Othering, decolonizing, yearning for transformation –

Greetings, friends!

I’m an Anglo woman in my sixties, well-accustomed to worship among Episcopalians and Lutherans – faith traditions that originated in the Reformation in Northern Europe. I treasure these beloved communities but my heart is always looking toward the church of Paul’s vision, no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female, for all are one in Christ. In this blog I observe and reflect on the ways Paul’s ecclesia is being revealed and embodied around us. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed lately.

Is Paul’s church even possible?

Daniel Jose Camacho, a Presbyterian seminarian, is among those who have raised the question of whether what looks like multicultural, inclusive worship is actually a way of providing white worshippers with comfortably diluted diversity. In his influential reflection Do Multicultural Churches Reinforce Racism, Camacho writes:

There are many Christians who believe that multicultural congregations and ministries are the antidote to the problem of race. In this view, if only more Christians from different racial and ethnic backgrounds worshipped together and befriended one another then the foundations of racism would crumble. But what if this strategy is not only ineffective but actually exacerbating the problem? Most multicultural churches—in spite of the best intentions—still center white experiences and require people of color to make bigger sacrifices in adjusting themselves to white norms.

Kathy Tuan-MacLean,  Associate Director for InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries, writes in Can People Of Color Really Make Themselves at Home?:

InterVarsity was like a house with all sorts of staff living in it. Most of the white staff felt like they owned the house. They felt free to move the furniture, decorate the walls, put their feet up, and cook the foods they liked to eat. But others on our team, though they “lived” in the house, were just guests. As a guest, it’s impolite to move the furniture or criticize the decor, and if you don’t like the food served, you don’t complain—because if you complain, you’re not invited back.

Giant-CupcakeThese honest evaluations from people who love and work in churches point to the danger of becoming Anglo-normative churches with diversity sprinkles. But I have come to believe that our churches – our beloved faith communities – are profoundly in need of the transformation made possible by theologies of liberation. In Toward the Liberation of White, Middle-Class Churches, Lutheran pastor Rev’d Dr. David Lowry writes:

In white “suburbanized” churches, it is often personal crisis that opens individuals to the power of the gospel: the death of a child, the breakup of a marriage, addiction and the twelve steps. Life itself often speaks a word to us, and we may begin steps outward. But the problem is that our white middle-class church may not be able to support additional steps into an ever widening freedom to serve, to hear the cries, to enter into the suffering of others, to be change agents at a societal level. We may find that we do not even have a theology that supports us. In the theology we receive, grace may mean God’s acceptance but not necessarily our transformation.

Lowry’s article is worth your time and points to a dilemma I’ve been pondering: if the parishes we love are not particularly diverse – and unlikely to become diverse any time soon – how can we move forward with Paul’s vision? Lowry grounds the possibility for transformation in liberation theology, or rather, in the liberation theologies, which can immediately inform our liturgy, formation, and exegesis. With the Spirit’s help, and one another’s help, we can one another how to open our hearts so that, when diversity walks in the door, we aren’t starting from zero. And, I’m open to the possibility that joy and love might be involved.

Hmm. Starting to sound like a book list…

Furthermore, this is urgent. Catherine Woodiwiss, Senior Associate Web Editor for Sojourners, writes in The Era of White Anxiety is Just Beginning:

Ask those involved in justice work where they find hope for the future of America, and they will likely point to demographics: Racial minorities are on track to outnumber non-Hispanic whites in America for the first time by 2042. Especially in left-leaning circles, the assumption is that a more diverse country will mean a more welcoming one — and, indeed, one more friendly to progressive policies and ideals. According to Dr. Jennifer Richeson, that assumption is wrong. “The expectation for increased U.S. diversity to result in greater tolerance is premature,” said Richeson at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington, D.C., last month. “In fact, the opposite is likely to happen.” Richeson, professor of psychology at Northwestern University and a 2006 MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, is co-author of two recent studies on the effects of changing racial demographic shifts on racial attitudes and political ideology. “The increased erosion of progressive, race-related social policy is more likely,” she said.

I believe that local parishes have immediate work to do in this dramatic demographic transition and the threats to social identity that it is bringing. Duke Kwon,  pastor of Grace Meridian Hill Church in Washington, D.C., is quoted in the same article:

This maps onto what we see personally and anecdotally. I think it’s natural for people to feel threatened when they are on the road to feeling disempowered… If you’ve never experienced being ‘other,’ being essentially uncomfortable, and this is your first introduction to it — I understand, it is really going to be alienating and destabilizing to your identity… There’s an angle to which I can understand how important it’s going to be for the church to raise up deliberate ministry for walking with white folks through this transition.

