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Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day by Vance Blackfox

It is my prayer that each of you had a wonderful Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and that as you looked around you saw more and more non-Indigenous people observing this holiday in ways that lifted up the gifts and beauty of the Indigenous people in what is presently known as the United States.

 

For those of you who are not counting, it has been just over a year since the position titled Director of Indigenous Ministry and Tribal Relations for the ELCA was created.  And while it is positioned in the Service and Justice home area, it is no longer considered an ethnic specific ministry and is now aligned with the international ministries of Service and Justice.  This move was requested by the leaders of American Indian and Alaska Native communities many years ago, and finally in this last re-organization of the ELCA the change was made.

 

This change helps the ELCA better understand its relationship with tribal sovereign nations, Native organizations throughout the United States, and Indigenous people globally.  This while continuing to journey with the 24 Indigenous ministries in the ELCA.

 

In 2016 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly memorialized the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery claiming this action for implementation across all expressions of the church. While some congregations and several synods worked hard to learn about and live out what it means to be a church repudiated, there was very little initiated by churchwide or comprehensively.  In 2021, at the insistence of Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo and Rev. Jessica Crist, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton appointed the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force, and the work on living as church repudiated officially began.

 

The efforts include:

 

  1. Sub-task force groups: Churchwide Assembly, Settler Narrative, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People.  Sub-task force groups will change and develop responsively as the work continues.
  2. In September of 2021, the ELCA Church Council adopted the Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People and announced it on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  It can be read at www.elca.org/Indigenous.
  3. The ritual and practice of Land Acknowledgement is being developed and initiated by many congregations and synods across the ELCA.  We are encouraging all synods, congregations, and churchwide leaders to begin practicing this important ritual at the beginning of every church meeting or gathering.
  4. The Director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations is working with churchwide and synod staffs to care for Native congregations and ministries and innovate new ways to ensure appropriate support and right relationships with Indigenous siblings who are citizens of sovereign tribal nations.
  5. The Director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations is collaborating with the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation to learn how best to support the growing epidemic of homeless, houseless, and displacement on the reservation.  To address this tragic growth and build new relationships, ELCA World Hunger has committed $2M to address the needs of the tribe and its people.  An initial portion of the funds will be used to design a homeless shelter that will be constructed with 3-D technology and complete within a year.

 

This is only a brief list of all the work happening over the past year.  Further, I hope that each of you are ready for the work ahead, as the work does not just belong to me, Bishop Eaton, the Task Force, or churchwide staff, this work belongs to each of us who confess our love for Christ and who confess as members of the ELCA our commitment to justice.  Here is our chance once again to lead in building better, right, and just relationships with Indigenous peoples.

BIO: Vance Blackfox is an Indigenous Theologian and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the founder and director of Other+Wise, a multi-site cultural education and cultural immersion program for youth and student groups from across the country. He serves the churchwide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as the Director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations.

 

The Beauty and Tragedy of the Mestizaje Mindset by Kristina Diaz

Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month! As we celebrate, I can’t help reflecting on what is being celebrated: independence, legacy and identity. As far as my own identity, I  grew up, like many Puerto Ricans, hearing the poems and songs that claim we all have a Black grandma hidden away somewhere. There was this shared idea among the people in my life that, no matter how hard we try to hide it, somewhere in our DNA we are all Black.

 

However, I wouldn’t attribute this to my other hispanic-identifying compatriots. We may share a similar history of colonial conquest, building nations on the backs of slaves, and migration that brings influences from all over the world, but that is where many of the similarities end. Still, in that shared common history exists the beauty and the tragedy of the mestizaje (“mixed race”) mentality.

Unlike in the United States, historically people in Latin America were encouraged to mix. A whole caste system was created to measure your identity based on how you were “mixing.”  Presently people may have forgotten the chart, but you’ll often hear them identify in a number of ways referring to its different levels before they will call themselves Black.

 

As a Latina woman, I have learned to embrace that I am Black, Indigenous and Puerto Rican. No matter how many times people look at me as if I’m crazy, being Latin@ means we are more than one thing. We are not exempt from the prejudices that come with these identities either; we just live with them differently. They show up in many ways: in sayings within the culture, in what is held as beautiful, in what counts as acceptable and in representation, to name a few. A good example of what I mean is telenovelas. I have never seen a telenovela in which the main characters are Black unless it’s a period piece. My husband will argue, “What about Celia?” I loved the biographical novela about the life of Cuban singer Celia Cruz, but I also know it exists only because she was famous. There are no novelas about modern-day Afro-Latine people living their best lives.

