Pastor Kurt’s Blog

30 Jun 2021

July Message

Disciples and Friends of Living Christ,

It is hard to believe that 2021 is already half over. We have been responsibly socially distancing, wearing our masks, and getting vaccinated over the past 15 months. As vaccinations give way to “freedom from masks” (huzzah!), the new delta variant comes and starts to rain on our parade (boo!). While actual rain would be greatly appreciated in the midst of our severe drought, we are now being urged to take our masks back up until we can discern the effectiveness of the vaccines against this highly contagious variant. While some complain that their freedoms are being taken away through mask mandates, we have carried on knowing that we have been set free in Christ, not to live to our own ends, but for the sake of our neighbor: to love our neighbor.

Sometimes, that love of neighbor has led us to wear masks, socially distance, and otherwise do things that we would not normally refrain from, but for the love of our neighbor we have. Other times, that love has propelled us to do things we would not have done: work for housing justice, participate in anti-racism training, and begin a reparations project.

Secular freedom says we are free from all of that, that we can do as we please, so long as we do no harm. Our faith in Jesus, however, leads us to see that our calling in the Gospel is to love that has both responsibility to our neighbor and our self, as well as freedom that liberates us from sin so that we might become truly human. As we celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day, I invite you to take a little time to ponder: For what did Jesus set you free?

In Christ’s service and yours, Pr. Kurt

29 Apr 2021

May Message

Disciples and Friends of Living Christ,

Let me start by again saying “thank you” to everyone who has donated to the Navajo Well project. As of the time I write this, we have not yet reached our goal of $30,000. But there is still time. And even if the offerings straggle in past the deadline of April 30, I am sure the Navajo Lutheran Mission will gladly accept our donations.

Regardless of the final amount, I am proud of our effort to step up and raise such a significant sum of money in a short amount of time for the sake of accompaniment with our Navajo sisters and brothers and reparations. There are extremely few churches that can say they have done what we have done for the sake of justice and peace in the world.

And thanks be to the Holy Spirit who has moved and shaped us to respond to this good work. Truly, progressive community and ancient wisdom do meet at Living Christ.

While the pandemic has certainly disrupted our lives, more severely for some than others, the Holy Spirit continues to be at work among us, calling us and so many more to faithfulness in the Gospel. Let us continue to run the race of faith with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1). Let us keep reaching out to our neighbors so that they can hear the good news of God’s love and grace, and experience it in a community of justice and mercy. Thanks be to God!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

In Christ’s love, Pr. Kurt
15 Apr 2021

Reparations: resurrection disciple-life, justice project for water

Disciples and Friends of Living Christ, 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!] 

The death of Jesus on Good Friday leaves us with the impression that death has the last say in our lives. With Jesus’ resurrection, however, we discover that that is not the case. God creates hope, a new way forward, where there was none before. This is God’s promised gift to us, not because we deserve it, but because we need it. We need redemption from the powers of sin, death, and evil.

That redemption comes at a cost: Jesus’ death on the cross and the death of our old self. We were baptized into this promise of new life, a new life that is here even now, as we begin to lay aside our old, sinful ways of living and embrace the new as empowered by the Holy Spirit: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

One of the ways we can move away from our old life and into doing justice is dismantling racism. The sin of racism has devastated BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) for centuries in this country. While none of has owned slaves or even necessarily mistreated or acted prejudicially towards BIPOC, those of us who are white (and to a certain degree Hispanic) have benefited from what our ancestors did: seizing land from indigenous people; profiting from slave/indentured labor that was passed on through generational wealth; and, creating social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and religious institutions that systematically suppressed, marginalized, and exploited BIPOC while privileging white peoples’ interests. This is known as [systemic] racism. You will note that personal prejudice against a person based on their race has very little to NOTHING to do current systemic racism. 

Through the power of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit, we have been called as disciples to dismantle systemic racism because it runs counter to God’s vision for humanity. Dismantling racism is not going to happen overnight. It took centuries to create it, though I fervently pray that it doesn’t take centuries to dismantle it because racism literally mangles you: heart, mind, body, and soul. And not just for BIPOC, but for white people as well. Truth! 

So, how do we dismantle racism? In many ways, it begins the same way as when dealing with sin: confession and trusting in God’s grace. We have to start with confession, because what you can’t confess, what you can’t name, you can’t change because the Truth won’t be in you. And if you don’t confess, you perpetuate racism, at least passively if not actively. 

We who are white need to confess: I am a racist; I benefit from the privileges of systemic racism. I need God’s grace for the amendment of my life and for the healing of my heart, mind, body, and soul, so that I might become one of God’s anti-racist disciples. 

We must not miss the importance of God’s grace in this because the typical reaction of whites to this realization, this change in world view, is guilt and shame. When guilt and shame are not addressed, they weaken a person’s ability and resolve to engage in the work of anti-racism, assuming the person doesn’t revert because they are unable to deal with the burden of these emotions. God’s grace, however, provides forgiveness to assuage the guilt and love to refute the shame that tells you, “You are not worthy of love, connection, or belonging.” We were washed in the waters of this overflowing grace at baptism. These gifts are ours for eternity. 

This grace is equally important for BIPOC who need God’s forgiveness for having internalized racism in heart, mind, body, and soul, and God’s love to soothe the rage, the hot anger, at racism and racists, so that it may become cold anger, which leads to productive action. White people could use some of this cold anger as well, as it counters malaise and indifference to racism. 

From here, there is much work to be done. You can read Ibrahim X. Kendi’s book “How to be an Anti-racist,” to learn more, though I would like to focus briefly on a topic that is a growing part of the national dialogue around race and racism: reparations. 