I’ve noodled around on Grace Meridian’s website and, yes, it’s inviting and inspiring. Somebody over there is doing a fine job inviting Paul’s vision.

Now that we’ve brooded together about the liberative and transformation nature of the task, I’m beyond ready to think about liturgy. Merciful heavens! Let’s start with this graphic from Sandra Montes, who is my go-to expert on congregational music in Hispanic Episcopal congregations –

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Turning our attention to liturgical texts –

Several clergy who serve bilingual congregations have sent me sample worship booklets – which are much appreciated. They’ve generally presented English and Spanish texts, side-by-side. The generosity and integrity of this work is abundantly clear. It also looks like a heck of a lot of work to accomplish this, week after week. I haven’t yet had a chance to experience this approach as a participant, but I hope to get to the Church of Our Savior / La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador  in Cincinnati this summer. I encourage you to take a look at their website – it sets a high bar for language inclusiveness.

Nonetheless, texts are not liturgical practice and equivalent texts do not generate equivalent liturgical practice.  Moreover, language inclusivity is a moving target. Latinx people may not know any English – or some English – or only English. And then there’s all the other bits and bobs of liturgical worship that convey beloved meaning to people raised THIS way – or these other ones, that convey beloved meaning to people raised THIS OTHER way. To get comfortable with worship happening in real time, using two languages and drawing from two living traditions, demands a deep, holy good will towards one another. 

Among ELCA Lutherans, decolonization is on the menu.

Old Lutheran, a vendor of denominational promotional materials, produces facebook memes with text along the lines of: You might be Lutheran if everyone in your church has a name ending in -en or -on. This finally got on the last nerve of Pastor Paul Bailie, who posted this picture on facebook and wrote, “I’m frustrated by memes from Old Lutheran that stereotypically assume that Lutherans are of Scandinavian descent. I thought I’d make my own, based on what we do at @Iglesia Luterana San Lucas: Eagle Pass, TX. “

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This idea took off like a brush fire; search for #decolonizelutheranism on facebook and you’ll find posts about food from a wonderful variety of Lutheran folk. Food turns out to be an extremely fast and effective way to affirm the diversity in this faith tradition on social media. Bailie writes about this experience and his ministry in this blog post.  Here’s an insightful commentary on the process from a regional denominational leader.

But there’s more than food in the #decolonizelutheranism movement. Elle Dowd, a Lutheran candidate for ordination, writes:

Lutheranism is bigger than us, white people, and we are not the boss of it. To hoard Lutheranism and hold it hostage to white people is sinful. And that is what we are doing when we equate Lutheranism to white culture and refuse any change that necessitates true transformation through sacrifice. Our God is about liberation for everyone.  Liberation means that people of color are able to share in the wealth and power of churches and communities, free from fear of micro aggressions from church leaders, free from fear of violence from the state.  And liberation also means that white people like me are free from our bondage as oppressors, free from our insatiable need to control. 

Dowd’s essay is an example of the sober, thoughtful, and fast-moving examination of Lutheran language, history, theology, and liturgy happening online. You can track this by using #decolonizelutheranism as a  search term in a browser search, a facebook search, or a Twitter search. There’s also a group blog for common discussion – note that there’s a page with links to individual bloggers’ reflections.

Meanwhile, at denominational headquarters –

Asiamericans at the Episcoppal Church's General Convention 2015 during the service honoring the Rev. Hisanori Kano, Episcopal priest of Nebraska who was interred and became a saint among the internees at the WW2 Internment camps.

Asiamericans at General Convention 2015 during the service honoring the Rev. Hisanori Kano, Episcopal priest of Nebraska who was interred and became a saint among the internees at the WW2 Internment camps. Father Fred Vergara is at the right, front row.

The Rev’d Canon Anthony Guillén serves as Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries in the Episcopal Church, visiting, connecting, and encouraging local churches. Guillén is a particularly effective user of social media, tending a thriving facebook group that connects people and parishes and informs about conferences, resources, and grant initiatives. I particularly value the shared photographs of local liturgies. Building the New Community, a video, describes Guillén’s work.

