her whose forgiveness he should seek: “Some things, only God can forgive.”
In the depths of hurt and betrayal, it may be impossible to offer forgiveness. Our culture tells us “forgive and forget,” and if we can’t forgive, can’t forget, it seems like a personal failure. Yet even Christ on the cross didn’t tell his murderers “I forgive you”—he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” When we are unable to forgive, the only thing we can do is turn forgiveness over to God. When we cannot forgive and forget and move on, maybe we can move forward by handing the responsibility of forgiveness over to God.
What is so powerful about “Praying” is that it’s not about the abuser. It’s about Kesha. It’s about her healing, her new life. She hopes he’s somewhere praying. But what we get to see is Kesha, praying. Standing up, breaking free, clothing herself in color. Moving from death to life. Walking on water, looking towards the sun.
A Postscript on Religious Imagery
I could go on and on about the religious symbolism in this video. In addition to what I’ve already said, I’ll just add two more observations—one in the form of critique, and one in the form of appreciation.
I love this music video. I think Kesha misstepped, though, in appropriating elements of Hinduism. I’m assuming Kesha is not Hindu. But the font she uses for the title card and at the end of the video is an anglicized version of Hindi. And the multi-colored dust she throws looks like the dust from a Holi festival. I’m not Hindu, either, but as a Christian in the United States, I think we need to be very careful about using cultural and religious markers that aren’t our own. The bigger our platform, the more careful we need to be. As of this writing, “Praying” has over 12 million views, so that’s a pretty big platform. (Bigger than any audience I’ll ever preach to!)
I’ll end with one last image that spoke to me powerfully in this video. It’s the scene shot at Salvation Mountain (it’s a real place in California). This is where Kesha is wild and free and alive. It’s her Easter garden. Over this rainbow-colored monument rise the words, “God is love.” In a world where Christianity serves to abuse and enable abusers, this is the message we need to come back to again and again. God is love. If we need new life, then we need to turn to God who is Love. If we need forgiveness, then we need God who is Love. If we seek reconciliation or peace or a world where we don’t inflict violence on one another, then there are worse places to look than Salvation Mountain.
 For further reading, check out The Message of the Psalms by Walter Brueggeman. Brueggeman identifies three types of Psalms: Psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation, and Psalms of new orientation. They trace a movement from a comfortable status quo, through a crisis, and to a new equilibrium. The Psalms of new orientation reveal the Psalmist coming to a new understanding of themselves in relation to God and the world. After a crisis, a new life is rebuilt. As Kesha moves from lament to finding her voice, she is re-orienting herself and her identity.
The Rev. Jennifer Chrien
Pastor Jennifer is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). She served her first call at Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oxnard, CA, before being called to serve Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Simi Valley.
“In this room, also men were executed if they were deemed no longer useful to the Nazi. The methods of execution were varied. Sometimes a bullet was used, but our guide informed us that his captors had said many times that a bullet was too expensive a price to pay for the death of a slave. Poison gas or starvation was much cheaper.” — Corporal Norman Paschen, describing his experience of the Buchenwald concentration camp during its liberation in April, 1945
It is likely that you have heard White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks today in which he falsely asserted that Adolf Hitler never utilized poison gas during the holocaust and Second World War, and his subsequent apology in which he admitted that Hitler had murdered people with poison gas, but not “his own people,” and in which he refused to publicly name the concentration camps, referring to them instead as “holocaust centers.”
As Spicer is engaging in a maniacal spin campaign to attempt to mitigate the harm done to his career and the reputation of the White House by his remarks, it is crucial that we examine carefully what he actually said, and why his remarks carry historic impact.
The setting of his remarks were to defend recent American airstrikes of a Syrian airfield, and in doing so, he argued that Bashar El-Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people was inexcusable, and needed to be punished. In doing so, he remarked that “You had someone who was as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” In his attempt at an “apology,”he doubles down on his claim, remarking that “I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people.”
As an American, a Christian, and a student of history, it is imperative that I speak the truth as loudly as I can in the midst of Spicer’s vile lies. Lest there be any confusion, I must make plain that Adolf Hitler most certainly did use poison gas on his own people. He did so tens of thousands of times, resulting in the deaths of millions. Sarin gas was invented, militarized, and utilized by Hiltler’s regime, though it is true that it was quickly replaced with cheaper and more effective substances, such as hydrogen cyanide and Zyklon B. Spicer’s remarks to the contrary are not accidental use of “insensitive references,” they are blatant and inexcusable lies.
For him to tell such lies on any day is appalling, but for him to do so during the commemoration of the Passover and on the very day of the completion of the liberation of the concentration camp at Buchenwald is inexcusable. To commit such an act of holocaust-denying and anti-Semitic theater on this day of all days is to do political and theological violence against the Jewish people.
