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Author: lennyduncan (page 2 of 3)

Sermon 7/9/16-“Who is my neighbor?”

Below is an audio file of my sermon from 7/9/16. It is in the wake of the lynching of two black men at the hands of law enforcement. The assassination of law enforcement in Dallas. Nestled in weeks, months and years of America’s original sin, racism, laid bare once again.   I was supply preaching at an all white congregation of mostly seniors. Context is important. It is the well know scripture verse about the “good Samaritan.” I must say  I find that description problematic, and “works” driven. If I could retitle it, it would be “Love on the margins.” But I digress. Please enjoy.

 

 

 

 

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Fireworks, Freedom, and Guns.

My country tis of thee, sweet land of savagery. To thee I write. Land where my father died of an overdose. Land where my mother cried beaten and bloody and alone for marrying a “nigger”. From every mountainside your hypocrisy rings.

This is the weekend where we celebrate independence. When we let freedom ring. On 63rd and race in West Philly where I grew up, those won’t be fireworks you hear. Those will be gunshots. In Chicago those won’t be “bombs bursting in air”, those will be lives cut down too soon. This will more likely happen at the hands of folks stuck in same mire and mess. The victim will be hard to identify if you have a discerning eye. Who is the victim when one POC slays another? The one who has been taken from his family in the heat of the night?  Is it the shooter who will also be thrown into the new plantation for his crime? The community living in a constant state of anxiety and have a form of mass PTSD, maybe they are the real victims?

I stand in a pool of blood and I call it home. I stand in the mass grave of slavery and watch my “betters” still live fat on the hog. I look at the #Pulsemassacre and I am not shocked. When Sandy Hook happened and those with privilege decided that the worship of guns was more important than their own children I knew. They are feeding their children to Moloch, I knew it was open season on the marginalized.

I have been to your prisons. I have paid my debts. I have stepped into the brokenness of my family and seen healing. I buried my parents after years of fast living. I pay your taxes. I watch your wars. I even earned the right back to vote.

Jesus wears a hajib and is being drug through the streets.

Jesus was dancing in Orlando a few weeks ago and was gunned down.

Jesus was raped and the attacker was let go.

Jesus was told to get out of our country after he worked a 16 hour shift.

Jesus was never part of this country and its foul plans.

We will all participate in the civic religion this weekend.  None of us are exempt. We will go to barbecues made possible by sacrificing our young men and woman in foreign lands. We will bow before the altar of red white and blue. It will be made out of the bones of Iraqi children. Built on land we stole from the original peoples of this continent. We stole a continent.

The Gospel is liberation and I still sit in chains. Church is the hope on earth, in a hopeless world. Our leaders have failed us and our prayers are not meant to solve the problems we face, but to fuel us as we become the scarred hands and feet of our Lord. We will suffer for this. We need to draw the line in the sand here. Today. This very moment. The Church will either lead the way or be complicit again.

We will either stand with Christ, with the apostles and the prophets and risk our everything. Or we wont.  Because our story keeps getting bloodier.

Our leaders keep getting scarier. Our scars keep getting thicker.

The Church is being called out by the times we live in. We will either stand tall, even if with trepidation tinged with fear. Or sit and watch this scene unfold as it always have. Those with power will continue  stealing the narrative, and Jesus will stand weeping again.

We could dare to be the generation that wipes away the tears of Christ. We will suffer for this.

But we already are. Happy 4th of July.

 

 

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Incarnational Protest and We Why Need Exorcisms

This blog post will attempt to answer a few questions that arose out of one. The original question I posed to Dr. Pahl (sitting Hagan History chair at LTSP) at the beginning of this year was simple. Why was there no Lutheran rite of Exorcism? What did that say about our incarnational theology if the personification of evil was something we felt wasn’t worthy of being named, confronted and transformed.  So while I played with the idea of approaching this from a systematic theologian’s point of view, the history of evil, and its relationship to the church I felt was of particular importance to this question. The question of what is evil is something human beings have wrestled with since we first became aware that things didn’t always go right (see Genesis 2-3), and since we became aware of God. In the case of the Christian, evil makes a rather stunning appearance in the very beginning of, and throughout, Christ’s ministry.

This is the first thought experiment I explored.  It got me thinking about the importance of the theological statement the ELCA was making by not having an exorcism rite in its liturgical order. Think on the Gospel narrative for a second.  Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. He confronts Satan. He emerges from this experience “battle hardened.”  We then see throughout the gospels a Jesus who is a man of power. He faces demonic forces on a regular basis, as we shall see later.  The Gospel writers are also careful to delineate between mental illness, epilepsy, and demonic possession. This was a separate category that Jesus was healing and ministering to. This is an important part of my premise. According to the gospel writers, Jesus knew of demonic possession as a separate thing from the normal post-enlightenment thinking on the supernatural in scripture. One could, and I believe should, face the fact that the Savior of the world by almost all accounts not only believed whole heartily in demonic possession, but even understood the nuanced differences in this unseen realm.

Without a liturgical rite to name, confront, and transform and exorcise systemic evil and demonic forces of today we are actually reinforcing our tepid and safe whiteness as a church. It also gives an entry point as church for engagement with those communities we say we want to join but often fail to connect with.  In relationship to the recent emergence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Moral Mondays, and to a certain extent Occupy, the ELCA has largely been silent or completely ineffectual (there are, of course, exceptions—churchwide has articulated a bold stand, as have some leaders like myself and a few others.)  But the body politic of the ELCA has not even wrestled with the fact that our Sunday School, Confirmation, and VBS programs have created monsters like Dylan Roof—the young “Lutheran” who killed nine in Charleston, and Dylan Klebod—a Lutheran who was one of the shooters in Columbine high school, Colorado.

Christ’s special dispensation for the poor and oppressed is a serious hermeneutic. Whether it is Black, Womanist, or Queer theology the intersectionality of oppression can be met by the naming, confronting, and transforming evil. What are the demons of today? What are satanic forces in this American empire? How do we tie the central symbols of the Church and solace they bring to millions, to the war for equality and the right of personhood being waged on our national landscape and conscience?

Part One: Jesus as Exorcist

I first looked at the encounters Christ had with the demonic in the Gospel texts. [1]

While I have done an intentional reading of all Christ’s encounters in all four Gospels in this paper will focus on those that help point out my working premise. Then we will explore Jeffrey Burton Russell’s history of Satan as “the personification of cosmic evil.”  We will also look at other sources, but his will be the main source for the historical section tracing the Church’s history with evil and demons. Then we will explore James Cone’s stunning proclamation of the heresy of not standing with the oppressed and systemic evil. We will then lay out the liturgical rite of exorcism I propose.

So we see that Jesus’s encounters with this world of the demonic are actually a rich part of the Gospel tradition, and the note I have included excludes any instance where his disciples perform exorcisms. So we know that Jesus believed this inauguration of God’s kingdom was “happening” amongst the poor and the marginalized. We can also ascertain that although systemic evil was present in the rulers of the day, Jesus’s work with exorcisms tended to happen amongst the people. Very publically in fact. While there are many instances I have noted previously let’s zero in on one or two before we move on.

In the book of Matthew, we see the Gospel writer has developed a rather clear pattern to how Jesus’s ministry starts, is birthed, how he gathers the inner circle, then goes out to the people. He then names, confronts, and transforms evil.  This is all post baptism. This is very important for us liturgically speaking since the renunciation acts are only found in our liturgy in the baptismal rite. Also the rite I’m proposing for this work is based in the baptism rite. So post baptism, this is the pattern we see leading up to the verse I want to take a minute to focus on. Note this is most clear in the Gospel of Matthew, but can be found in all of them.

Matthew 4:23-25

Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.[2]

So here we have my first point. The Gospel writers and by assumption Jesus knew the difference between many different illnesses and saw “demoniacs” as a separate category at least in some sense. Exorcism is portrayed as separate from other healing ministries. There is a sense of invasion and otherness compared to other illnesses found throughout the Gospel. Its treatment as something “other” can be found through all four Gospels. This was also an incredibly nuanced world of the unseen Christ was facing, naming, and casting out. So this inauguration of the Kingdom, in part, meant naming, confronting, and transforming these things.

Another great example of this was the following verse. Right after the Transfiguration the disciples are starting to see they are dealing with something otherworldly.

Matthew 17:14-20

            14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon,[d] and it[e] came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a[f] mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”[g] [3]

So here we have a rather famous Jesus “saying”. But often as ELCA Lutherans we divorce it totally from its context. The “mustard seed” saying in Matthew, at least, comes in relation to an attempted exorcism by the disciples that fails. Jesus steps in and admonishes their faith. He uses his confrontation of evil to point towards real faith.

 

Let’s look at few more instances that point to a reality that is full of mystery and nuance that we have in the ELCA divorced ourselves from to be “modern” and in my opinion and intellectually comforted. The evidence is throughout the Gospel from Jesus’s stunning proclamation to Herod “Go tell that fox,” which connects evil with Empire, to where he ties his messianic claim and proclamation of his resurrection with the casting out of demons (Luke 13:32). This Lukan motif is throughout the gospel. My point simply is that Jesus perceived himself as many things, one of which being an exorcist. It is a title he felt pointed to his messianic title as clearly as anything else. That it was central to his identity. This should make it a central symbol of our incarnational theology.