Guillén is the team leader for the Episcopal Church’s Diveristy and Ethnic Ministries unit which also includes the Rev’d Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara as Missioner for Asiamerican Ministries, and the Rev’d Canon Angela Ifill as Missioner for Black Ministries. The unit is supported by Angie Cabanban as support staff at the Church Center in New York. A search for Missioner for Indigenous Ministries is in process. This important ministry is fully supported by our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who has appointed the Rev’d Stephanie Spellers as Canon for Evangelism and Reconciliation and who works closely with the Diversity and Ethnic Team.

Parishes rooted in a specific language or ethnic identity can perceive themselves as isolated in a primarily Anglo denomination. The Missioners provide visible, friendly, denomination-wide affirmation to these distinctive local ministries. Deets about all these ministries are under the “MINISTRIES” tab on the denomination’s web site, where they earn props for a toggle between English and Spanish.

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Fr. Fred Vergara at work building a new network, May 2016

The ELCA Lutherans got the news this year that they are the least-diverse mainline denomination, which would be a hard message to receive. They deserve great credit for resolving to do ministry where they are as they reach towards the church they want to become. Here’s one good example. The front page of ELCA.org headlines the denomination’s emerging churchwide commitment to protecting vulnerable migrant children. This is presented as resources and videos for congregations that want to get involved, all available at the website. If a parish from another denomination wanted to be part of this, I am reasonably confident it would be welcomed.

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ELCA has terrific Spanish-language adult formation materials written by Spanish-speaking theologians and scholars – not translated from English. This is a significant and admirable investment in lay formation. Check it out. ELCA’s information about language- or ethic-specific ministries can be found via the “CONGREGATIONS AND SYNODS” tab on the denomination’s home page. There’s also a facebook group, Academia Luterana Latina de la ELCA,

Since the 1990s, the Women of theELCA – that’s WELCA – have maintained a peer-to-peer ant-racism education network called Today’s Dream: Tomorrow’s Reality. Inez Torres Davis, current Director of Justice for WELCA, describes its work and history:

The ELCA is the Whitest denomination in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. I can credit Women of the ELCA for caring about race issues and putting their money where their mouth is since 1997. That’s when the work of the peer educators’ anti-racism network “Today’s Dream: Tomorrow’s Reality” (TDTR) was created. Yet, I and the women of the network continue to cope with strong resistance as many ELCA members refuse to see racial segregation as an indicator of work to be done… Before more people of color die in churches, the streets or jail cells, we need guided conversations about race, conversations that can move us forward. 

The WELCA has done significant work on developing free, downloadable Spanish-language study resources on Bible study, small group ministry, church structure, and a wonderful array of other topics. They have also developed extensive resources on how to talk about race, how to be a global Christian, and many other discipleship formation resources – free and downloadable. Needless to say, these would be useful not only to women & not only to Lutherans.

In the culture at large, pushback against Othering

Othering is in common usage now, but here’s a definition from anthropologist Cadell Last“The othering process is the human tendency to believe that the group … that they are a part of is inherently the ‘right’ way to be human.” Two recent events instantiate the ways public experience can diminish othering.

First, people all over the world are responding to the impulse massacre at a gay bar in Orlando with an outpouring of publicly expressed shock, anger, and grief – in a word, empathy. This public mourning may strike you as formulaic, but I think it’s new in its depth, its breadth. By contrast, in 1973 the Upstairs Lounge Fire  was met with studied indifference. But in 2016, Republican pols are repenting in public – whoa. Pronouncements from denominational executives are turned into memes and propagate on social media. Prayer vigils are being offered in Ecuador, in Uganda – people all over the US and all over the world are thinking of the victims – primarily young gay Latinos – as family. This is a victory over othering.  The Orlando shooting is being experienced as a breaking-open of hearts. 

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And, second, the Tony Awards, where Black and Latinx actors, writers, composers, and directors were visibly, appropriately, and warmly affirmed, not only in Hamilton but in many awards. James Corden, the emcee, said, “We’re like the Oscars, but with diversity.” The Tony stage, for a couple hours on a Sunday night, was a world without othering. It was beautiful. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet on accepting his Tony moves from personal gratitude to his response to the Orlando shootings – then breaks apart its scansion and structure with an overflowing of love.

My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.

lin-manuel church sign

Friends, in the midst of this season filled with   I invite you to think of these two instances as times when the Holy Spirit may be seen acting redemptively in the world.