As an American and a practicing Christian, who has been “grafted into the side of Abraham’s tree,” and who worships a Jewish savior, I must categorically demand Sean Spicer’s immediate resignation. I must also fervently request that all those in this country who carry the title of “Christian” join me in educating Mr. Spicer and the White House about the history of our nation and that of the Jewish people. The time for half-hearted and ham-handed apologies has long since passed. It is time for action. On behalf of the Jewish people, the Syrian people and all of G-d’s beloveds who are oppressed.”
Written by decolonizer Jess Davis on behalf of #decolonizelutheranism
(A re-setting of and tribute to The Barmen Declaration of 1934, presented as a reminder to the Churches of the United States on the inauguration day of Donald J. Trump)
Through the vehicle of this blog post – the central leadership of #decolonizeLutheranism has come together to re-affirm their confession of faith and dedication to the one, holy, apostolic church. In fidelity to our dedication to the reform and renewal of the church, we have sought a common message for the need and temptation of the church as a consequence of the run-up to and the result of the recent presidential election in the United States of America.
With gratitude to God we are convinced that we have been given a common word to utter – to express opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the Church catholic by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the leadership of #decolonizeLutheranism insists that any unity that has ever or will ever exist between the churches in the United States can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit and nothing else – not political power, nor wealth, nor celebrity.
Therefore we call upon all faithful Christians to bring themselves together in prayer and song, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers and lay leaders and friends and seekers who are loyal to the full and total acceptance of all people into the Church of God, over and above those who would preach otherwise. Or as we read so eloquently in Isaiah 58:6-12…
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the Christian Church in the United States
The inviolable foundation of the Christian churches in the United States is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is attested for us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the Confessions of the Reformation and in the power of the lived experiences of all the people of God. The full powers that the Church needs for its mission are hereby determined and limited. All Christians in this country, indeed the whole planet, are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We publicly declare before all of the Christian churches in the United States that the love for the Gospel that all who take the name of Christian claim to possess is now grievously imperiled, and with it, the future role of the Church in the United States.
It is threatened by the teachings and actions of those among the Christian communities who supported the current President-elect of the United States Donald J. Trump – through their vote. their financial contributions, or their voices, as well as through the administrative capacities of their churches, and the grave danger this man and his coming administration present to every marginalized community in our country. This threat consists of the fact that the primary theological basis upon which the churches are united has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “Christian Right” and those individuals and organizations who have attached themselves to their aims.
When these principles are held to be valid, then, when compared to the teaching of the Gospel in force among all Christians across the world and across time, the church ceases to be the church of all times and all people and becomes evil. As members specifically of the Lutheran communion, but also as partners in the workings of the Holy Spirit in our country among every denomination and confession, we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. And in view of the theological errors of Christians, we declare humbly and boldly that they are devastating the church and are also thereby hobbling the mission of the Christian churches in the United States.
And they do so because their support for Donald Trump and the destructive policies which he and his followers openly advocate, goes against the following truths which we confess, and which they claim to confess:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me” – and by doing so Jesus makes it clear to Thomas, and to all Christians, if one wants to know ‘the way’ to Christ, all they must do is follow Him” (John 14:6.) “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which Christians have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. This includes the state, political leaders, political parties, and celebrities.
2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.) As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures. We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but rather that belonged to political leaders, the wealthy, celebrities, or those that have power because of their works — as if justification and sanctification through Christ was not efficacious enough, and that faith in money in power are needed to save us as well.
3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15–16.) The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the church of pardoned sinners, it must testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance. We reject the false doctrine, the idea that the church can conveniently forget the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:25, 26.) The various offices in the church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give to itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers of any kind.This power, this authority is given to Christ alone, and cannot be usurped by Christian leaders for the sake of anointing of political candidates, celebrities, or those with power and influence – under any circumstance.
5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:17.) Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of those who govern and those who agree to be governed. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things. We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the church’s vocation as well. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State and a vehicle to further the works of Satan under a patina of ignorance, violence, and ostentatious piety.
6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (II Tim. 2:9.) The church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and – be they of the State, of political leaders, celebrities, or those who have money and power.
The central leadership of#decolonizeLutheranism– calling upon all of our friends, kindred, and allies in all churches here in this country and on the entire world – declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of the above listed errors. the indispensable theological basis of the true church of the people of God, as passed down through history, through Scripture, and in the hearts and minds of the faithful since the glorious, fiery day of Pentecost almost 2000 years ago. We invite all who are able to accept this declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in any and all places where those who call upon the name of Jesus are active in the world.
We entreat all who read this letter to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope – as well as to open places in their churches, homes, and hearts for those who will suffer under the promised xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, islamophobia, sexism, and racism of the in-coming administration.
And it must be our call, our duty, and our passion to do so.
Signatories (if you wish to add your name, email: firstname.lastname@example.org):
Francisco Herrera – Convener, #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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.