 

Not until we fill out the U.S. census form are we forced to look at these nuances. Some resist while others argue. My friend Janice shared her frustration over a plate of mofongo the other day: “I don’t know what to put down. I’m not black or white; I’m brown.” I looked at her and said, “You’re Indigenous in the same way that I am Indigenous and Black.” I’ll never forget the shock and awe on her face.

 

In a similar conversation my husband’s uncle said, “I’m not white, I’m Puerto Rican. The census just wants to divide us and bring over racist drama from the U.S.” I looked at him, confused. He is white. We may share the same national pride, but once we leave the island, accents aside, people will see him as white and me as ambiguously brown.

 

I know that the U.S. struggle with race is not our story, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have one of our own. So during this month of heritage and celebration, I invite you to explore with your loved ones the “both/ands” of your own identity.

 

Biography:

Kristina Diaz has enjoyed a long career as a portrait photographer that has expanded to brand consulting as well as video and podcast editing/production in the past four years. She calls Dorado, Puerto Rico, home and is currently working on her first novel and a collection of short stories. In addition to writing, she is a fifth-generation oral tradition storyteller. Kristina is a third-generation cradle Lutheran from the Caribbean synod in Region 9. She currently serves on the board of the Asociaciacion de Ministerios Latinos of the ELCA as Communications Coordinator.

 

Independence in Inches: A July 4th Reflection by Nathaniel Viets-Van Lear

 Independence in Inches: A July 4th Reflection by Nathaniel Viets-Van lear

For the last four years, I’ve made the same walk on Fourth of July weekend. Each walk feeling as hot as any other before it. Shoes sticking to cracked Chicago concrete. Dots of melty black asphalt. Signs of streets deserving a little tender love, as my grandma called it.

 

These long walks on Douglas Boulevard in North Lawndale always have something to teach me about the past. In this all-Black neighborhood, it’s a street named after a white Illinois senator, slave owner and avid advocate for slavery. One of many dark legacies in a very American city.

 

For the last four summers, every July Fourth weekend I walked these streets. Because I am a youth worker. And the July Fourth weekend marks the final dress rehearsal for our youth-led community walks program. A youth job program of the organization My Block My Hood My City. A program that trains young people from the west side in how to tell the stories and history of their community. They lead myself and hundreds of guests through these same steps of North Lawndale civil rights history.

 

Each July Fourth weekend, walking past these iconic sites of old becomes a form of timeless therapy. A reminder of time shifting while the endemic remains all too similar.

 

A century-old funeral home. Formerly Jewish. Currently Black-owned. Agelessly busy during the summertime.

 

The corner store pharmacy. Providing affordable medicine for a class in need.

 

A former Jewish synagogue and then Baptist church. A building that became the center of Martin Luther King Jr.’s organizing during his time in Chicago. Stone Stars of David intermixed with stained-glass crosses. An eternal center of religion and activism.

 

It was here that MLK organized a movement against the relegation of blacks to slums and ghettos in the city. With gentrification and segregation as prevalent now as ever before, it’s a movement to which Chicagoans of today can certainly relate.

 

Independence Day comes and goes. But so much remains the same.

 

Yet each year I still cherish my time in this space especially. This annual walk through the aged stone temple building brings visceral images to the imagination. You can almost taste 60 years ago. MLK speaking to a packed crowd of Black folks. Sweating in that Chicago heat. Folks taking significant time and significant risk to be in radical community with one another. Many of them as young as the high schoolers I work with today.

 

I cherish that time in that space, because it’s in that nostalgia that you feel the weight of the movement.

 

On July 4, 1777, our American ancestors were still struggling as slaves.

On July 4, 1877, our ancestors were new freedmen struggling to survive.

And almost 100 years after that MLK was leading our struggle for civil rights.

 

That struggle is in the bones of Black folk. It is in our ancestral DNA.

 

And where will we be on Independence Day 2065? With God’s grace, I hope to live to see it. I hope to see it and smile, as my ancestors are today watching over me as I walk these same streets. Mere footsteps on the long path to justice. Inches closer on the road to freedom.