We had icons! We sang in Spanish, Latin, and English!

I began these reflections and observations in 2015 by griping to myself about “bilingual” or “multicultural” liturgy. My issue was that, too often, a bilingual liturgy presented itself as an interlocking set of incomprehensible performances. We sing a song in English, while non-English-speakers politely watch and listen. Then we sing a song in Spanish, while non-Spanish-speakers politely watch and listen. For the love of Aidan Kavanaugh, I fulminated, isn’t there a way two language communities can authentically be at worship together? Remembering Bartolome, my collection of liturgical resources for the commemmoration of Bartolomé de las Casas, represents my best thinking on this topic so far: build on our familiarity with one another’s languages and blend them to construct a comprehensible liturgy.  We experimented with this at St. Thomas Lutheran Church during Advent and this predominantly-Anglo congregation seemed engaged and curious about the experience. Here’s our most-thoroughly-blended liturgy, an Evening Prayer for Bartolomé: BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS Evening Prayer.

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An icon of Martin de Porrres with candles for the Virgen de Guadalupe given by our sister parish in Guatemala.

Thanks for reading! Your comments are welcome, either here or on the Liturgy Remix facebook page.

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Authentic Koinonia in the Multicultural, Multilingual Church

patch1Greetings to visitors, readers, and conversation partners! At this website, I’m reflecting on how to help Anglo churches get comfortable with opening up to different cultures and languages. My heart’s goal is transformation of the 99%-white churches I’ve loved all my life. I want to worship in the church of Paul’s vision.

You are warmly invited to join this conversation. In the last edition of Liturgy Remix we reflected on intersectionality and the local church. As we move into today’s discussion of authentic koinonia, we’ll carry forward from that discussion the idea of the Imaginary Normal Person and the challenge of developing non-demographic categories for church programs.

Straight from the get-go, let’s acknowledge the important original work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, the originator of the term intersectionality. Crenshaw describes the development of her ideas in Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait, a recent Washington Post article. She’s written extensively on critical race theory and her newest book, The Race Track: How The Myth of Equal Opportunity Defeats Racial Justice, will be published in 2016.

0001-79841518Let’s begin with this Washington DC parish; yes, the Spirit is at work at St. Stephen and the Incarnation and the people are willing to enter into transformation. This article is particularly strong on describing the process of moving from sharing-the-building to shared koinonia. Starting as a building with an English-speaking congregation giving space to a Spanish-speaking congregation, they are finding more and more ways to worship together. It’s clear that the Imaginary Normal Person has changed.

Take note of this graceful and gracious poster from St. Stephen and the Incarnation. The poster describes the event directly for Latin@s and interpretively for Angl@s. The picture tells us this event is for all ages. The general impression is warm and welcoming, but it’s clear something important is going on. I would be totally delighted to give artist credit here if I could. At the end of the article are some helpful resources on bilingual worship, including a bilingual Stations of the Cross.

Several of you responded thoughtfully to the last edition –

  • Episcopal priest John Rawlinson wrote eloquently in the comments section on training for clergy leadership; John, you’ll be glad to hear that, according to an ELCA seminarian friend of mine, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago is offering a course on Spanish for Ministry.
  • An LGBT Episcopal laywoman wrote about the challenge of getting close to others. Even if a congregation says it’s welcome to LGBTQ folk, that doesn’t say anything about the attitude of the person in the next pew.
  • Terry Milner, a playwright, writes: ‘This phrase jumped off the screen at me: ‘If everything is intersectional, aren’t there more interesting categories than these?’ I think there are. And I think this is a great start to the conversation.” (Terry, as a first attempt, every local church I’ve been part of has had: meditators, singers, theater folk, knitters, bike riders, treehuggers, and people with a heart for the safety & happiness of children. These are niches where koinonia can grow but, in most cases, these haven’t been treated as program groups.)
  • Lyle McKee, an ELCA pastor, wrote about the language of intersectionality, likening it to the relationality/relativity ideas in process theology, and observing that – although these are important ideas – neither intersectionality nor process theology articulate the ideas in a way that’s likely to be useful to a local parish. I honor the project of talking about the church in the language of the church; for today’s Liturgy Remix I’m using koinonia – a word from the Acts of the Apostles.
  • Lyle also writes: “…the deeper question is how. How do congregations create spaces where encounter with the other becomes possible, even routine? “ This good question is one we’ll need to carry along with us.

