Advent – time to get in touch with our visions. In this edition of Liturgy Remix we’ll look at the post-election well-being of the beloved community, walk through some resources for Advent, and check on the growth of the #decolonizelutheranism movement.
Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
I follow a number of young ELCA and Episcopal clergy on social media. It’s a privilege to have that ongoing window into their ideas, their reactions, and their concerns. Social media are public so certainly they know they have readers; nonetheless, sometimes there’s an urgent transparency to these conversations that shakes me. A few days after the Nov. 8, 2016 election, in a conversation among several clergy about showing up at church to lead worship on the Sunday, one young pastor said, I just don’t want to go to church with white people today.
The church has been hit hard by the 2016 election. Here on the threshold of Advent we’re still finding out just how hard. It’s clear that some minority clergy and some young clergy feel betrayed. Tuhina Rasche, a young Lutheran pastor, writes You Don’t Get To Tell Me I’m Overreacting. Lenny Duncan, a Lutheran seminarian, writes The Road to 270 Was Through the ECLA. Yolanda Pierce, Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, writes, Watching 81% of My White Brothers and Sisters Vote for Trump Has Broken Something In Me.
In the last edition of Liturgy Remix I wrote about the doubts minorities have about being given authentic agency in a majority-white church. They were welcome to show up – but was their presence allowed to change anything? This situation goes beyond that, questioning whether minorities – even as clergy – are allowed to be authentically present, as their whole selves, in a majority white church.
Tone policing is a phrase I’ve learned this week, as minority Christians talk about their sense that they have to hide their feelings around Anglos. These words from Pastor Tuhina Rasche describe her sense of constraint:
I struggle with the word “integration.” Who sets the terms of integration? Is it done as a collective? Because much of the integration I’ve experienced is defined by others, and because of that, it is actually not integration, it is instead assimilation. Assimilation then denies people their identities and forces them to be something that they are not. My reality will always be as a hyphenated American; at that same time, I don’t need to be beholden to a sole identity of being merely “American.” I think we’re living in a different time and age; I think we’re living in a time where we will have to stumble and falter to live into the uniqueness of who God created all of us to be within a beloved community.
Stumble and falter. Stumble and falter. These are excellent words for the risky path before of us. Social psychologists use the term perspective taking to describe the human ability to empathize with what someone else is experiencing. Here’s an introduction to perspective taking. Some people come to it naturally, but there’s no doubt that it’s a skill that can be taught. Building empathy with others is in the church’s skill set, a choice the beloved community could take and should take. Churches could do this. Regional church judicatories could do this. Can we make it a priority?
Finally, my heart turns – as it always does – to liturgy. My sense is the public liturgy that would speak to our current situation is lament. I’ve always yearned over the Trail of Souls, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland’s annual public lament for its history of slavery. But I’m sitting here in Indiana, not a slave state (mostly), in my comfortable office chair in my comfortable house and I ask myself, what would we lament?
And it’s there, right there, at exactly that question, that the white church must call on the Word of God to be the hammer that breaks the rock of our comfort. What should we lament? What happened in this place, in this community, that requires lament from the comfortable church? We will never know if we don’t ask the question, with our utmost serious intention and attention. New liturgy grows out of generative process. When we discover what we need to lament, we’ll understand how that liturgy needs to be embodied. For some teaching & inspiration on generative process in liturgical design, here’s Donald Schell’s Treasures Old and New presentation to the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission 2015 colloquium.
Advent resources for Las Posadas and the Virgin of Guadalupe
These two observances, highlights of Latinx Advent observance, are gradually finding their way into mixed and even Anglo congregations. This year, the Forward Movement’s Advent calendar posters include both holidays, in both their English and Spanish versions. It would certainly be an achievable and worthy goal to order the version in the least-familiar language and add a little language-familiarization to your Advent observance. If you can order dinner at Los Hermanas Taqueria, surely you can walk through Advent in Spanish.