Part two-

Jeffrey Burton-Russell and The Prince of Darkness

Jeffery Burton Russell in his work “The Prince of Darkness” traces the sordid history of the personification of evil. While I’m not for our purposes going to take us through the battle of monism versus dualism, or belabor points about the medieval Church and its use of Satan and Hell, I will raise up a few points he makes. On the topic of systemic evil and Luther’s view he states-

“Luther felt this struggle intensely within his own soul. His diabology was based on personal experience as well as scripture and tradition. As Hieko Oberman put it, Luther’s whole life was a war against Satan. Like the desert fathers and the medieval contemplatives, Luther felt that the Devil attacks more intensely as one advances in faith. Satan attempted to deter him from God’s work through temptations, distractions, and even physical manifestations. He rattled around behind Luther’s stove, at the Warburg castle he pelted nuts at the roof and rolled casks down the stairwell; he grunted audibly like a pig; he disputed with Luther like scholastic, he sometimes lodged in Luther’s bowels [4]

Now that may all seem silly, and it’s easy to dismiss it.  But what it makes clear is that to Luther, Satan, the personification of evil, was a real thing that the Christian had to name, face, and exorcise. One could dismiss this as 16th century metaphysical mumbo jumbo, but what are you then saying about the Eucharist and Luther’s view on that? Again, I’m not asking the reader to accept that Luther’s stove was possessed.  But it is necessary to accept that he believed that evil was a real and living force that the Christian would have to face repeatedly. Emphasis on living force. It wasn’t just human capacity for evil, though that certainly is a part of the picture. No, Luther names the otherness:  the invader; the thing that doesn’t belong in God’s creation and is disrupting our union with the Triune God.  Just look at the verse’s to “A Mighty Fortress.”

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

2 Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.

3 And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

4 That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever! [5]

Burton goes further.

Yet Satan’s power over us shattered by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christ has struck Satan blow after telling blow in his miracles, in his preaching, and in his passion. The Devil plotted the Passion in unthinking rage against Christ, and God used it to overthrow him, the proof being the resurrection. The world, the flesh, and the Devil still tempt us but one little word -in the name of the Savior-can crush them.

The Devil still has power in the world, however, because so many choose to follow him. Some make deliberate Pacts with him: Luther was no skeptic about witchcraft[6]

So we have established that naming, confronting, and transforming evil is “Lutheran.” Luther believed the power of evil, which he called Satan, was disrupted by the Incarnation of Jesus, and was dealt a crushing blow in the resurrection. Furthermore, he believed the only reason Satan still had power was so many chose to follow him. This is a key point to my entire argument.

In our noble attempt to do away with 1800 years of troubling history of the abuse and misuse of exorcisms in the Church we have lost a key symbol for facing evil. Evil is still a real living force at work in the heart of humanity. Systemic racism. The “othering” of the Islamic community. The predatory nature of corporate America. The military industrial complex. The prison industrial complex. Genocide. What are these things other than the personification of evil on earth?

Satan is alive and well in America. One could almost reasonably propose he is running for President this year. “The Devil still has power in the world, however, because so many choose to follow him.” Beelzebub is no longer Satan’s chief captain. Or at least that not his name. It is likely Haliburton. Or Darren Wilson. Or Zimmerman. Or at one time Adolf.  Or possessing our government in all its demonic power as Cointelpro and the agents who pushed that agenda on behalf of J Edgar, another man possessed by the power of Satan. Satan is systemic evil in the hands of the privileged and powerful. Luther saw it in others even if he missed it in his own theology which we will touch on later. But as long as there are those willingly serving evil in this world, Satan has power. When we willingly or unwittingly serve oppression Satan has power. That is evil.

I want to take a moment to pause and explicitly say what I’m doing here. I’m saying our world and its ruler have become possessed by the agents of Satan commonly called demons. I’m saying the officers in Satan’s army are what we could call the banality of evil today. The  little evils that walk our world and do so much harm:  those who are willing to short millions of people’s retirements for a profit. The cop who shoots at the faceless young black male that has become his “enemy.” I’m calling for a rite to name, confront, and transform this evil. To be used as a form of incarnational protest and in communities facing this oppression. So while I applaud Luther for keeping evil and its personification as part of the Church, as we shall see, he fell laughably short of achieving a working theology to confront it. For more on that we will turn to James Cone.

Part Three

If God is with the Oppressed, who is the Oppressor? A Dialogue with James Cone.

James Cone actually has a scathing criticism of Luther’s position, and of the reformers in general, in fact. So we have established that Christ saw the importance to face systemic evil and oppression, and that Luther thought evil was real. While James Cone speaks to this rather explicitly in all his works, I will focus on what I believe to be James seminal work “God of the Oppressed.”

In that work, Cone writes:

“ We cannot say that Luther, Calvin, Wesley and other prominent representatives of the Churches tradition were limited by their time, as if their ethical judgments on oppression did not effect the essential truth of their theologies. They were wrong ethically because they were wrong theologically. They were wrong theologically because they failed to listen to the bible- with sufficient openness and through the eyes of the victims of political oppression.” [7]

If we are to be theologians of the cross, and if we are to be the incarnational community of Christ that celebrates the in-breaking of his kingdom on Earth until his return–if we are really all these things, we have to takes Cone’s criticism seriously. Lutheranism has traditionally been on the side of governments, rulers and systems (for example, in Germany). I repeat, we have sided with oppressive power almost continuously since Luther’s time. Luther’s well documented response to the peasant revolts and his treatise on the Jews are just two stark examples. Other than the occasional lone voice (for example, Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran Church of Scandinavia) our history is one of reformation and accidental revolution.  We have tried desperately to marry ourselves to one system or another. If Cone is right than we have been heretical in our lack of standing with the oppressed.

So we need a working theology that faces evil in its systemic exclusion of the oppressed (in all forms) and exorcises it.  What I mean by a “working theology” is something the average congregation can do:  the everyday activist, such as a parish pastor. But we can’t go out into the world to face evil if we aren’t willing to face our own. “What we have done, and left undone” is a key phrase from our Confession of Sin. To lean into this, we have to take a liberation or Lukan hermeneutic from the Gospel.  Cone’s work is the blueprint for most models of liberation theology in North America and that’s why we are spending time exploring segments of it. Jesus Christ is the centerpiece. The foundation of liberation theology. Cone states-

“Because human liberation is God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ, it’s source and meaning cannot be separated from Christology’s sources (Scripture, tradition, and social existence) and content (Jesus in the past, present, and future). Jesus Christ, therefore, in his humanity and divinity, is the point of departure for a black theologian’s analysis of the meaning of liberation. There is no liberation independent of Jesus’s past, present, or future coming. He is the ground of our present freedom to struggle and the source of our hope that the vision disclosed in our historical fight against oppression will be fully realized in God’s future.”

Cone is stating, which to me as a marginalized person of color in America has been obvious since I first encountered Jesus in the present, that Jesus appears as liberator. If we are to take these parts of his messianic title seriously—that Jesus was an exorcist, then we have to listen to Christ carefully. Where he declares “freedom to the captives,” and says “blessed are the poor,” then a call for the joining of the two isn’t so outlandish. Jesus is liberator and exorcist amongst the people, and if we claim to follow Jesus, we must make this clear in word and deed.

We in the ELCA are a liturgical church in many ways. The joining of these two things –liberation and liturgy, makes perfect sense for us. We have stated we believe in a Christ who brings good news to the oppressed, and we believe we experience him more fully in community than in individual piety. We tell God’s story in worship and in community through the liturgy: through Word and Sacrament. It has recently been argued, to good effect I might add, by a liturgy professor here at the seminary that the two functions of clergy are to bless and curse. In Dr. Moroney’s estimation to curse is the withholding of the blessing of any sacrament. I’m taking that one step further by making the argument we are to name, confront, and transform evil in our communities and in our contexts.

Jesus was present when Michael Brown was shot. He stood there, then walked in the middle of the street, in that moment. He was in the back of the van with Freddie Grey. He held tight with every turn and braced himself every time the van slammed to a stop. He bought a “loosie” from Eric Garner. He stands ready at these moments for us to reach into the deep well of his strength to face Satan–Satan who is clothed in privilege, power, and the trappings of “acceptable” systemic racism. Systemic evil, Satan, wears this all like the high priestly robes and armor of Caiphas and Pilate.  I’m tired of washing our hands and saying these deaths are not on us.

We need to resist Satan and his army. As Church. We need to be the incarnation at work. We need to exorcise these demons from our communities. We need the faith of a mustard seed.

Part four-

A Liturgy of Exorcism for Systemic Evil

We will now turn our attention to the rite itself. This is open to crowd sourcing and is a framework. It is scaffolding that I hope we can use to build an “Incarnational Act of Protest.”

Gathering

Leader- God of the oppressed, who calls us in Baptism and through scripture to stand with marginalized. Who demonstrated through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ his dispensation for the poor, the outcast, the unwanted. This Jesus whose name we gather in, was murdered by being railroaded in court. Was a victim of state sponsored execution. This Jesus was never with the powerful but stood with the powerless. He gave voice to the widow, solace to the prisoner, and liberation to the oppressed. He is the God of orphans. He arose on the third day and crowned the in-breaking of God’s kingdom with a stunning new vision of life. Like the Easter event we are gathered here to disrupt the systemic evil that stands in front of us. We face you Satan and your forces today. We no longer look away in willful ignorance to the suffering around us. We name you ________________ as the evil this community has become infected by. We have gathered as the incarnational community of Christ to cast this out. We are here to purge this atrocity and affront to God’s creation from this place and to walk alongside this community on the long road to healing.

Gathering-

AMEN!

Scripture Reading

(This of course is reflective of the need and situation.)

Renunciation and Casting Out

Leader-People of God, people of justice, body of Christ, I present to you the demonic force of ____________________. I name it. Will you be witnesses to this act?

Congregation-Yes, and we ask God to strengthen our witness.
Leader-People of God, victims of this oppression, Christ incarnate, I stand ready to face this evil  of ____________________along side you.  Can this Church have your permission to stand with you?

Congregation-Yes, and we ask God to send a Church and leaders who will stand alongside us

Leader-People of God, voices of the unheard, vision of the Kingdom to come, I stand ready with your help to cast out the systemic evil of __________________. Will you help me to confront and cast this out of this community?