Kraft-Mayo-and-Free-Bread-DG-300x141New member incorporation  and new culture or language incorporation are not the same thing. Heuristics for new member incorporation are broadly practiced throughout the church: being mentored into the congregation, being accepted by the elders, finding a niche in a small group, and so forth. Seems to me, though, that these tactics work best for members who resemble the congregation’s Imaginary Normal Person. The worship and cultural practices of people whose traditions are different may be subject to erasure: the people are welcome; the traditions, not so much. This is depressing:

“Whose interests are multiracial congregations serving?” asked researcher Kevin Dougherty, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. “We want to believe that they promote a shared, integrated identity for all. But the truth may be that many are advancing a form of Anglo-conformity instead.”

John Rawlinson, in personal correspondence, has written about the integrity, patience, and faith required to serve a bilingual parish. It’s not just worship that must be bilingual, it’s vestry meetings, announcements, formation – all the day-to-day words of the body. When we don’t do this work, the message we send is that people are welcome – sorta kinda – but their traditions and language are not. We perform our worship in front of them. They are our audience.

The people who study language usage tell us this, to a degree, generational. The children will speak both languages, the grandchildren perhaps only English, but the children and grandchildren still want to see their traditions respected and practiced. They won’t mysteriously become, say, Swedish.

Teaching and modelling cultural competence could be a useful approach in incorporating new languages and cultures in the local church.  Here’s  a skill-building adult formation series on cultural competence and, at first read-through, it’s terrific. Here are two of the units, Building Relationships with People from Different Cultures and Creating Opportunities for Members of Groups to Identify Their Similarities, Differences, and Assets. These materials are not specific to faith communities but their calm, everybody-needs-to-learn-something approach would be effective in a local church.


We are all working within invisible constraints. When an existing congregation seeks to blend in a culturally different group,  the congregation has expectations and structure embedded in its corporate life. This is the way we prepare the altar. This is the way we teach Sunday school. This is the way we set up for parish dinners. All these assumptions are not only unspoken, they are invisible. Furthermore, there’s the whiteness problem – an idea written about with authority and insight by Willie James Jenkins, a professor at the Yale Divinity School:

“…whiteness is not a given. It is a choice. Whiteness is not the equal and opposite of blackness. It is not one racial flavor next to others. Whiteness is a way of imagining the world moving around you, flowing around your body with you being at the center. … Whiteness is a way of imagining oneself as the central facilitating reality of the world, the reality that makes sense of the world, that interprets, organizes, and narrates the world, and whiteness is having the power to realize and sustain that imagination….”

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 1.37.46 PMBoth ELCA seminarian Marissa Tweed and Episcopal rector Miranda Hassett strongly recommend The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age by Dwight Zscheile. Zscheile, an Episcopal priest and seminary professor at Luther Seminary [ELCA]  in St. Paul, integrates theology, social criticism, and insight from organizational psychology. His goal is to enable local parishes to reground themselves as neighbors, nomads, and learning communities. Because this book is all about the transformation of the local church,  it’s directly relevant to Liturgy Remix.

Here’s a very brief tour of The Agile Church:

  • The first chapter is on the state of the church; the second chapter is how God acts in history. This material will not be new to you.
  • In Chapter Three,  Forming and Restoring Community in a Nomadic World, Zscheile notes that people today often are nomads, disconnected from sources of identity in home and locale. He likens this to the stories of the Hebrew scriptures and urges us to reclaim and rearticulate these stories for our own culture. Zscheile goes on to present the disciples as a learning community being taught by Jesus and given opportunities to experiment and make mistakes. He claims  this praxis of a Christ-centered learning community of disciples as an identity for the local church today. Koinonia doesn’t grow from shared social class; it is a gift of the Spirit.
  • With Chapter Four, the book becomes significantly more chewy. In this chapter, Failing Well: What the Church Can Learn from Silicon Valley, Zscheile presents organizational practices from tech companies: cultures of innovation, adaptive learning, failure as part of learning, lean startups, connecting with outsiders, collaborative prototyping. He re-situates these practices as elements of Spirit-led group discernment and offers examples from the local church he serves.
  • Chapter Five, Disciplines of the Learning Church, directly addresses the experience and problems of clergy leadership in a church searching for agility. Zscheile discusses rigidity, fear, shame, ambivalence, anxiety, and conflict. He proposes models for clergy leadership that create safe space for the faith community to experiment, fail, learn, and grow in discernment.
  • Although Chapter Six, Organizing for Innovation, has a brief discussion of new church plants, it’s primarily about the challenges of innovating within an existing structure. The point of innovation ideally isn’t to split off daughter-churches; it’s to feed transformation back into the existing church. Zscheile also discusses relationships with judicatory and denominational structures.

free-download-managersBecause I truly hope some of you will read The Agile Church, I’m having a giveaway – just like the knitting blogs. I’ll give a copy to the each of the first three people to email me,  narthex @ baba-yaga.org


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NEVER DOUBT THAT TRANSFORMATION IS HAPPENING!

