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COVID-19: Updates and Plans ›

Join us for the Bernhard M. Christensen Symposium

Augsburg University’s Christensen Symposium will feature the esteemed Dr. Brian Bantum next week, Oct. 5 from 11:00am-12:00pm. Please join us either in the Hoversten Chapel at Augsburg or via livestream (register to attend online through this link.) His talk is titled, “All Things Are New: The Language of Our Life in the Face of Empire.”
Brian Bantum, PhD, writes, speaks, and teaches on identity, racial imagination, creating spaces of justice, and the intersection of theology and embodiment for audiences around the United States. He is a  contributing editor of The Christian Century and is the author of “Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity,” “The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial  World,”  and  “Choosing Us: Marriage and Mutual Flourishing in a World of Difference,” which he co-authored with his spouse, Gail Song Bantum.

Reflections on Antidotes to White Supremacy Culture

This reflection has been written by Amanda Vetsch who works as the Congregational Coordinator and Facilitator of the Riverside Innovation Hub and has recently completed her Master’s theses which focused on dismantling white supremacy, the church, and Lutheran theology [1,2]. 

Many of the staff in the Christensen Center for Vocation have used the list of White Supremacy Culture Characteristics by Tema Okun to examine, name and begin to dismantle the ways in which white supremacy shows up in the work we do as a Center [3]. See this previous blog or website to learn more about White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.

Why Antidotes?

It is important to hold a critical lens to white supremacy culture, it is also important to simultaneously name the antidotes to these characteristics, or better ways we can work, live, and be in community. Tema Okun offers examples of antidotes to each characteristic in list she created. I believe that many of our core values can also serve as antidotes to the characteristics of white supremacy, especially when we can live out those values in our daily lives. In the Lutheran theological tradition specifically, many of our claims about who God is and how God is are directly opposed to the characteristics of white supremacy culture. The bad news of White Supremacy Culture can be displaced by the good news that the antidotes provide. As the theologian Douglas John Hall writes, “It is good news because it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.” [4] In this blog post, we’ll explore a few of the characteristics, along with practical examples of antidotes to those characteristics and theological antidotes from a Lutheran perspective.

Perfectionism neon signs that read "perfect perfect perfect"

One of the characteristics of White Supremacy is Perfectionism. A personal example of this characteristic is that as I continue to commit to antiracism and dismantling white supremacy, I sense myself striving to know and learn all the things, to have the perfect words, strategies, and beliefs. I often convince myself that I am not yet able to step up, disrupt, or dialogue in moments of racialized stress or when harm has occurred because I have to perfect the ways to do it. The desire to speak up, or act, is halted by the barrier of perfectionism, of needing to say or do the perfectly right thing. 

Another example of perfectionism in a congregational, or community, context is the tendency to keep doing the same program, over and over, with the belief that this is only one right way to do it. It could also look like an awareness that the ways of doing things together need to change, but being unable to start something new because the time and energy goes towards researching, creating, and discussing the unattainable perfect way to do things. 

Tema Okun shared some practical antidotes to perfectionism. Two of them include: “develop a learning community or organization, where the stated expectation is that everyone will make mistakes and those mistakes offer opportunities for learning” and “create a culture of inquiry about what constitutes the “right way” and what defines a “mistake”.” [5]

The White Supremacy characteristic of Perfectionism could be combated with the theological claim of “simul justus et peccator” or simultaneously saint and sinner.. To believe that we are simultaneously saint and sinner means that perfection is impossible. The desire to seek a perfect way of responding or acting can often lead us to do nothing at all. We will never attain a perfect way of doing or being antiracist. That knowledge that perfection is impossible can liberate us from the stronghold of perfectionism. 

Urgency

Another characteristic of White Supremacy Culture is Urgency. Urgency, in this sense, can look like quick, top-down decisions, or moving into immediate action in situations when urgency is unnecessary. To be clear, the daily, lived realities of racial injustice and other inequities are real and the work for equity does require immediate and consistent attention. Urgency becomes harmful when the urgency seeps into the day to day aspects of our work and life together.

I recall experiencing this “sense of urgency” as I processed and responded to the Uprising following the murder of George Floyd. I made commitments to read more books, pay more micro-reparations, and do more antiracism work. All of these commitments are good things, and in this urgent desire to solve racism, I set myself up for unsustainable commitments that were not realistic or responsive to my actual neighbors. I didn’t take the time to listen to my neighbors but moved with an unhelpful urgency that prioritized my needs for fixing something that was uncomfortable to me rather then prioritizing the relationships and work informed by my neighbors. 

An example from a community level could look like making immediate public responses to tragedies without taking the time to listen and hear form those who are most impacted. It can also look like those with the most decision making power failing to involve more people in a decision making process.