Congregation-Yes, we call on the name of Jesus to disrupt, cast out, and to abolish this evil with the power of the Cross. Amen

(Hymn) We ask that the hymn, or appropriate song, whether gospel, hip hop, or praise song speak to the problem at hand, or vision of God’s in-breaking into the situation. Please don’t be attached to stanzas or time lengths. We are using music to invite those gathered into sacred space and holy reflection. Be mindful of the Spirit, not ordo.

Leader-Faithful people of God I ask that you reject this personification of evil in the community. Do you renounce the devil and his forces in the form of___________________?

Gathering- We Renounce _______________ and with Christ’s help cast it out

Leader- Prophetic voice of the Body of Christ do you renounce the powers of this world that perpetuate this evil of _____________ and defy God?

Gathering- We renounce ______________ and with the power of the Holy Spirit will resist, disrupt, and abolish all the powers of the world that perpetuate it.

Leader-Do you renounce the ways of sin in your own life that have kept you from fighting this evil with all of your gifts, energy, and talents?

Gathering-We renounce all the ways we haven’t stood with Christ in his battle with the princes and principalities of this broken world.

Leader-

___________________ We cast you out in the name of the Father +

__________________ We cast you out in the name of the Son +

__________________ We cast you out in the name of the Holy Spirit +

We cast you out of this community because you are a stain on its soul. You have no power here. You have the trappings of this world and stand in defiance of all that is Holy. As a called and ordained (or emerging) leader of this gathering and community I declare to you now and forever ______________ is cast out. We have named you _________ We have confronted you, and we say in the name of the Triune God get behind us.

(Lighting of Paschal Candle and the passing of that light to those gathered this can be set to another hymn or song to set the tone)

Reflection, Homily, Or Words from Community Leaders

Prayers of intercession for the Community

Leader –In the now multiplying light of Christ, we know as Church there are still real concerns that this community has going forward. Gathered together here we will hear the concerns of community lifted up in prayer to a God who has come down amongst us.

 

Leader-(Prayer for any victims or families that were the most directly affected, communities,     name those who have been attacked by this systemic evil. God of Justice!

Gathering-Hear our cries!

Leader-(Prayer that asks for a specific need to see real change in light of the event or protest or community action. Example a grand jury decision etc) God of the Oppressed!

Gathering-Hear our cries!

Leader-(Prayer for courage for the workers and activists who are on the ground day to day and often will be more engaged and active than the Church) God of Mercy!

Gathering-Hear our cries!

Leader-(Now clergy person its time to listen and be silent! Maybe have a few plants in the crowd to stir up the Spirit. Explain how to end the petition and the reply then ask…) For what else does this community cry out for……?

Gathering-Hear our cries!

Leader-Gathered together as a community seeking your mercy, your grace and your justice, God we commend all these prayers into your hands trusting in your promise to proclaim good news to the poor and oppressed and release to the captives.

All: AMEN!

Sending and blessing

Leader-We know peace can be a word that is sanitized by rulers. It can mean being pacified and asleep dreaming we are awake..We are gathered to take back the term peace and use it the way our Lord and Savior meant it. He did not come to bring peace but to be a sword. Disrupt. Resist. Abolish. Cast out. May that peace of Christ be with you!

Gathering-And also with you!

Dismissal

Leader- As we disperse and share this peace with one another remember to serve the oppressed!

Part 5

Closing thoughts

Some parting thoughts and reflections on this work and the rite.  I tried to build what I believe to be a compelling theological case for why a public rite like the one I have started in this paper is needed in the times we live.  I think my work has fallen woefully short. This is mostly due to my contextual bias and personal connection to this kind of work. I realize that there are much fuller and richer ways I could have portrayed Luther. But being in a mostly white Church in a mostly white (theologically) seminary I wanted to give the reader and idea how he presents to me. Simply put he has all the pomp and circumstance of the very same institutions of power and privilege that used hermeneutics to justify slavery or tell my parents that their inter-racial marriage was an abomination. He is a caricature as he portrayed at times in the ELCA, and when I hear a peer declare I should “sin boldly” I wonder if they would have said the same in a Church discussing the slave trade a few hundred years ago.

I also realize that I could have given better treatment to Cone but I’m going on the assumption that the reader has started to accept some of the basic premises of his work as it is being finally disseminated out, albeit much more sanitized, in other work being done in the universal church.

But my sincere hope is that this rite, or the very basic concepts of it become something we see in our communities as visible signs of Jesus at work. In our hearts, in our communities, in our church, and in our theology.

Also this is an early draft of this work. There will be much revision. Please check out my other work on Formerlyunchurched and the work I’m doing with the #decolonizelutheranism movement at #decolonizelutheranism

Jesus’s Encounters with the Demonic:  Jesus was an Exorcist I Jesus heals and frees 1. Jesus announces the coming of God’s Kingdom, heals and frees from evil spirits. Mt 4, 23-25Lk 6, 17-192. Jesus heals many possessed. This has a mass and public character.

Mt 8, 16 , Mk 1, 32-39 3. The cast out spirits have knowledge of Jesus. Lk 4, 33-37Mk 1, 23-28 4. Jesus frees the possessed and forces the evil spirits to enter into pigs. Possessions can have a multiple character – several evil spirits can reside in man. Mt 8, 28-34Mk 5, 1-20Lk 8, 26-39 5. Jesus cast out seven evil spirits from Mary Magdalene. Mk 16, 9 6. Jesus casts out an evil spirit from a pagan woman’s daughter from a large distance. Mk 7, 24-30Mt 15, 21-28 7. Jesus exorcises on Shabbat – he casts out the spirit of faintness. Lk 13, 10-13  8. Jesus continues healing and freeing, despite the threat of death. Lk 13, 31-32 9. Jesus casts out an evil spirit from a mute, who then regains speech. The Pharisees accuse Him of achieving that through the power of Beelzebub. Mt 9, 32-38Mk 3, 20-27. 10. Jesus casts out an evil spirit, who is the cause of blindness and muteness. He says that evil spirits are being cast out through the power of God’s Spirit. Mt 12, 22-30 11. The casting out of evil spirits is the sign of the coming of the kingdom of God. Lk 11, 14-20Lk 7,18-23

[2] Holy Bible: NRSV, New Revised Standard Version. New York: Harper Bibles, 2007. Print.

[3] Holy Bible: NRSV, New Revised Standard Version. New York: Harper Bibles, 2007. Print.

[4] Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1988. Print.

[5] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.

[6] Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1988. Print.

[7] Cone, James H. God of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury, 1975. Print

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#decolonizetheseminary

EDIT -( Please remember I’m speaking about the specific ELCA context on the campus and not the incredible Urban Theological Institute or the folks who are part of it)

Well let’s start with some basics. What is the #decolinizelutheranism movement? Well we as members of this fledgling movement have put up a website. You can find it here. #decolonizelutheranism.

 

Next question. Haven’t great folks been doing this sort of work for years and years in the ELCA? Yes. Yes they have.

 

Why is this movement gaining so much steam now? The difference between  John Huss and Luther was the printing press. The difference for the #decolonize movement is social media. It’s our printing press. With the right group of emerging and established leaders who know how to leverage it. Well you get stuff like this. You get an insurgent movement calling for reform.

 

Why am I doing this? It is grounded in my deep and abiding love of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and fueled by my rather hopeful view of our future.

 

That’s my disclaimer. My disclaimer is you won’t put a lid on this. You can’t “shut me up” in my own comment section. The way social media works you are just giving me traction.

 

Today I want to address seminary education. Dear Church: #decolonizetheseminary.  Let me tell you about things here at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Or LTSP/LTSG. Or as I have been calling it the merger-not-merger-new-school-not-new school-new venture school of theology. My family and I are deeply invested in this community. While others are considering leaving and there is a high level of anxiety on campus we are moving here. This week. In fact, I just carried up a ton of stuff to the third floor of Reed building. I’m told this is Claudio’s old apartment and that it’s ironic I’m here.

 

I’m one of two Black ELCA  Mdiv students that just finished our first year here. One. Of. Two. Let that sink as you think about diversity in our Church. My first time I was in a Chapel service here a student asked if she was my sister. A future leader of this Church. He didn’t fail me in this moment, the ELCA seminary system failed him. He couldn’t fathom two ELCA persons of color in one class here.

 

Now don’t let me pretend that my story isn’t unusual. Felon. Long term recovery. Couple decades homeless. I mean brokenness abounds, mine is just exposed because I choose to share all of me. I’m vulnerable in front of you brothers and sisters because my story is unusual. It shouldn’t be.

 

Seminary should be the one place where a God of second chances can practice the art of grace in the lives of the marginalized. We should be literally recruiting folks like me actively. I mean it. People who know what Grace is not because of the confessions, but because a loving Jesus incarnate disrupted systemic evil and laid them before the cross.

 

Seminary education is designed so  straight, single, white young men can come here. Live on campus. They do their first year. They go to CPE to actually experience trauma even if its third person. To make sure they see brokenness. Then they comeback as a middler. They are a leader in the community. Then they go on internship, fall in love, get engaged, get married by the time approval comes. Then they are ordained and sent to the dystopian nightmare of strip malls and soccer games that trump the sacraments.

 

This was a system created for a bygone era. It is broken.

 

You think LTSP/LTSG is a going through a lot? Theological education everywhere is facing the same challenges. Our model is not engaging the world. Like our churches (of course not all of them.) Like our liturgies.

 

I have one Black ELCA faculty member. One.

 

He is amazing and has become a role model whether he knows it or not. I have one.

 

I face systemic racism all the time. Its subtle and my peers actively engage in it unconsciously because they have been steeped in the culture of this church. Like Dylan Roof was. How would they know that when we engage in debate theologically, politically, or culturally that I have to use sarcasm and humor as a shield? They don’t know what they said is deeply hurtful. How many times do you correct someone? How many times until you are just another angry black activist pastor. How long until they pick you apart?

 

They are victims too. They are trapped in cycle of sin for the most part they don’t even see. Systemic racism and systemic evil oppresses all those involved. Liberative models free the oppressed and the oppressor. We are both locked in the satanic chains of white supremacy in a hell that was designed way before we answered the call to ministry.