For instance, here’s Papa Francesco on the multicultural, multilingual church:

“Together we are called to say ‘no’ to every attempt to impose uniformity and ‘yes’ to a diversity accepted and reconciled.”

I found this multilingual liturgy for the canonization of Junipero Serra to be a delight to read. And I truly appreciated the multicultural depth of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent installation liturgy as well. Still, these are one-off events for an international audience, not lived practice in a local congregation.

I’ve truly enjoyed the tenderness of several churches’ All Saints/All Souls/Día de Muertos celebrations. These holidays are blending to make a sacred space to reflect on, pray for, and celebrate the dead.

And that’s enough – more than enough! – for this edition of Liturgy Remix. Your responses are warmly invited as comments, as email, or in person. Next edition: ceremonies of inclusion / Las Posadas.

Pamela Grenfell Smith

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Intersectionality, social categories, and the local church

patch1For the past year or so I’ve facebook-followed Mike Kinman, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral (an Episcopal outfit) in St. Louis. As he’s worked to engage the Cathedral with the pain and sorrow of the city it serves, Kinman has been an example for me of compassionate Christian leadership. When Kinman invites us to pay attention to something, I respond. That’s why I started looking at intersectionality.

The term ‘intersectionality’ grows out of black feminist social analysis. Black women found the women’s movement was not responsive to their experience as people of color and the black liberation movement didn’t respond to their experience as women. They were at an intersection. Intersectionality is now part of the formal language of sociology; you will find, on wikipedia, not only a very solid description of how the term is used but also another page discussing how the description should be improved or expanded. Which is to say: there’s a high degree of ownership in intersectionality as an analytial lens for social scientists.

This September Kinman brought the Rev. Jeff Hood to speak to the Cathedral about intersectionality. Hood offered a sermon, Beyond Identity: The Image of a Queer God, and a longer presentation, The Church at the Intersection.  Here are my notes on Hood’s longer presentation; these are not verbatim.

“A church at the intersection is a space where people get to talk about where they came from. And where they come from is used as a means of energizing – not just the individual, but the entire community.”

Hood says that the church at the intersection gets its energy from knowing one another’s stories, so he begins his talk by telling the story of his faith journey from Southern Baptist to UCC. Around minute 26 he begins discussing the Cathedral of Hope, a UCC congregation in Dallas that’s about 85% GLBTQ. From the outside, Cathedral of Hope might appear as a single category. You might think that such relatively homogenous congregation would be free from intersections, free from people’s sense that their overlapping categories are not adequately represented or understood. But that hasn’t proved to be true. There are multiple subcategories with respect to age, gender experience, ethnicity, household and family configuration. People feel dissed. People feel marginalized.

Hood doesn’t offer programmatic solutions in this presentation – indeed, in the discussion section, I sensed some frustration with that. Instead, he moves to the importance of modeling, teaching, and expressing that God is intersectional – beyond categorization – and that each of us is a state of intersectionality with God. The resolution he proposes to our condition of intersectionality is to move more deeply into loving relationships.

Hood uses the language of ‘queerness’ to express his ideas, perhaps to emphasize the strangeness of what he is saying; in his words, he is ‘pushing against the normative.’ It’s not a term of discourse that feels helpful to me in the Liturgy Remix project because it relativizes all categories that are not gender-related. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am.

Returning to the terms of sociological discourse, how might these ideas relate to the churches we love and serve? Could intersectionality be a useful lens? Let’s begin with the idea of an Imaginary Normal Person. We each carry our own Imaginary Normal Person around in our heads; the expectation set against which we unconsciously or unconsciously compare ourselves. So, how do I compare myself to my Imaginary Normal Person? He/she is cisgender. [ Me too.] Married. [Me too]. Educated, able to read, able to read music. [Yes, yes, yes. So far so good!] He/she has no physical disabilities. [I have several.] He/she has no cognitive disabilities. [I have those, too.] He/she is middle-aged and fit. [I’m old & tubby.]

If I organize my self-categorization – consciously or unconsciously – around the Imaginary Normal Person, I really don’t fit in the congregation where I worship. And I have many more unexamined, unarticulated categories – the whole Giant Puppets trope, for instance. But if I organize my selftalk around intersectionality, suddenly I have lots of company. In every category of my personal intersectionality, there are other people. There’s just – no one with my exact configuration. No perfect match.

Is the worshiping community only open to people who closely match up to the congregation’s Imaginary Normal Persons? Because, if that’s true, the vision of a multicultural, multiethnic church is delusional. If we value ourselves, or value others, by our degree of distance/difference from the Imaginary Normal Person, then our tolerance for authentic differences is – consciously or unconsciously – deeply impaired. If our vision is of a multicultural, multiethnic congregation, negotiating intersectionality is a skill we all – lay, clergy, staff – have to learn, enjoy, and experience as a source of energy.

How do we move from tolerating difference – to affirming difference – to celebrating difference? To dancing with difference? It could be a useful thought experiment to articulate and reality-test our congregation’s Imaginary Normal Person. If that person is our unconscious expectation set, what does that imply for liturgy? For program design? For new-member incorporation?
The obvious categories by which it’s convenient to organize a congregation’s events and opportunities can actually exacerbate people’s sense of difference. Age-graded Christian formation for children has always seemed to me to miss other, more interesting ways to group kids. Ministry to Boomers? Oh, please. Spare me. Family night? Hmm. Ministry to the elderly? Not yet! Not yet! My millennial friends are getting cranky about Ministry Strategies for Millennials. If everything is intersectional, aren’t there more interesting categories than these?

Storying the local church
I invite you to reflect on Hood’s proposition that the church at the intersection draws its energy from difference, and that we find and affirm difference by hearing one another’s stories. How can we nourish that network of knowing-and-being-known? I don’t think it’s as simple as sitting people down to Talk Stuff Over. A resilient network of respect, intimacy, and trust does not happen automatically in a faith community. It requires many kindnesses, many patient moments, years of hot dish.

How might we build storying into the lived experience of the local church?
How do we invite people to inscribe their individual experience on liturgy?
Is there space for spoken prayer in the Prayers of the People?
A shared altar for All Souls?
Are there places in the narthex for people to sit and talk?
Do people cook for each other?
Do people celebrate one another’s cultures?
One another’s music?
One another’s language?

Another take on the general idea – Bishop Wayne Miller of the ELCA Synod of Metropolitan Chicago talks about his sorrow and frustration at ELCA’s failure to broaden its cultural and ethnic reach:

“… if we only talk to each other inside the ELCA about race and privilege we are never going to make progress, because we will never be able to get past the cultural blinders of seeing our own values and patterns as universally normative. … our feeling, our speech and our action related to race and privilege are never going to appreciably change until we force the conversation and the work outside of the Church Council or synod councils or seminary faculties or ELCA assemblies; in fact outside the ELCA altogether into active interfaith and ecumenical engagement on a local, relational level … it is in that local interfaith arena that “the other” is re-humanized into personhood, that the “I-It” relationship is transformed into an “I-Thou” relationship, and the struggle against systemic racism and social privilege becomes an expression of solidarity with someone I love from a different culture, rather than an ideological debate or a seminar topic.”

Much to think about, but this post is long enough. Your comments are welcome.

If you’d like to read more by Rev. Jeff Hood, his blog is here: http://revjeffhood.com He also writes extensively and thoughtfully for Huffington Post.

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Blending liturgical language for a blending culture

squarethreeI have to admit I’m often disappointed by what’s currently presented as bilingual liturgy. As I’ve experienced bilingual liturgy, liturgical texts are primarily in English with one or two songs in Spanish – a pro forma experience that refers to inclusiveness without actually enacting it. I encountered an excellent turnabout-is-fair-play experience watching streaming video from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention this summer. The musicians from San Antonio were awesome! Their songs were great! But they sang in Spanish. No translations were offered. (Although translations and invitations to participate might have happened pre-stream.) I had no way to participate. For people who are primarily hispanophone, this must be their experience of anglophone bilingual liturgy. Othering. It’s othering.