 

It’s the inches that I contemplate. And it’s for the inches I celebrate. Not with a burst like fireworks and loud sparks. More like a quiet flame. That same flame I see in the eyes of our young folk. Those passionate for justice. The ones who lead the way.

 

 

BIO:

Nathaniel identifies as a multiracial activist, youth social worker, facilitator and teaching artist. Born and raised in Chicago, Nathaniel currently serves as director of youth development for the organization My Block My Hood My City. He has served in various leadership roles within the ELCA, including the Lutheran Youth Organization, the Multicultural Advisory Committee, the MYLE planning committee, and GLOCAL. He served as a multicultural consultant for the ELCA  and crafted an anti-bias curriculum for the 2015 youth gathering. Nathaniel believes radical change can happen in communities with the right tools and investment.

Relearning our shared history by Linda Post Bushkofsky

I was surprised as the next person when I received the Daughters of the American Revolution History Award my sophomore year of high school. I sure wasn’t one to memorize years of battles or know which general led which brigade into war. For me, the most interesting aspect of history has always been how people led their lives. What did their homes look like? What did they eat? How did they worship? What songs did they sing?

When I think back to history as it was taught to me in the 1960s and 1970s, I’ve come to realize that I learned incomplete stories. Many of my history classes were limited to dates, military campaigns, and the like. Most, if not all, historical figures were male. And white. And as much as I like the musical “1776,” it doesn’t tell the full story of what happened as our fledgling nation sought independence from Great Britain.

So much of what actually occurred in North America was not recorded or saved. What was recorded or saved was composed by the conquerors (mostly white men). How refreshing that finally, we are learning more of the truth. We are learning what occurred from the moment Europeans landed here and brought with them enslaved people from Africa. (See the 1619 Project, for example) We are learning about forced sterilizations of Indigenous sisters and the horrible ways in which they and their brothers were forced into boarding schools, stripped of their traditions, and subjected to violence. (See Reclaiming Native Truth, for example)

No, we are not responsible for these and other historical acts. But we are responsible for what we do with the knowledge of those acts here and now in the 21st century. We are responsible for learning as much as we can and for working to change systems that unfairly advantage some and discriminate against others. Our organization, through the churchwide executive board, has committed itself to undergird our mission and ministry with three anti-racism foci: awareness-raising, accompaniment, and advocacy. The work is all ours to share, in congregational units, in synodical organizations, and in the churchwide women’s organization.

So, on this Independence Day, I encourage us all to spend some time relearning our shared history. Take time to read through five reflections written by Women of the ELCA participants as part of a study of the ELCA Declaration to People of African Descent. Review the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, adopted by both the ELCA (in 2016) and affirmed by Women of the ELCA (in 2017). It’s a start. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to do the important work individually and working together. In that way, all of God’s people can love and be loved, as Jesus teaches us.

 

Bio: Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.

 

My Freedom Day as a Female, Black and Queer Pastor by The Rev. Dr. Yolanda Denson-Byers

My Freedom Day as a Female, Black and Queer Pastor

 

To be a female, Black and gay pastor on “Freedom Day” necessitates a certain amount of introspection, for my relationship with the church has long been a queer dance whose steps I don’t often apprehend.

 

Galatians 3:28 says: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Yet this oneness has been elusive in the ELCA and elsewhere, has it not?

 

There are still churches in the ELCA that won’t hire a female pastor. If hired, we are required to perform femininity in a way that is acceptable to the congregation. Dress like a woman, but don’t be too sexy. Be a strong leader, but never too emotional. Love the children of our church, but don’t spend too much time with your own.

 

There are churches in the ELCA that won’t hire a person of color — full stop. For those that do, we are often required to perform race in a way that is “nonthreatening” to the community. Be a dynamic speaker, but don’t be too loud. We know that you are Black, but don’t be too proud. And for the love of God, don’t talk about race or white privilege — it makes people uncomfortable. After all, we’re all the same ….

 

Finally, we know there are churches in the ELCA that won’t hire a queer person. If they do, we are required to perform our queerness in ways that do nothing to change the community. Don’t talk about being gay. Don’t teach our children “that way of life.” Don’t do anything that would cause our church shame in the community.