 

I’m a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA. I have been anything but silent. Every time I write a post like this I risk my career. I run the risk of being told enough is enough. You don’t believe me? Call your local Synod office and ask them what the average time is for a person of color in your Synod to get a first call. Don’t believe me. Ask. I dare you. Ask them about women of color. You will weep.

 

I’m lucky. We have the Urban Theological Institute.  Almost half my seminary consists of persons of color. They are from other traditions, but they are here speaking into my life. We are the exception in many ways. Ecumenical. Blessed with tons of LGBTQ leaders and theologians. We aren’t enough.

 

We will never have a diverse church if we don’t have diverse faculty. We will never have diverse ELCA candidates if we don’t have diverse faculty. We will never have a diverse church …….

 

You get the picture.

 

If we continually only teach Eurocentric models of theology too our white seminarians they will always refer to white contextual, and hermeneutical resources. We are the problem.

 

We are afraid to face these questions while we stare at shrinking endowments. Our largest tithing family just showed up to a picnic with a “Make America Great” hat. My sisters and brothers and everyone in-between who are in parish ministry;  I get it. Its hard enough to lead a flock  and then I’m asking you to willy nilly throw gasoline on the fire. But we are running out of time.

 

I’m a Fund for Leader. I’m unusual. I shouldn’t be. We need to be investing in more people with the talents and gifts for ministry who most folks wouldn’t give the time of day to. Because the marginalized are the only ones with the cultural experience to take a Church that is increasingly marginalized culturally into the 21st century.

 

I shouldn’t be the only one who has done a year in solitary in the room when we discuss the prisoner.

 

I shouldn’t be the only person of color in the room when we discuss abolition and reparations.

 

I shouldn’t be the only one who knows what its like to cop heroin when talk about recovery ministries.

 

I can’t be the only example of amazing grace.

 

Dear Church: #decolonizetheseminary

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#decolonizetheliturgy

So perhaps you have become recently aware of the #decolonizelutheranism movement as it is receiving more and more attention. To be fair presiding Bishop Eaton has already been discussing this with the ELCA about unshackling ourselves from the “ethnic” identity that at one time served the Lutheran Church. We were mostly agrarian and rural and communities, in America’s more pioneering days, much more ethnic specific. Look at where LTSP is. A traditionally German settler area.  This is exactly what the #decolonize movement is about, divorcing ourselves from this old model which in large part is murdering the ELCA. I repeat, this is murder.

 

When  liturgical theologian, Gordon Lathrop, talks about the central symbols of worship and what they have mean for the church universal, I would say #decolonize fully agrees. If  we don’t #decolonizetheliturgy  we may not be able to get anyone to come to our church’s to experience word, bath, and meal. So I want to take a look at what the Decolonize movement is saying to the wider church, then what the ramifications may or may not be on our liturgical theology. What does it mean when a group of emerging leaders in the Church realize almost simultaneously that our theology has white supremacy embedded in it? In a wider context, what does it mean when “white” Lutherans are an anomaly compared to the rest of the world. Furthermore, how do we keep the liturgy the way in which we tell the story?

Others within this movement, of which I believe I am a part of, would say that the liturgy as we know it is part of the problem. I would contend that word, bath, and meal aren’t the problem. I would say the ways in which these symbols aren’t central anymore and Luther’s peculiarities are now being treated more central is the problem. So another question to ask ourselves, I believe, is how can we coopt some liturgical rites to fight systemic racism that exists within the Church? This is a long standing tradition in the Black Church experience.  Examples are how Hymns the master would let us sing on the plantation and how they became messages for the underground railroad.

 

So I will lay out what I believe are the roots of the #decolonize movement in the ELCA. I will then describe how I think we can lead to another renewal of the central symbols of Christian worship.

 

 

Section One-

#decolonizelutheranism

 

What do I mean when I say decolonize Lutheranism? Well in the last few weeks since this movement as sparked on the scene in the ELCA I have realized a few things. First, what I mean by decolonize is very different than my peers who are involved. I have a peer who is a PHD student who is interested in what it means to untie our Church and by proxy our worship from the gender binary. One peer is particularly interested in indigenous peoples and their often troubling relationship with an institution that lead the way for the conquering of its homeland here on this continent, and what can only be called genocide. Another friend is interested in how this can be used to help other whites “get woke” as it is termed nowadays in the black liberation movement.

 

While my thoughts intersect with all of these important issues I have been concerned about two things. How do we untangle white supremacy in our theology from the cross? What I call the colonization of the spirit. How can we unwrap the gift that is the cross from all of this, while still using the liturgy to tell THE story? The only Story, about how a God loved us so much he came down into the muck and mire that is life here on earth, and got messy with us. How can we use the liturgy to combat what has essentially become the modern white washing of the Church? Can the liturgy even accomplish this with its mostly European washed roots, or is this solely a problem we don’t have the tools for? Was Luther’s accidental revolution and its desperate attempts to marry itself to power afterwards led to this rather schizophrenic relationship with the oppressed and heritage?

 

Basically, what does it mean to have a “Lutheran” liturgy?  Is ethnicity, specifically European ethnicity and all the ways it has led to oppression in this country, so core to our identity that it will never be anyway else? These are some of the questions that the decolonize movement is attempting to answer in a very democratic manner. Public discussion,  discourse and more.

 

For me the theological basis for such work is simply stated by James Cone. But Cone’s criticism is integral to why I believe we are seeing “decolonize” get traction in the ELCA. It’s a rather simple contention that speaks to the Reformers rather stunning silence when it came to standing with the oppressed. That the reformers in their quest for legitimacy and survival left them with the unenviable position of hardly every standing with the poor and oppressed. Almost always with princes and principalities and rulers. Cone states-

“We cannot say that Luther, Calvin, Wesley and other prominent representatives of the Churches tradition were limited by their time, as if their ethical judgments on oppression did not effect the essential truth of their theologies. They were wrong ethically because they were wrong theologically. They were wrong theologically because they failed to listen to the bible- with sufficient openness and through the eyes of the victims of political oppression.”

James Cone- God of the oppressed

 

While I have used this quote several times in post, it has become the centerpiece of several things I’m working on. Please excuse the oversharing of it.

 

Cone is stunning in his criticism. The ELCA has been content to discuss Luther’s ethical flaws. From his   anti-Semitic writings, to his almost Machiavellian political maneuvering. They have even publicly apologized. These are issues of ethics and the application of the Gospel message. But Cone invites us to rethink all of that. He makes the proposition that the reformers theology was flawed because they didn’t listen to scripture with enough openness. That is an icepick to the heart of most Lutheran theologians, and brings to question the very foundation of our liturgy.

 

If our very theological foundation is flawed, we are telling the story “wrong.” In my opinion that also means we have to look at how we tell the story.

 

So I personally believe that there may be a fatal flaw in the reformation. That Luther and his contemporaries refused to stand with the oppressed. Over and over again they attempted to marry themselves to power. Now this was in part because of sheer survival. But if we are take Cone seriously, which I believe in light of the church’s bloody hands in the birth of this nation, we can’t just right off Luther as man of his time. This doesn’t excuse him from his actions just as we can’t right off Judas’s actions as a first century 2nd temple Jew who wanted revolution rather than a Rabbi.

 

Secondly, I’m just going to name something that may ruffle your feathers and for that I apologize. In the United States Lutheran pride has become white pride. White pride is the language of black liberation taken by supremacist movements. The idea that European peoples, cultures, and history are supreme.  This includes theologians. Seminaries. Our liturgies. This seems to be a phenomenon that is almost exclusively in the United States. “White Lutheranism” only exists in a few states in a very small area of one continent. The world Lutheran Church by far is persons of color and full of diversity and beauty. Why not here?  This is the bare bones of why the #decolonize movement has started in the ELCA today.

 

So how does this speak to our liturgical theology in the the ELCA. In what ways can we use the existing structures like our liturgy and our ELW and invite the experiences of those who have been “othered” into the center of our liturgy.

 

 

 

 

Part Two

#decolonize Our Liturgy

 

            In George Tinker’s essay- Decolonizing the Language of Lutheran Theology: Confessions, Mission, Indians, and the Globalization of Hybridity we see the basis of what I’m calling for. While Tinker focuses on this mission to decolonize in a much more global sense, I believe this critical eye can be turned to the ELCA, its constant cries for diversity, and in turn our liturgical theology. In his abstract he cuts right to the heart.

“Christianity as we know it in the United States is essentially a european ethnic religious movement, one that has necessitated decolonizing processes as it has spread into the formerly eurocolonized global world. In many ways, lutheranism has been and continues to be even more discretely ethnocentric, based largely in the thinking, the cultures, and the languages of the germanic north. This essay challenges lutheran theologians to begin a dedicated process of decoding the narrowly ethnic and implicitly colonizing language of lutheran theology.”

 

 

As I have stated earlier, liturgy is just the Church’s expression of telling THE story. What does it mean when all the hymns and liturgies are written almost exclusively by white men? It means that we most assuredly come out with liturgical practices that create a “dobbie brother” Jesus who looks more like satire on Vietnam war protesters than an authentic representation of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not claiming that to have the answers on how we would even start to untangle the mess that is the colonizing of Lutheranism. But if language is important, and Lutheranism is at times a liturgy of the word more than anything else then this is clearly vitally important.

 

I also don’t think Gordon Lanthrop, whom Lutherans worship like a golden calf, would disagree at all. When he talks about the central symbols of word, bath, meal I believe he is calling the liturgical movement back to its stripped and bare core. Think of decolonizing as the stripping of the altar at the end of a Maundy Thursday service. We do this in preparation for the tomb and resurrection. We are preparing for new life. But the stripping away makes the central symbols perhaps the clearest they have ever are throughout the year.  The temporary absence is poignant.