And I think it’s out of date. This generation of Latino citizens usually speak English just fine, but they’re interested in worship that affirms their language. We can provide that by blending the language of liturgy, as I’ve done in the Evening Prayer liturgy for Remembering Bartolomé Take a look. The texts are primarily in English but, by blending both languages, seek to take advantage of the vocabularies and grammar English and Spanish have in common. The texts offer a shared experience that reduces othering.

Sandra Montes, the Episcopal Church Foundation’s consultant on Spanish language resources, was the song leader for the Spanish music at General Convention. She’s writing columns for Episcopal Vital Practices in both Spanish and English, and hers is a profoundly important voice. We’ll be featuring them as they appear.

I think Latino worshipers are also looking for faith communities that affirm Latino church traditions and I’m afraid we anglophones have everything to learn about this. Have you been to a celebration of Las Posadas? What was it like?

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A blended-language Evening Prayer commemorating the life and work of Bartolomé de Las Casas

Why remember Bartolomé de Las Casas? We use history to understand the present and the Christopher Columbus story of heroic exploration and conquest is not serving us well. The heroic public story of European colonization of Latin America and South America masks another history, of slavery, theft, and murder. This is an urgent problem. Day by day, we’re building a new world with our neighbors from Latin America and South America – sometimes as long-distance friends from mission trips or church gatherings, sometimes as neighbors down the street. Because this new world needs all the kindness, respect, and wisdom we can offer, churches can do justice work right now by finding and teaching a more complete, more honest understanding of our past.

Bartolomé de Las Casas, a contemporary of Columbus, invites us into a different part of our history. He came to the Americas as a young soldier of fortune but God changed his heart; he spent the rest of his life working and advocating for justice for the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Remembering Bartolomé is a curated collection of music, texts, and ideas, primarily designed for English-speaking congregations, for your design of a liturgy commemorating Bartolomé de Las Casas. It includes readings from Bartolomé’s work, suggested lections in blended language, hymn and anthem suggestions, and pointers to accessible versions of Latin American early music. Bartolomé is commemorated in the calendar of both the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but the materials presented here should be useful for any faith community.

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Faith Seeker Kids – Honoring Our Children’s Faith Journeys

One complicated task in forming Christian children is teaching about, explaining, the world’s other faith traditions. Children are curious and they are right to be curious. They have Jewish friends, Muslim friends, Sikh friends, Hindu friends. What do these differences mean? How can we help them sustain friendship and respect across these boundaries – as children, as youth, and as adults?

Vicki Garlock’s Faith Seeker Kids is an exceptional curriculum resource for Christian formation that includes an understanding of other faith traditions. Garlock writes,

“The curriculum uses the Christian Bible as the foundational ancient text and as a jumping off point to learn about other cultures and religious practices. For example, when kids read the story of Joseph, they also read the story from the Muslim Tales of the Prophets. When they read about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they also learn about meditation as a form of prayer and make Buddhist prayer flags. We want the children who experience our Sunday School curriculum to be unafraid – unafraid to explore their relationship to the Divine, unafraid to question their own viewpoints, unafraid to explore other ancient texts and faith practices, unafraid to grow.”

The curriculum uses stories, experiential activities, crafts, drama, and questioning. If this sounds interesting, you might like to take a look at Garlock’s credentials, her statement of the goals of the program, and some sample lessons.

As I read Garlock’s material – and it is a delight to read – I find myself wondering what kind of resistance her approach might encounter in a denominational church. Do parents bring their children to an Episcopal church Sunday school with the expectation that the kids will be taught how to be Episcopal? (Feel free to substitute the denomination of your choice.) If I wanted to bring this program into a parish, I’d start with an older group of children in a not-Sunday-morning experience, and let parents observe, participate, and reflect.

Yes, yes, yes, we need to do this. Our children are going to grow up to be questioners. This curriculum gives us a chance to affirm that, to bring their questions into the faith community, and to develop a praxis for questioning. Really important. Take a look.

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This month’s featured song – “We Are One Together”

Take a listen to Lester Mackenzie, Chaplain of the House of Deputies, leading We Are One Together at the July 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church.The song is  paperless -which is good! – and insanely easy to learn. Here are the words:

We are one together, yo yo yo, /  we are one together, yo yo.

You could use this song to convene worship, a meeting, a meal, or a formation event. Just remember, friends don’t let friends clap on the first and third beats. BTW, read more about Lester Mackenzie here – it’s a great story.

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