 

So, to recap, it’s OK to be female, Black and queer in the ELCA as long as it does not make the 97% European-American demographic of our denomination uncomfortable in any way. I call Bullshit.

 

Juneteenth is Freedom Day. June is Pride Month. And every single day approximately half of humans are female. Many have said that “none are free until all are free.” When God said that we “are one in Christ Jesus,” it was not an invitation to be all the same. It was an invitation to truly embrace our diversity and to become the beloved community for which Jesus died and the Holy Spirit longs.

 

Beloveds, what would it look like for us to truly value one another’s diversity and to celebrate one another’s cultures, experiences and way of life? How might our churches be transformed if we practiced radical hospitality, welcoming all just as we would Christ Jesus? What would happen if we followed the Holy Spirit outside of the four walls of our buildings and into the community to experience life with the neighbors God has given us?

 

Might we learn to dance together? Might the Holy Spirit lead our steps — both in joy and sorrow, lament and justice-seeking? Would she blow among us, compelling us to insist boldly on peace with justice for all of her children? How might she guide us to stop performing “welcome” and to actually be welcoming for the sake of Christ?

 

John 8:36 says: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Since Christ has made us all free, let us stop shackling one another and walk in the light of freedom as one.

 

Bio:

The Rev. Dr. Yolanda Denson-Byers hails from St. Louis, Mo. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn., in religion and African American studies. Her Master of Divinity is from Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., with a specialty in worship, preaching, education, and pastoral care and counseling. Her Doctor of Ministry is in the field of congregational mission and leadership from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

Pastor Yolanda is a missional leader, with a heart for social justice issues, who has, for the last 23 years, been exercising her gifts through the vocations of pastor, evangelist, campus minister, hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor. In addition, she is very proud of her ministry as a wife and mother. Pastor Yolanda enjoys reading, writing, camping and anything pertaining to a warm climate with a saltwater beach!

 

A Pastor’s Reflection on The Feast Day of the Emanuel 9 by Rev. Kelly France

I had just started my car to drive to my internship site on June 18, 2015, when I learned from the radio about the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine. As I drove down the freeway and the details of this atrocious act spilled out of my speakers, I had to pull onto the shoulder and collect myself before making my way to the office for whatever meetings were scheduled that day.

 

The murders of nine people during a Bible study weighed on me throughout the week. That Sunday we prayed for their families. We prayed that such senseless violence would cease, that God’s vision of justice would be made manifest here and now. Then, as a worshiping body, we concluded the service and gathered for coffee.

 

I am a white pastor in the ELCA, the whitest denomination in the country. The man who committed the racist murders at Mother Emanuel AME is a white man who attended confirmation class in an ELCA church. This was in no way the first white supremacist terror attack on a church, but it was the one that changed me.

 

I wish I could say that this change was rapid, that the worshiping body and I began that coffee hour discussing how we could dismantle the machinery of white supremacy in our community. But my shaking voice and trembling knees when addressing issues that could make a majority of my congregation uncomfortable would make me a liar. The truth is that, before I could lead anything like that, I had to begin dismantling the hold that white supremacy had on me, often presenting itself as “the polite way to be in church.”

 

The prolific and prophetic voices of Black people, Indigenous people and people of color in this denomination remind white folks such as myself that being a faithful Lutheran has very little to do with being polite. The Holy Spirit empowers us to tell the truth. We confess that we are not going to do anything perfectly, and still we are called to be in the world, loving and supporting our neighbors. We are people who live in the unfolding kingdom of God, tasked as co-creators and stewards.

 

The past eight years have shown us that white supremacist violence is not going to go away simply by our earnestly hoping for it. From Charleston to Buffalo, the demonic force of racist violence continues to claim the lives of our siblings of color in this country.

 

As white people, we need to boldly proclaim that the end of white supremacy is our vocational calling. As a church we must continue to confess that white supremacy is intertwined in our church and our culture, and to provoke conversations on how we can change those systems. We must continue to pray for God’s justice, then unfold our hands and use them to build the world in which God calls us to live.

 

Resources:

ELCA worship for commemoration of the Emanuel Nine

https://www.elca.org/emanuelnine

 

 

Bio:
Rev. Kelly France is an interim minister who serves in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod. He is also vice president of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice