Tag Archives: Public Church

Seminarians for Justice go to Springfield

One thing that should be noted about Seminarians here at LSTC is that we are actively living out our Call to do ministry and journey with those that society states have no voice. Being the Church and proclaiming the Gospel as an Action, rather than a thought is who we are. Below is a post by Toby Chow, Middler M.Div and one of the lead organizers of Seminarians for Justice.

Springfield We Rise

On Wednesday, March 11, Seminarians for Justice spent the day in the state capital of Springfield. We gathered before sunrise and piled into a van to join the community organization SOUL and other faith, community, and labor groups from across Illinois, in response to a proposed budget which, in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., takes necessities away from the many to give luxuries to the few. Anna Ernst (MDiv Middler), Drew Rindfleisch (MDiv Senior), and recent graduate Ben Adams (MDiv 2014) had previously undergone civil disobedience training and were prepared to risk arrest and spend the day in jail if necessary, although  in the end no arrests took place.

In February Illinois’ newly elected Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a budget that would make deep cuts into a seemingly endless series of government programs and social services that are essential to some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and also maintain the overall quality of life for the vast majority of people in the state. This includes cuts to services for people who are homeless, people with disabilities, young adults who were wards of the state; cuts to public transportation, higher education, antiviolence programs; and on and on.

Governor Rauner and others have rationalized these cuts by claiming that the state budget faces a huge deficit, and that therefore there is no alternative. But this rationale leaves out another part of the story, and that’s the power of the very wealthy in state politics. Due to an array of loopholes, 2/3 of corporations that do business in the state pay nothing in corporate income tax to the state, including 1/3 of the companies on the Fortune 100 list. In addition, Illinois has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country. This means that the richer you are, the lower your tax rate will be. This is largely due to the fact that the state constitution currently mandates that the income tax rate must be flat (i.e., the state does not charge higher tax rates at higher income brackets). Our statewide coalition has developed a set of progressive revenue proposals that would allow the state government to address the deficit without placing the burden on the most vulnerable.

So we went to Springfield to demand a fairer, more progressive tax system in order to avoid cuts to state spending on health care, education, and social services of all kinds. Hundreds staged a march to the Governor’s mansion, while hundreds of others filled the legislature and we staged two protest actions in the Chamber of the House of Representatives and outside of the Governor’s office. Anna explains why she decided to participate:

“In the ELCA bylaws, under guidelines for ordained ministry, the 7th and final guideline is to ‘speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love to the world.’ As a candidate for ordained ministry, I feel morally obligated and called to make it very clear to our elected officials that the proposed budget is not just. The budget clearly strips resources from those who already struggle, and there are other funding sources available that will NOT hurt the poor and the oppressed. We do not have a budget crisis in Illinois. We have a revenue crisis, a spiritual crisis, and a crisis of conscience. As concerned faith leaders we must make it very clear when we believe that proposed policies are in conflict with our call to serve the church and the world.”

The day of action was covered widely in the news media, including the Chicago Tribune. Drew was interviewed in this TV news segment and a very fine photo of Ben outside of the Governor’s office is featured in this news story.

The fight for a fairer, more just state budget continues, but we did achieve one important goal: we established that there is in fact an alternative to these cuts.

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DOING PUBLIC CHURCH: Some Reflections on Ferguson, Protesting Injustice, and Waiting

I am thankful for the witness of my classmates as we attempted to understand what has happened in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland

Although this is Advent, we as seminarians are struggling not just with the end of the year

and not with just the weariness of the winter coming

but with the reality that many of us are not seen as an essential part of humanity

Here are words of wisdom and hope from fellow Seminarian, Josh Evans10805673_10154830418425063_8970009728288024060_n

 I’ll say it: I’m exhausted.  I’m exhausted because the last several days have been full of action—and I’m not talking about class work and papers for the end of the semester.

The Monday afternoon when it was announced the Ferguson grand jury had reached a decision, I could do nothing more but sit in front of the TV, nervously watching the news and obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed for any breaking information.  Finally, I had had enough waiting and decided I had to go out and be where the people were.  An assembly was gathering at Chicago police headquarters for a vigil, so that’s where I went.

When I got there, there was a crowd of maybe two hundred, all peacefully standing, watching, waiting.  I ran into my friend, a student at one of our sister seminaries in Chicagoland, who was with her roommates passing out hot coffee in the cold.  I also met a Unitarian pastor, who noticed my collar, and we talked for a bit.  But mostly there was a lot of waiting.

Then the crowd began to shift across the plaza in front of the police station and gathered around a radio that was broadcasting the results of the grand jury decision.  To say that that moment was tense would be an understatement.  While a part of me held out hope for an indictment, another part knew that it probably wouldn’t happen—and so I feared for the crowd’s reaction.  But watching the news later that night, I was pleasantly surprised at how peaceful it was.  People marching, probably more than a few praying, but all showing up in the wake of injustice.