 

“Christians meet for worship on Sunday. Christians pray, together or singly, on all days of the week at morning and evening, perhaps also at noon or night. They pray in praise and intercession. In their Sunday meetings Christians gather around the scriptures. They also hold a meal. They teach faith to those who would join community, then they bathe them. These are the root elements of an ordo, of a pattern of scheduled rituals.  ”

Gordon Lanthrop “Holy Thing’s”

 

 

Gordon strips bare the entire Christian pattern of worship. The same way we strip the altar on Maundy Thursday. That’s what I’m calling for. To strip away everything that stands in the way of people of color, and by way of intersectionality, the LGBTQ community, from engaging in meaningful worship in the ELCA. To continue to believe that singing Eurocentric hymns,  Eurocentric depictions of Christ, and the vast majority of ELCA liturgist also reflecting this context isn’t part of the diversity problem in the ELCA is foolish.

 

 

Tinker again touches on the entire problem and solution in regards to  trying to changing one intersecting piece of the Eurocentric puzzle that creates the ELCA today.

 

“Today I would press further that the notions of salvation and healing must be culturally unpacked in an Indian context, that salvation in particular must give way to the much more traditional Indian ideal of personal, communal, and eventually cosmic balance. And instead of arguing over how we might articulate the euro-theological notion of salvation in some manner that might be more compatible with Indian cultures, I would press that the process needs to be turned around. ”

George Tinker -“Decolonizing the Language of Lutheran Theology: Confessions, Mission, Indians, and the Globalization of Hybridity

 

Here Tinker hits the nail on the head. We can’t remove one piece of the structure like liturgy without rethinking the whole process. We need not think about how we contextualize a liturgy first put together in Ducal Saxony. We need to figure out what the context is speaking into the liturgy. This will alleviate some of the anxiety that is sure to come in a process like this. To avoid the eventual heartbreak of the laity I wouldn’t suggest this process in an established congregation.

Amongst  ELCA congregations that are showing signs of growth are new mission starts or church plants.  We would start where life is. Each new mission developer as part of their training or preparation would actually have to take some advanced liturgical studies. Something one or two steps beyond this course. Most of the curriculum would be in line with Gordon’s reasoning. We would strip down and help the seminarian unlearn what they think they know about worship.

The next step would be to teaching them how to contextualize. Draw from the history, culture, gifts, and challenges of community they are serving or plan to serve. Practice like this could take place on internship. The third and boldest step is we would have to create a small army of liturgical theologians. Folks who are no longer satisfied to log on to sundayandseasons.com. The idea wouldn’t be for them to be stuck with one contextual liturgy but to train them to have a discerning heart and ear to hear the Holy Spirit wherever they serve.

 

This would require remarkably more intentionality around our liturgical theology. It would also require us to train leaders for a much more fluid “church” and would do away with rubricism.

I invite you all to start the process of….

 

Strip the altar bare …..

Strip the liturgy bare…..

#decolonizetheliturgy

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Church: Can I Tell You My Story Part 2

The second installment of a piece I’m writing that is “my story”. Please read part 1!

 

I mean, really?  Who the hell let me dress myself as a kid? I was such a nerd. Standing next to Danny it was so clear too. It was like God decided to leave all the “smooth” on the table for him. He wore the West Philadelphia uniform of the time. Crisp polo shirt. Levi’s. Timberland boots. “Sharp” shape up. Those flannel jackets. He was, by definition, what every kid on 63rd Street looked like. Subdued and only loud when needed. Funny. Tough as hell. I don’t even know how to explain it. Remember those pre-teen and teen years? Fitting in was a way of life. In West Philly it was a survival instinct. I was clearly not born with any of that.

 

Being a Black man in America is a cultural third rail, just like the EL, but if you were built to be powered by Black Culture. It powered you as you churned through the city. If you aren’t built for that, it can kill you with enough electricity to light up a stadium. That was the difference. Danny naturally fit into his role as a Black man in America. For me, being of mixed race was my defining characteristic. Danny had no struggle with this, with blue eyes and an almost blonde ‘fro when he was younger, I had curly “good hair” that was brown and made me look more Hispanic. Once in school the “Espirita” club almost kicked my ass for not having any pride in my Latino roots. True story.  I was so racially confused as a kid. In fact, I don’t remember meeting anyone of mixed race until much later in life other than Danny. For his part, he wasn’t much interested in exploring what that meant for us. He rightly figured the cops, teachers, and anyone with a semblance of authority treated us like we were black (read poorly). Case closed. If white America was going to treat us like everyone else in our racial context, there was nothing to explore. We were Black. I rather naively felt different. I felt we represented something new in the American experience. That we wouldn’t have to be tied to the old racial boundaries.  Danny thought I was just strange.

 

To be clear, Danny was right. It was strange that I had a language to express this idea of racial inequity, in a not very dissimilar way from what I’m using today, at age eleven or twelve. That is a strange state to live in; to be acutely aware of race but without the fellowship of peers. I stood out and that is a capital punishment as a kid. Only fools try not to fit in. I wore it like a badge of honor. But to be honest, I would probably shake 12-year-old me for behaving that way if I had a chance until he listened to reason.

I wore all black all the time.   I staged a one-man protest against the first Gulf War and wore a sign taped to my t-shirt all day. I was the anti-war sentiment. War is an abstract concept in a foreign land to a bunch of kids with semi-automatic gunfire going off regularly in their presence. I listened to strange music. In the summer of ‘89 I walked over to the thrift store and found the album that would send me into fits of music exploration. My dad had a record player and I couldn’t touch his albums. I really enjoyed vinyl. I mean he had an original pressing of Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” and I remember being mesmerized by the books of lyrics inside, the names of the producers and writers credited. The message from Stevie inside. His signature. If you ever get your hands on one of these cultural treasures, take time to open it up and explore. This relic led me to begin exploring music. It’s funny because now that I collect vinyl that I’m interested in, the best place to go is somewhere located completely outside the music’s context. In my case, it was the Talking Heads’ album, “Remain in the Light.” So, my music taste from the day I blew the dust off that record took a tangent most my peers weren’t ever going to head down. Combine that with nerd qualities that wouldn’t be part of popular culture in a positive way for at least 15 years and you have a recipe to get chased home. Every. Day.

 

That’s one thing, among many others, that millennials got right compared to Gen X cuspers like me. They embraced the arts, oddities, and academic achievement in a way that was just shit on when I was a kid. They made it mainstream. Safe. They hung up the 27 club. I think part of it was the fatalistic worldview we had as Gen X’ers. I mean, Biggie and 2pac taken in their prime. Kurt swallowed a gun. The constant bombardment of the slacker lifestyle by popular media into our already thoroughly recreational chemistry drenched brains. Also the constant reminder of everything the boomers had achieved. Every time something in the 90s gained steam, some adult would point to the 60s.

 

From my perspective, the 60s were an abject failure. In my puberty fueled intellect, the 60s had the world systems by the throat. Civil Rights, the anit-war movement, spiritual experimentation, and they all sold out to have us. A generation they couldn’t be around to raise, latchkey rejects running wild. They traded the chance for real social change for Brooks Brothers’ suits and pensions. Most kids in my neighborhood didn’t know MLK from the day we got off from school. Black history mostly talked about the thousands of uses for peanuts and the invention of the traffic light. The First time I heard the term “reparations” was from a white activist teaching in the San Francisco County Jail. Let me be clear, this was in a predominately Black neighborhood. For one month I was taught of a total of maybe 10 noteworthy blacks. In one textbook, Marcus Garvey received a paragraph. One paragraph. I heard “I had a dream” about a 1000 times but never once was directed to read “Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” If I was to believe the Philly public school system, a system already a horror story that could fill a whole book by itself, there were like five Black people America liked.

 

Between all that and the fact I was already painfully aware of not fitting in., I was in fairly bad shape.  I had the early stages of alcoholism going on. This is the spiritual side of it that most rehabs don’t talk about. It manifests itself in exaggerated sense of “separateness.” Imagine as a child the theological apartness from God was something you were consciously aware of. I mean, you didn’t have shared language to describe it, but you just knew. Now, granted most teens feel that way, but with me it never left. Ever. It can creep up on me now if it wasn’t for simple spiritual exercises. In the toxic stew that  was my inner psyche, I can only look back at myself in wonder. What was I thinking? That’s the point of this chapter right?

 

I was thinking that God abandoned us. My Family. My generation. Black America. My Mom, who by this point was taking almost nightly beatings from my Dad. My brother, who was already having his first brushes with the criminal justice system. He was being counted, measured and weighed, and found wanting by a society that had already decided his fate before he ever lashed out. I once read the Bible from cover to cover. My family was really disturbed by this. I just sat in my room and read from Genesis to Revelation only skipping genealogies and the endless rules in Leviticus. If God wasn’t kissing my Mom’s black eye. If God wasn’t in the back of the cop car with my Dad as the police took him away for a few days. If he wasn’t in the look of disgust in the cop’s eyes as he looked at my Mom for being with my Dad, not because he was beating her, but because he was black.  If God wasn’t in my school on the other side of the metal detectors. Well he had to be in this book, right? I searched.

 

I’m convinced we experience Christ most fully within community, but I didn’t know that then. I tried everything. Books on witchcraft, hanging with 5%ers who were followers of a form of Islam that broke off from the Nation of Islam. Why not the Bible? But I didn’t know that discipleship comes with following others in the body of Christ. It also comes with a cost.

 

I was thinking that I got the short end of the stick. I was thinking the Pledge of Allegiance was a joke. I was thinking that my Dad was a monster. I was suspecting my Mom would never wake up and leave. I was thinking my brother was going to end up dead in the streets. I was thinking that River Phoenix was a role model. I was thinking that I was worthless. I was thinking that my extended family had to know what was happening in my home. I was thinking David Bryne was a genius. I was thinking Biggie was a victim of COINTELPRO.   I was thinking maybe I would be better off on my own.