Reparations is basically financial compensation to BIPOC to make up for the lost wealth caused by the seizing of land, forced labor, and institutional/systemic racism over the centuries. In biblical terms, this is restitution, which is a part of the process of repentance and reconciliation. 

While Living Christ’s church building was not built using Black, slave labor (as many old churches back East were), our building is built on land that was seized from indigenous peoples through force and violence. The same is true of my home and yours. In other words, we are beneficiaries of institutional racism in the past. This calls for reparations on our part. 

As a result of discussions last summer at the Wednesday study group, council meetings, and at our December congregational meeting, we adopted a mission plan that included money set aside for reparations to indigenous, Native Americans. As far as reparations go, the $1500 is a drop in the bucket, but it was a start to get us thinking. While we labeled it “Navajo Lutheran Mission,” the hope was to do something that went beyond helping a fellow church, which seemed kind of self-serving. One suggestion was to partner with the new indigenous health clinic across the street and another was to help build a well on a nearby reservation. 

Recently, an opportunity presented itself. An anonymous donor approached me about helping the Navajo Lutheran Mission finish build a new well that is meant to benefit the local chapter of Rock Point, of which more than 50% of its residents are without running water in their homes. While some have small wells powered by windmills, that water is not fit for human use and consumption. As a result, most people in Rock Point (as elsewhere throughout Navajoland) have to go and fill special water tanks in order to provide clean water for drinking, cooking, and basic sanitation needs (in the midst of COVID19!), things that most of us take for granted. 

The drilling of this 400’ deep well was recently completed and paid for ($100,000), half the money coming from an ELCA congregation in the Phoenix metro area. To complete the project, the mission needs to install a pump, a large holding tank, water distribution pipes, and a water filtration system. The cost for this project is $30,000. 

At the March council meeting, the council unanimously approved starting a fund raiser as a reparations project with a goal of $30,000. This may seem like a lot of money; however, the aforementioned anonymous donor has pledged $15,000 in matching funds. In other words, we need to raise $15,000 by April 30. We can do this, especially with pandemic relief payments already on their way if not already in our bank accounts. 

I am pledging $500 to this effort. Please join me in this resurrection disciple-life, justice project for water, so that others can just have water. 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!] 

In Christ’s love, Pr. Kurt

1 Aug 2020

Living Christ through Reparations

Siblings and Friends of Living Christ,

Recently, our Wednesday book study group has been reading the book Dear Church. The author, Lenny Duncan, is a Black queer man and a pastor in the ELCA. His basic premise is that the ELCA is dying, not because of sociological reasons (demographic and generational changes), but theological reasons. He loves our basic Lutheran theological identity – that we are save by grace through faith apart from our good works for the sake of Christ – and that we are the first denomination that actually accepted him for who he is – a Black queer man. At the same time, he sees that we have allowed our Lutheran theology and practice to become corrupted by white supremacist ideology, toxic masculinity, and nationalism/empire by our acquiescing to American Exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is the greatest country there has ever been, but ignores or whitewashes our history of enslavement, genocide of indigenous people, militarization of the police, imperialism, oppression of women and LGBTQIA, and unabated capitalism.

I am not going to lay out his arguments – you can read his book to understand his points – however, he does lay out a path for how we as the Church can address our part in this system of sin. It begins, of course, with repentance, acknowledging and owning our part in the sin and seeking God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Historically, we have then sought reconciliation, which is good; however, we have skipped the intervening step: restitution or reparations.

In the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, when Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to his house, Zacchaeus announces that he will repay all the people he has cheated 5 times what he stole. (The Law required 3 times, but Zacchaeus offers 5 times as a sign of his true repentance and his generosity is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit.) This is a form of reparations: financial.

Another form of reparations is public acknowledgement of past wrong. In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – countries that also have a history of genocide of indigenous people – every legislative session begins with words that bring to memory the past wrong. In Australia, it goes like this:

“I begin by acknowledging the people, Traditional Custodians of the on which we  today, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.”

Many churches in the aforementioned countries begin their worship services with similar words.

In many ways, we at Living Christ have begun the process of reparations. By adopting a welcoming statement of people of all races, sexual orientation, and gender identities, joining the RIC, and being a sponsor of Flagstaff Pride in the Pines, we have made tangible steps for reparations.

We can take further steps through our hymn choices, liturgical word choices, and liturgical colors / banners that are respectful of peoples’ gender, race, and language. 

Another option would be for us to adopt a similar opening greeting as used by churches elsewhere. Perhaps, after the Words of Invocation (We begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), we could add our own version as follows:

“We also begin by acknowledging the Diné [Navajo] and [Hopi] peoples who
are the traditional custodians of the Flagstaff area on which we meet, and paying respect to the elders, past and present, of all Indigenous peoples of Arizona and the United States. We extend this respect to Navajo and Hopi peoples here today.”

In addition, just as we are a sponsor of Pride in the Pines, what would it mean for us to provide a similar reparation in support of the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Church and improve our connection with that indigenous church? (Historically, mission churches directed toward people of color have been underfunded and neglected in preference of white churches.)

What are your thoughts on these proposals? Do you have other thoughts or suggestions that you would be open to sharing? These are items that we can discuss in preparation for as well as at our December congregational meeting when we adopt our mission plan for 2021.

While we did not steal the land, our church is currently built on, we have benefitted from the sins of our ancestors. Moreover, our faith in Jesus calls us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and our neighbor. In the midst of Black Lives Matter protests and our own efforts at redevelopment, I hope you will give these thoughts and questions serious, prayerful consideration, as an act of faith active in love.

In Christ's service and yours, Pastor Kurt