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***

Our mass #HandsUpWalkOut this week underscored for me the power of showing up.  As we stood at the corner of 51st and Greenwood, I saw a great cloud of witnesses—students across all classes, faculty, staff, and our sisters and brothers from other Hyde Park seminaries.  Looking at a picture of the walk-out later that day, I couldn’t help but think of another walk-out forty years ago.  In 1974, a group of students and professors in dramatic exodus processed out of Concordia Seminary in St Louis, in solidarity with one another, to protest the injustice of their situation.  Now in 2014, here we were—the descendants of Seminex—protesting our own day’s injustice, keeping alive a tradition of rabble-rousing and truth-telling.

In the aftermath of Ferguson, I was especially proud to see so many clergy and church leaders who showed up to offer sanctuary, to decry injustice, and to witness to the Gospel.  One article I read said something to the effect of, “If the Gospel we preach has nothing to say to Ferguson, then the Gospel has nothing to say at all.”

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The Gospel we preach has everything to do with Ferguson, and our bearing witness to it is the heart of public church.  We can learn all the theology and history and Greek and Hebrew we want in the classroom, but all that studying is useless unless we actually put it into action—putting feet to our prayers and our preaching, as some have called it.

Such is what happened that Monday night at police headquarters, and what we did this week in Hyde Park, and what likeminded, justice-seeking, righteously angry people all over the country have been doing these last several days.

The fact that we still have to do this—that we still have injustices to protest—reminds us, to paraphrase King, the moral arc of the universe is long and difficult and tiresome and far from over, but I still believe it does bend toward justice.  And so we must keep showing up.  As people of faith and leaders in the church, we are called to follow the example of Jesus who was constantly going to the places with the people society preferred to ignore, for our God is a God of the oppressed.  We are called to be present with “the least of these,” to go to where the pain and suffering is, to name it for what it is, and to say “no more!”  Like the ancient Israelites, we need to keep marching around the walls of Jericho until no stone is left upon another.

In the season of Advent, we watch and we wait and we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!

But if we expect a Deus ex machina, a God who will just come and make everything right all by God’s lonesome, then our expectations are misguided.  We have just as much of a role to play in transforming the world as it is to the world as God intends.  It’s “God’s work, our hands,” as those ubiquitous yellow t-shirts remind us.

Luther also reminds us that our being justified by faith alone is not an isolated reality but compels us to look after our neighbor:

“This is a truly Christian life.  Here faith is truly active through love, that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a person willingly serves another without hope of reward… Although the Christian is thus free from all works, we ought in this liberty to empty ourselves, take upon ourselves the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of humankind, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with our neighbor as we see that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with us.”  (The Freedom of a Christian)

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Such is our calling: faith active in love.  Faith active in love shows up, decries injustice, and bears witness to the life-giving Gospel.

Sometimes that also means waiting.  As the dark awaits the dawn, the Advent hymn begins, the people of God boldly proclaim that there is a Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot and will not overcome it.  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Preach It, Sister!

Miho

What does the Reformation mean to our community anyway?

Thursdays in Chapel are the days when Senior M.Div’ers brave the meaning of community by sharing how the Gospel

speaks to who they are, especially as Seminarians.

And Miho did that so eloquently, and so full of humor..

“It was already Sunday afternoon, and I still had a blank page on my computer screen. 

You know what I am talking about.  Due dates and assignments. 

And somehow we have to complete the assignment often at the last minute. 

Friends, this is called seminary life.”

If you weren’t laughing at that moment, you just obviously did not understand..

“Panic, feeling overwhelmed, and frustration.”

One of the Middlers next to me called out encouragingly, “Preach it Sista!” 

” I was stuck and mumbling the question: What is Reformation to me? 

As a long-time seminary student,

I cried out to God,

“Help me Jesus, send me the active Spirit which stirred Luther in 1517, RIGHT NOW.”  “

Luther is still holding us to the task of challenging the wider Church

The wider Church is asking, struggling, journeying about how we, those who are called to be

Preachers

Teachers

Leaders

Can create sacred spaces so that those outside our community feel as welcomed

and share with us too, how the Good News impacts

revitalizes

renews

Re-forms their own lives

and how they impart their own wisdom

empowered by the Holy Spirit

to encourage who we have been called to be.

All human beings, regardless of age, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or economic status,

every human being has sinned and falls short of the glory of God. 

 Luther knew his limitations and brokenness,

so when the scripture spoke to him,

“all human beings are now justified by God’s grace as a gift,

through redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood”

 he was relieved. 

God, incarnate in Christ Jesus, took care of our salvation so that we do not need to be frustrated or stuck.”

Sometimes, hearing the Word Proclaimed through pretty awesome classmates, reminds us

that this is one portion of our journey.

and that God, Our Creator manifests and fulfills God’s mission

in so many diverse and beautiful ways.

Thanks Miho for your Word.

Excerpts from “Salvation is not for Sale” preached by Miho Yasukawa, M.Div Senior