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Dear Church: Can I Tell You My Story?

 

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book

 

Preface:  Why You Should Probably Shouldn’t Read This

 

 

I don’t know what I’m doing here. I mean for that fact I don’t know what you are doing here. Over the year’s people have heard “my story” and said to me in an offhand way “You should write a book.” Something like that is easy to ignore the first dozen times. After a while you start thinking either God is adding to an already complicated call on your life, or people are just stupid. The problem with thinking like that in my experience, that if everyone else is wrong, it most likely means you are delusional. Seriously. The problem with delusional thinking is you don’t even know you are delusional. As a good friend points out that is one of the prime “features” of a delusion.

 

It wasn’t until recently that I decided that maybe God was trying to say something to me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe he uses my broken past in the building of his kingdom. The only reason my life makes any sense is with Christ. Meaning that I ran amok for years all over the country, but he  took my shenanigans, my utter humanness and turned into glory. My story, like all of us, is part of the story. For me that is the biggest factor why I have never sat down in front of a keyboard like I am this cold January morning. Every story is sacred. All our lives are scripture. You may be a single mom with shades of Ester. You may be sleeping on cold concrete tonight with Moses poking through your heart. It’s very possible as you organize the next protest , Jesus is not only working in you and through you, but you become of  his narrative. Maybe you were sent to this place in history to cleanse the temple. Maybe the temple is the local police station.

 

That’s my point. My story is, in my opinion, nothing  special. Not a great selling point to get you to keep reading right? But walk with me for a second. If all our stories are sacred, then maybe mine is just meant to be used one on one. In ministry or in a church basement with other folks like me who are in long term recovery. Or on a street corner when I take the time to take a seat with you while you spare change. Maybe I can just use my story to remind people that their stories are sacred. That my story is just a run of the mill and average description of what it’s like to encounter Grace. Maybe that’s all that makes it amazing. That when Grace is involved no matter how broken a situation you  cannot only be restored, but renewed. Resurrected.  I’m not unique.

 

But I still find myself here with you. On a cold MLK day writing my story down. Why? I think it’s like every other call that God has placed on my heart. I run from it until God would not allow me to. Free will is a fickle thing. So reluctantly, I answer the call to ministry, or to writing this. But God has softened my heart up with the meat tenderizer of hard living. So of course I’m answering the call. Jesus is a jerk and won’t let me do anything else. I don’t know if that is bad theology, but it’s my experience. God has allowed me to dash myself against the sharp rocks of life until I’m beaten into a state of reasonableness.  If that’s free will I’d hate to see predestination at work.

 

This book isn’t meant to be a lot of things. It isn’t meant to be a treatise on being a person of color in America. There are plenty of those and I will leave a few recommended books at the end of this chapter. They deal with the complex experience of race in America in a much more tactful manner than I will.  It isn’t meant to be an autobiography. There are great autobiographies of people who bear much more significance than me to this world.  Also, in my opinion, more important lives that call for  reflection. This is just meant to be a collection of certain episodes in my life. Turning points, peppered with interludes I personally find funny. Most people would think they are tragic or sad. To be clear it’s all funny to me because I survived.

This is not meant to be a book critiquing or accentuating one way to recover from alcoholism or addiction over another. I think people who do that are terrible. Really. Most 12 step programs and any alternative work really hard on literature, unity, policies, and do it all on a shoestring budget. Also they work for the most part. All of them work for someone or they wouldn’t exist. But inevitably there are vultures picking through the corpse of some poor kids shipwreck of a life.  Offering a new and improved version of a program that’s been around for 80 plus years. Then follows the eventual rehabilitation facility and the speaking fee’s. Let me be clear if you are that person, you suck. Reevaluate everything. But it would be hard to be authentic if I didn’t talk about some experiences in recovery.  This isn’t meant to be a theological document. As I write this I am a seminarian pursuing a Masters in Divinity and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Translation I’m studying to be a pastor. So yes I will discuss the Church and what I have found here, but I’m no theologian. Hell I’m barely a Christian by some people’s standards.

 

My point is I’m one voice among many. That my experiences are just that. My experiences. One person in a sea of others, just like me. One lonely cry of the oppressed that is easily drowned out by the voices that have had a tougher road. One window to the soul of America that I hope you peek through. One servant of the Master who is just learning what that means. One fighter in a losing battle. One more person drowning in waves of grace.

 

But the most compelling reason not to read any further is that I’m going to try to anger you. I love challenge paradigms. I’m going to poke at you. More specifically ,I hope to stick my fingers squarely into the open wounds of this society for no other reason than to see it squirm for a second. Words are the only weapons that Christ will let me use and I fear by the time I’m ordained he will take those too. Radical peace and inclusion doesn’t leave much room for armed men. I’m armed and dangerous. I have watched the sun rise over the Rocky Mountains from the Flat Irons, and sold my body for drug money in Daytona Beach FL. I have been called nigger in Atlantic city and Cincinnati. I have been chased home from middle school for being a white boy in West Philly (I will never call it Philadelphia.) I have a quiver full of arrows  of pain with sharpened edges of mercy.   I’ll share my scars if you don’t mind getting cut.

 

 

 

 

Chapter One: If You Grew Up the Way I Grew Up…..

 

My parents met and fell in love in a drug rehab. Story goes downhill from there. But I think that is an important piece of the puzzle. My mother, Loretta, was from the mountains of Pennsylvania. Hazleton area in the Pocono’s. She came from a typical post WW 2 family. Lots of kids. Four to be exact. Two brothers and a sister. I wish I could give you a clearer picture of what that was like for my Mom, but she wasn’t that close to her family. I’m sure part of that was marrying a black man in ’76. I’m also quite sure it was the gulf of the unsaid that is created in families when alcoholism and addiction ravage a loved one in our midst. We watch, often silently, as the person we once knew so well is warped into an twisted image of themselves. Stretched well beyond the well-defined moral borders they suddenly  leap over at times.

We are often left with a caricature of a loved one,  that we are sentenced to  life with. After a while we don’t recognize them as anything but what they have become. I know her dad was a lifer in the coal mines. Her uncle was a worker on the rails. Both WW2 vets. Her mother was Greek Orthodox and apparently that was risky for their day. Good Irish catholic kid like my grandpa bringing home an orthodox believer.  You think that would have prepared them for when she brought home another wounded person that she was in love with. But its ‘76 and your nice white daughter (ignore the rampant drug use) brought home a black man. That she is most likely sleeping with. Apparently my grandfather told my Mom that if she went to a stadium full of brain surgeons she would bring home the hot dog vendor. That was Loretta. If it was broken, she would fix it. My Father as it turns it out was unfixable.  My mother had red hair, fierce blue eyes that welled up with tears when she was mad. She had a left hook that was best avoided. She was my everything. A fighter and a fool. A drunk. A heroin addict. A damn good cook and a follower of Jesus in the unlikeliest ways. I have seen her with more bruises then a prize fighter after 12 rounds and never once didn’t think she was beautiful.

 

My father was raised in West Philly in the 60 and 70’s. From what I can glean it wasn’t all that great. Spoiler alert it isn’t that great for most black men now. Raised in a big family like my mother, two brothers and a sister. The Duncan’s. My family, or at least the family I knew as a child. My Grandfather was the patriarch in all the sense of that word. But my Dad never stood a chance. He was sort of an afterthought for my grandmother. By the time he was 11 or 12 he had run into the street and been hit by 3 cars. I haven’t neglected my dog that much. He got into a stick fight with a friend and had lost his right eye. By the time he reached 9th grade, due to the so called social advancement system of the Philadelphia School system, he was almost too old for school and couldn’t read or write. He bounced around from failed attempts from being a gangster to a member of the nation of Islam. The youngest, I often heard him express he felt disposable. The kid no one wanted.

While that could have been very much true I think there where socio-economics factors. Philly was a mess at the time. It was illegal for two more than 3 black’s kids to walk on the same side of the street as each other. It was considered “gang activity.” While the 60’s and 70’s seemed to roll on with a rising tide of change, my impression of Philly at the time from elders was different. It didn’t get any better, it in fact got worse for the average black man in Philly. No called you nigger to your face in the North, you just got beat like one. Self-segregation, racial tension  with just a dash of abject poverty kept Philly from ever really taking advantage of the “awakening” American society was experiencing.

 

So my parents met in rehabilitation in Bucks county. A 2-year program, apparently they spent most their time hating each other and generally not getting along.  The story, as it has been regaled to me over a bottle of Wild Irish Rose and a still burning but hardly ever ashed Newport, was that one of the few weekend passes they got my mother had plans to hang out with her then boyfriend. But he broke up with her just a few weeks away from “graduation”. My mother crushed was crying by the side of her car. My dad perhaps had one of the few truly unselfish moments of his life and he stopped to see what was the matter with the only girl in the rehab who didn’t fall for his act. He cancelled his plans, took her to Atlantic City and they walked the beach and the boardwalk. Held hands and stayed together for 30 plus years. That would be a great story ,if you know, it wasn’t for addiction and the systemic forms of oppression that were about to kick their asses. But on this day they were happy. Sober and falling in love.

 

Now it would be easy to read this and think I didn’t love my parents. You would be wrong. They were dumbasses. But they were my dumbasses. They were mine and I loved them fiercely. Probably to my detriment more than once. I think that’s something people don’t understand about the inner city poor. That’s code for Black, in case you aren’t hip to how these sort of stories can be framed. When you spend weeks wondering if there will be food on the table. If Dad will get out of jail. If Mom will keep her job.  You are hyper aware at 9 years old that if she loses her job you will be homeless. Unless you have taken a book of the old food stamps down to corner store and prayed no one took them from you on the way,  you don’t understand the camaraderie that develops in families like this. I knew my parents weren’t like the other kids. I maybe didn’t know why until later in life, but I knew they fought. I just had no idea what they were fighting.

Now this wasn’t every kid’s experience in my neighborhood. A lot of my friend’s parents were upwardly mobile. They held jobs. Sent their kids to school with new clothes. Went to Church and weren’t beating each other until the cops showed up to break it up. But a lot of kids in my neighborhood were just like me. But I’m jumping too far ahead. How can I keep going without telling you about my little brother Daniel? Younger is more apt. He was always bigger. Tougher. When I was chased home my one prayer was that I would make it to Daniel. Where I was introverted while younger (believe it or not) Daniel was confident and easy going and likable. He was just “that” kid in West Philly in a lot of ways. Could play sports, make you snort with laughter and vanquish an enemy with a solid left hook he got from my mother. An important aspect of Daniels worldview was that he was readily accepted by our black peers while I wasn’t.  I was accused of talking too “white.” This meant that I used proper English to me, but it was more than that. It was dialect. It was a rhythm I just didn’t get and in many ways still don’t get. Everyone else was listening to the “Ready to Die” album by Biggie. I was buying vinyl versions of the “Speaking in tongues” by the Talking Heads. Don’t get me wrong I loved hip hop, and at its core it spoke to my experiences with the siren song of an unjust living condition put to poetry. But I was always willing not to fit in. That makes for hard living as a kid.

 

But Daniel who had the best afro and crystal blue eyes. He could fit into anything like most people put on gloves. Our relationship was contentious in the way only two boys, two years apart could be. Knock down drag out fights. Screaming matches. The conspiratorial late night whispers. Victories that would be hard won in the light of our home. My Mom worked and my dad’s only  skill was getting high and beating all three of us to a pulp. I remember as a young boy wanting to bask in the light of my father. All young men do. To be near him, in the mix with him. But I also remember being hyper aware of how dangerous that could be. Sitting with my father was like sitting near a box of fireworks when they were lit. You know the big mortar shells that no one should have but everyone does. At his distilled best it was like moment right after you lit the fuse, in between the explosion and when the shell takes off. He was the sizzle you hear and the faint smell of gun powder in the air.

 

The fuse would spark. Bottle of E and J brandy or Wild Irish Rose. The sizzle would hit your ears. Laughter around a card table. A Richard Pryor record playing in the background. The fuse would get shorter. Coke mixed with joints in the strange metallic burning plastic smell only crack can give.  Here. Somewhere here would be the magic moment. He would say he loved me, but I couldn’t hear it. Like hear it. Or he would play chess with me. Here in this brief interlude in my night he would do something that would amount to what I called love for many years. Explosion. The moment would pass. My mom lying bleeding on the floor, eye swollen shut, I’m standing defiantly over her at 6 years old. Ordering him to stop. Begging him to stop. I’m called a little white fucking traitor. I’m swept aside with a backhand. Fireworks are always something to see from the proper distance.

 

Our home was a concept. Meaning we never lived anywhere more than two years until I was older and even that didn’t last. So home for us, for me, was the 4 of us. It was the strange camaraderie that happens in the wake of physical and mental abuse. My mom brother and I were standing up to the tidal wave that was my dad’s mood swings. As a whole unit there was the awe of watching my Mom make a meal for 4 out of nothing. Or the fact that presents appeared every Christmas even if my dad sold them sometimes by new year. The lights being on was a victory and surviving was the war. Our leader, my father, was flawed but on the battlefield of West Philly facing the draconian economic policies of the 80’s designed to destroy us, we were one.

 

Hunger has a way of uniting even the most broken family situations. Don’t believe me? Try it. Why not try to feed a family of four on the equivalent amount of SNAP benefits for a month. Only make two trips to the grocery store. Try remember that transportation may not be readily available. You will find attentiveness around the dinner table and a new appreciation for your culinary skills if you are the cook of the family. Table fellowship was a big part of the early Church and I would submit there was one very practical reason. Hunger. Today it’s all the rage to talk about food deserts. But the reality is whole swaths of our society are subjected to substandard food that is cheaply manufactured, sold at a ballooned price, and not readily available. Sometimes I think the ELCA should plant new ministries anywhere an “ALDI’s” or any of the other cut rate grocery stores are. Just open a church sponsored farmers market. There is nothing like the Gospel speaking into lives this way. Helping others  sit around the table with fresh foods provided by the Church at a rate that doesn’t make eating healthy near impossible.

 

But beyond our practical needs, and there where many, we took an almost strange pride in our brokenness. We were all very self-aware that we weren’t functioning like “family should”.  I knew this intuitively as a child. When I was six years old I heard my Mom and Dad up late screaming. It was December which for most kids are days of joy. The days leading into Christmas area heady days indeed. But by six I already noticed a pattern the days leading up to the paycheck right before Christmas. I listened, like I always did, to their words slamming against the wall. My Dad wanted to spend money in that late night desperation  crack can give a man. His tone shifted from demanding to pleading to forceful. My Mom desperately pleaded with him, “Leonard its Christmas, what’s left is for the kids and rent.” This wasn’t shocking information. I knew that no way Santa could be real. No way anything magical could happen in my neighborhood. Santa didn’t come to the ghetto. That coupled with my Mom’s anxiety around this time, I knew she was the one slipping the presents under our plastic K-mart tree. In a moment that I think is defining, I marched into my parent’s room at 3 in the morning. I stood defiantly in the light of a lamp with no shade, and declared I knew Santa wasn’t real.

That they should just get presents for Danny my little brother. I remember the look in my Mom’s eyes. I would see it many times later on. I watched as her heart broke. The realization of who I was becoming in this home, the tears that welled up but where swallowed back down. The brave face a mom puts on. She looked at me and told me that she was proud of me, but it wasn’t necessary. That Christmas was still happening. I remember telling her that rent and bills were more important. I went to bed secure in the knowledge that I had tried to help my family.

 

That is what family meant to me. It meant sacrifice. Eventually the prices got too high for me to pay. Eventually the little boy who bravely tried to save Christmas took too many punches. Too many nights up with tear stained cheeks. The thick white rivers that washed down your face. That cracked if you actually smiled. The chest heaving up and down and up and down like the rapid beat of a drum until everything almost went black from exhaustion.  One day, after a while when you are living in the bombed out shell of a family you start dream. These dreams are fueled by the pop culture of the day. Or dog eared copy of “On the Road” you find in a library. The funeral pyre of your old life is lit by sparks of defiance and daring. Daring to believe that you are not meant to sit on the sad corner that is the two houses that cap off your block. Daring to wonder what life is like outside of the world that has you trapped. Poor. Beaten. Bloodied. Bruised. Hungry. Lost. Forlorn. Defiant.

If you grew up the way I grew up, you would have hit the road too.

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White Niceness as the Enemy of Black Liberation

 

This is guest post from Elle Dowd a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA. Elle was active in the Ferguson Uprising  (pictured above) and an active voice in the #DecolonizeLutheranism movement recently sparked. She is a friend, a colleague, and someone who I have the utmost admiration for. She has a message for white people, as a white person. She also has a message for “nice” Church:

 

 

White people love to think of ourselves as Nice.

This is especially true of a certain brand of white people, many of us middle class and hailing from the Midwest. We pat ourselves on the back with pride for being [Your State Here] Nice.  Where I grew up, in a state that is about 94% white and filled with Lutheran churches, we liked to say we’re Iowa Nice.

Niceness is about convenience. It’s about our comfort. It’s about control. It can never include disruptions. It is exactly what MLK disparages in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as a “negative peace”, set up to keep the status quo.

It is our pathological desire for Niceness that leads white people to look at young Black people crying out in the street and say:

“They should really say #AllLivesMatter.”

“I’m all for protesting, but do they really have to inconvenience other people?”

“No one is going to listen to them if they are going to be so rude like that.”

In other words, “Why can’t they be Nice?”  A nice that is tame, palatable, compliant, and always always always centers whiteness.

For white people and white culture, Niceness is a False Idol.  And it’s a False Idol with a body count.  In 2015, unarmed Black people were killed by police at a rate of 5 times the rate of unarmed whites. Yet when our Black siblings are crying out, “Black Lives Matter!” we continue to make human sacrifices to the altar of our bloodthirsty God of Niceness, caring more about our own comfort and security than about children dying in the streets.

Body counts and blood sacrifices don’t sound very Nice.  But that’s the thing about niceness and its dangerous relationship to power; its slippery and like most other things, finds a way to center itself on white ideals, white experiences, white feelings.

When people in power are asking oppressed people to “play nice”, questions worth asking are:
What is Nice?
And who gets to decide?

For most white people we live a life of unexamined privilege and the world seems at least mostly fair.  Because we don’t experience systemic racial discrimination first hand, it’s easy for us to assume that the world and its institutions are good or at least neutral. Most white people have a worldview that the playing field is level, except for maybe in a few isolated circumstances. But the truth is that the world is not only NOT neutral, but is in fact actively and aggressively hostile towards people of color.  There is a system in place that has benefited me and people who look like me, and it’s been in place for hundreds of years before I was even born.

To a world wrapped in whiteness, the Movement for Black Lives seems aggressive. We don’t see where this anger is coming from because we assume that our systems are neutral.  And so we assume this anger is unprovoked. We don’t see that what’s truly aggressive is racism, that white supremacy started this fight, that the Movement for Black Lives is acting out of self defense against a system that would see Black people be annihilated before it would see them be free.

That doesn’t sound Nice. Because it’s not. And because white people value Niceness so much, when we hear this, its uncomfortable for us because it creates cognitive dissonance. And since we value our comfort above everything – even our Black siblings’ lives – we try to find a way to make it not true.  Any reminder becomes the object of scorn and disbelief, and we will find any polite way to undermine it.

Burning crosses in people’s yards to silence them is passé.  But #AllLivesMatter has a Nice ring to it.

White people love niceness, but we fail to see that our ideas about polite society are not very nice at all. They serve instead to preserve a system that is criminalizing people of color and dehumanizing white people with our callous indifference. They act to protect institutions built on killing the bodies of people of color to the detriment of our own souls.