Las Posadas, a journey-to-Bethlehem procession held before Christmas, is a powerful meaning-making, emotion-gathering experience around sustaining hope while enduring exclusion. I’ve participated in it for the last two years and find, this year, a real longing in my heart to stumble around in the dark with friends and strangers, singing and looking for shelter. Tomie de Paola, who consistently brings beauty and warmth to presenting the life of faith, offers this story-introduction to the practice. Here’s a write-up on an intentionally blended congregation that does a bilingual posada: Making Room at the Lakewood Inn. There’s abundant free material online for holding a posadas procession, but Las Posadas is an expression of a particular people who have endured a particular history; you can’t order it from Amazon and it’s not one-size-fits-all. Your best bet would be to find a local parish and join theirs this year. See how it’s done. Experience how it constructs meaning. Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, gives voice to the experience of exile to which Las Posadas speak in this poem. .
The Virgin of Guadalupe might represent more of a reach for Anglo congregations, for whom Mary of Nazareth may be a less central part of their week-to-week devotional experience. Again, Tomie de Paola has a book for us. Hugo Olaiz, assistant editor for Latino/Hispanic resources at Forward Movement, comments: “These are the reasons why I think we should open our doors to welcome the Virgin of Guadalupe:
- “The story of Guadalupe empowers the poor. The Virgin chooses to appear to Juan Diego, an illiterate peasant of indigenous background, and commands him to deliver a message to a powerful Catholic bishop. Whenever the powerful use their authority to oppress and demonize those who belong to the wrong social class, the wrong ethnicity or the wrong nationality, Guadalupe’s story reminds us that God is on the side of the poor and the oppressed.
- “The story of Guadalupe empowers Mexican workers. At a time when the U.S. depends on Latino labor, mostly Mexican, to build our homes, gather our crops, and cater our meals, Guadalupe’s story reminds us of the ways we continue to ignore and look down on Mexican immigrants, despite their crucial contributions to our economy.
- “The story of Guadalupe embodies Mary as a dark-skinned, indigenous woman. Recently the U.S. media has been paying more attention to violence against women and racial minorities. At this time, it seems especially appropriate for the church to hold up the person “honored above all the Saints” in the image of an indigenous woman.”
Olaiz also offers this prayer for December 12:
Oh God, who chose Mary as your vessel: You know what it is like to be born of a single mother, in homelessness; you know what it is like to migrate in her arms from land to land without purse or papers; you know what it is like to see her see you being abused and killed by powerful men. Grant that we may see you in all who are displaced and abused; grant that we may see Mary in all who are rejected and oppressed. And as you triumph over death, may we one day live with you, with your Blessed Mother, and with all the oppressed of the world. Amen.
The #decolonizelutheranism conversation continues to expand
At the August Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, Lutheran New Testament scholar Richard Swanson and I reflected on the strength of the Decolonize Lutheranism movement. I observed that Episcopalians process things through liturgy: our approach to inclusiveness travels through liturgical texts, music, and visual liturgical environments – so it was a source of quiet amusement to me that Lutherans process things by writing really intense essays about them. Richard answered, “It’s what we know how to make work. And every now and then, something really important comes out of it.”
That’s certainly happening. #decolonizelutheranism had its first national conference in October with over 200 people attending. The website, conference, youtube channel, and the We Talk We Listen website are providing platforms for new voices to be heard and new ideas to be shared. I have to say, it’s exciting to watch – it gives a sense of authentic reformation in action. Take a look –
Joel Morales Cruz, a Lutheran historian of Latin American Christianity, gives a powerful overview of what needs to change: On Caves and Histories.
Francisco Herrera, a PhD student at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, asks: Can the ELCA be Multicultural? I’m Glad You Asked…
Lenny Duncan, a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, reflects on Gospel hospitality in Radical Hospitality and #Decolonizing the Heavenly Banquet
Thanks for reading all these thoughts. Your comments are welcome, here or over at the Liturgy Remix facebook page.