We say we value niceness, but what we really value is being in charge of what that looks like and when it’s appropriate, by our own standards. We value control.

We say we value niceness, but we look away when the state, with our tax dollars and on our behalf, is slaughtering our siblings. We value “security.”

We say we value niceness, but we silence anyone who dissents to this genocide. We value “peace.”

We say we value niceness, but this kind of niceness isn’t kindness or compassion or accompaniment or self-sacrifice. It’s not Christ’s example of emptying ourselves for the sake of the other.  It’s the opposite – silencing and oppressing the other for the sake of ourselves.

We say we value niceness, but the truth is that we care more about being polite and comfortable than we care about liberation.  We are worshipping at the altar of Niceness instead of following the cross of Christ. This is an abuse of priorities that is abhorrent to the God who introduces Herself over and over as the one who “brought us out of the house of slavery”.

White Niceness has become an idol that is the antithesis to Black Liberation. They are in direct opposition to one another.  We know we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve our own comfort when it sacrifices the lives of our neighbors.  We must choose this day whom we will serve.  Will we worship the lies of Niceness? Or will we follow the God of Liberation?

 

For further reading see this article on tone policing

 

and this article on respectability politics

 

 

 

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Dear Church : #Decolonizelutheranism

So its been a few weeks and I have some exciting things to report in the near future. But today I want to share why I am personally involved in the loosely affiliated and barely born movement called #decolonizelutheranism.  This wouldn’t be a post from Lenny Duncan if it didn’t start with a disclaimer. So here we go, I don’t represent the organically growing movement #delcolonizelutheranism. I’m not sure anyone does. The hashtag grew out of a series of conversations online a few dozens of us have been having since fall of 2015. Credit goes to Elle Dowd I believe for coming up with the hashtag, but she was sparked by other conversations she was having. The Holy Spirit blows where it will and I doubt you will find anyone who will take credit for what its doing. I certainly won’t. This also isn’t meant to be a manifesto about what this term means, or how it lands on everyone’s unique experience within the ELCA or the wider Lutheran Church we often pretend isn’t there. This is my experience. My story. My blog.

 

So now that is out of the way, what do I mean when I say #decolonizelutheranism? In a lot of ways I already said it in my piece “Dear Church: You aren’t Dying, You are Becoming a Minority “ Which was my piece to open this blog up. But here is the deal, the ELCA has to take a very critical look at itself when it comes to our “Lutheran Pride” which is often the language of white supremacy wrapped in more palatable terms. Here let me reframe it for you. What do you think of when I say “white pride?” As someone who has been to prison I can tell you that term is code for white supremacist movements. Its how they couch it in language stolen from the Black Liberation Movement of the 60’s.  So for me #decolonizelutheranism can be best summed up by a quote from James Cone. I have used it so much in the last few weeks I wouldn’t be surprised if its all people thought I knew by him.

 

“We cannot say that Luther, Calvin, Wesley and other prominent representatives of the Churches tradition were limited by their time, as if their ethical judgments on oppression did not effect the essential truth of their theologies. They were wrong ethically because they were wrong theologically. They were wrong theologically because they failed to listen to the bible- with sufficient openness and through the eyes of the victims of political oppression.”

 

So here is the deal for me. Lutheranism has from almost the very beginning tried to marry itself to power and privilege. Other than our reformation and accidental revolution that Luther didn’t intend, but ended up embracing , we have always sided with power. Yes, there have been lone voices in the wilderness awaiting arrest like John the Baptist. Bonhoeffer comes to mind, but I’m not claiming his witness and I bet most pastors won’t. So other than a few lone voices, we have tied ourselves to princes and principalities and allowed ourselves to be tools of oppression. Most notably for me would be the trans-atlantic slave trade. Most recently would be our utter silence on the entire Black Lives Movement, again except for a few lone voices.

 

The ELCA has been screaming for diversity, but doesn’t realized that they are possessed by the systemic demons of racism and sin that will always result in white supremacy. Our seminaries, our books, our hymns, are all infected by this. The fact we willingly wear white robes and carry crosses then pretend we don’t know the “new” cultural significance of that astounds me. The image of a white Jesus is everywhere. I repeat, everywhere. I’m not even advocating for a black Jesus, just a middle eastern one. You know, that looks jewish. Between Doobie Brother Jesus staring me in the face at every worship space I enter in the ELCA, the “othering” that silently and unconsciously goes on, combined with knee jerk reactions from voices within the ELCA, its enough to make me lose hope.

 

But the #decoloinizelutheranism movement has given me hope when I needed it the most. The same way #blacklivesmatter did. There is a generation of leaders rising up who aren’t going to accept the status quo in this Church anymore. We are no longer going to sit idly by while you continue your eurocentric theological colonization of our minds or our spirits. We are drawing the line here. If we are the grace people, and that is for anyone, then we are going to make sure that fount is brimming with mercy. Radical inclusion is our banner, and the future of this Church is ours.

 

That is what #decolonizelutheranism is to me. It is the new rally cry of all those who are willing to explore what it means to be the church in the 21st century, but intuitively understand that white supremacy masked as pride can not be a part of it. We have many things that are facing us, not the least of which is becoming part of the community at large in this country. The day of the cathedral is over and we are lucky to get to sit at the table with this generation. We are no longer in a privileged position and we are finally no longer tied to the worldly powers that be. Thanks be to God! I invite you to enter this movement within your Church at its early stage. To ask yourself and your congregation the hard questions. I ask you to fight false empires that have risen within our Church. I ask you to #decolonizelutheranism

 

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Dear Church-We need a Radical Pro-Life Agenda

Dear Church,

 

We need a radical pro life agenda. We need it now. We need to claim back the term “prolife.” This post is not about abortion. It is not about a woman’s agency. No. Its not about recent comments from a Presidential candidate. My thoughts on this are mirrored fairly well by the ELCA’s position. Here is the link- http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Abortion.

 

I personally agree with this statement. We need as Church to affirm life, but we are better served trying to change the socio-economic conditions that make abortion a viable option for the poor and marginalized. We need to be teaching safe sex. We need to be supporting teen mothers, not shaming them overtly or covertly. We need to stop slut shaming. Of course I affirm life. Jesus was born to an unwed teenage mother. My daughter was born to an unwed teenage mother.

 

But that’s not what this post is about. This article is about why we need a radical pro life agenda. How can I with any integrity as a Christian support the death penalty. War. All of them. How can we not be supporting Black Lives Matter? Or the Trans community? Why aren’t we fighting the evil of systemic poverty?

 

I’ll tell you why. Because we have allowed the term pro life to become hijacked into a narrow view. One that isn’t reflective of the rich and vibrant vision of God’s kingdom. In it’s place we have allowed an anemic political virus to turn the term pro life into a vampire that sucks all the Gospel out of a room.

 

We need to be standing up to state sponsored murder of prisoners. If we can’t stop, we need to be visible signs of Jesus’s opposition to state sponsored murder. Jesus was a victim of the death penalty. The entire Passion narrative is an account of Jesus’s time on death row. He was railroaded in court. He was tried by a jury of his peers. He was found guilty yet couldn’t be more innocent. Where is the laser focus on this? Why doesn’t pro life mean saying no state sponsored murder?

 

We need to be speaking up about the endless war we have been engaged in since September 11th 2001 overtly, and covertly for much longer. We are continuing to send the poor to kill the poor. This has been the colonialist/imperialistic agenda of the American empire for over 200 years. Manifest destiny may have mutated to American exceptionalism but its still uses the currency of death. Don’t believe me, google the words “Signature Strikes.” I’ll wait.

 

We are engaged in an endless war and we are only concerned when “our” people  are killed. We should have pastoral care and concern for those who serve in the military. But what about the deaths of world citizens everywhere. Just War theology is a joke. Simply put, you can never convince me that Jesus is on our side in war. Or the ned to kill the so called enemy. Jesus is concerned for all of us. But he isn’t rooting for your side. What doesn’t pro life mean to stand up to the military industrial complex’s agenda?

 

 

 

 

Why aren’t we as a whole, not the exceptional community minded churches and pastors, out in droves trying to figure out how to accompany black lives matter? Accompany, not lead, or teach, or correct. Why aren’t we coming out and hearing the cries. Why are we allowing the media, and pundits, and our own brokenness to dictate to us what this organization is saying to the American conscious right now? Why hasn’t your Pastor mentioned #freddiegray #trayvonmartin #jamarclark or countless others in weeks, if ever?  We are quickly going down the path many churches did in the 60’s. You can’t tell now, but most churches didn’t support the civil rights movement. Don’t let the adaption of Dr. Kings image to a less radical federal day off  and “safe” narrative fool you. We left him high and dry and the Panthers and countless others. We are doing the same thing now. Why doesn’t pro life mean stop the extra judicial executions of young black man?

 

Why aren’t we screaming at the North Carolina legislature. I mean literally screaming. Why aren’t we talking about how Trans people in this country run the risk of being lynched and we as a whole hardly ever say a peep about it? Why is it that when we talk about affirming life, why aren’t we affirming more and more queer lives? Why don’t trans lives matter? Where is the Gospel in Mississippi this week? Why are we allowing people to hijack why it means to be Church?

 

Church. Its scary. It can be frightening to take on so much injustice. To compete against our angrier brothers and sisters in Christ. To stand up to the encroaching darkness and say no more. Not one more inch will I let you spread like a stain on the very soul of my community. Not one more execution will I allow in this prison without reminding you of the Cross. Not one more bomb gets dropped, or another one of our sons and daughters shipped off to be warped by war. Not one more young man will be killed with no repercussions by police and city agencies. Not one more trans child of God will be hurt, or marginalized in my community. We say no to systemic evil. We say no to the demons that are possessing our country.

 

We need to adopt a radical pro life agenda.

 

 

 

 

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