Tema Okun shares one potential antidote to urgency, “an understanding that rushing decisions takes more time in the long run because inevitably people who didn’t get a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings will at best resent and at worst undermine a decision where they were left unheard”

This characteristic of Urgency can be combated with the theological claims of Sabbath and abundance. When we claim to believe that who God is, and how God acts includes a period of rest, we can remember that we too can make room to rest and trust that there is enough time, resources, etc. Additionally, the commitment to an interdependent community means that urgency is impossible because relationships and change move at the speed of trust. [6] Deep, lasting transformation will require a long, sustained effort that’s able to be adaptive and responsive, but not urgent.

neon sign in shape of questionmarkReflection Questions:

How do you experience or notice these characteristics of White Supremacy Culture?

What antidotes already exist in your personal and communal practices? What could you deepen or develop?

References

[1] Vetsch, Amanda, “Vocation of the ELCA: Dismantling White Supremacy” (2021). MA Capstone Papers. 2.
https://digitalcommons.luthersem.edu/ma_papers/2

[2] Vetsch, Amanda, “Public Church Framework as Process for Antiracism: Integrating Racial Identity Development Models and Theological Commitments” (2021). MA Capstone Papers. 3. https://digitalcommons.luthersem.edu/ma_papers/3

[3] Okun, Tema. “White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.” Showing Up for Racial Justice – SURJ. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culturecharacteristics.html.

[4] Hall, Douglas John. “What Is Theology?,” CrossCurrents 53, no. 2 (2003): 171–84.

[5] White Supremacy Culture Website, https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html

[6] The phrase “relationships move at the speed of trust” has become commonplace in our learning community, though I believe attribution goes to adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy.

The Art of Public Ministry

This video is the second of two introducing you to the work of the Riverside Innovation Hub which is an initiative of Augsburg University’s Christensen Center for Vocation. You can see the first video and blog post here.

At Augsburg University, we are convening learning communities of congregations and ministry leaders to explore new ways of being engaged in their contexts that create opportunities for the mutual sharing of good news with our neighbors.

We call this place-based vocational discernment in the common square for the common good. It is place-based because location matters. You do not need to travel far and wide to find your neighbor, suffering, or resurrection. They are happening all around you. Be committed to those things in your location. It is vocational discernment because we wonder together how God might be calling us to show up in this location to participate in good news. It is in the public square because this work of discernment must happen in relationship with our neighbors. We can no longer decide our congregation’s mission in a church board room behind closed doors. It is for the common good because it is more important that we invest in the thriving of our neighbors and our neighborhoods than our congregations.

We approach this work through a framework we call the Public Church Framework. It is not the only way to do this work, but we have found it a helpful way to frame the work. It is a framework because it is only a structure, like a bare Christmas tree, you and your congregation will embellish this bare structure with your own unique practices and ways of doing this work in your context.

The previous video introduced to the theoretical and theological foundations of this framework. This video, which is about 45 minutes long and will introduce you to the artforms of the Public Church Framework. The word “artform” is used intentionally to communicate the dynamic and various ways we all implement and practice these artforms. We have included a PDF of the PowerPoint slides so you can take notes as you watch the presentation. Please contact us if you have questions or would like a follow-up conversation.

The Foundations for a Public Church

This video introduces you to the work of the Riverside Innovation Hub which is an initiative of Augsburg University’s Christensen Center for Vocation. The video is about 60 minutes long. It is the first video of a two part series. This video covers the foundations upon which our work is built. The second video explains the process we use to do this work. This blog will give you some context for the video.

At Augsburg University, we are very committed to the theological concept of vocation in which Christ frees and empowers each person to be co-creators with God in the work of healing creation. Or, in a nutshell, Christ frees us to participate in our neighbors thriving.

This freedom is a collective freedom and a personal freedom. Personal, yes but never private. Therefore, we want to help congregations identify and live into their collective vocation in their particular context so individuals might learn to do the same with their own personal vocations in their own personal contexts. We call this place-based vocational discernment in the common square for the common good. It is place-based because location matters. You do not need to travel far and wide to find your neighbor, suffering, or resurrection. They are happening all around you. Be committed to those things in your location. It is vocational discernment because we wonder together how God might be calling us to show up in this location to participate in good news. It is in the public square because this work of discernment must happen in relationship with our neighbors. We can no longer decide our congregation’s mission in a church board room behind closed doors. It is for the common good because it is more important that we invest in the thriving of our neighbors and our neighborhoods than our congregations.

We approach this work through a framework we call the Public Church Framework. It is not the only way to do this work, but we have found it a helpful way to frame the work. It is a framework because it is only a structure, like a bare Christmas tree, you and your congregation will embellish this bare structure with your own unique practices and ways of doing this work in your context.

This video is about 60 minutes long and will introduce you to the foundations this framework is built upon. We will be posting a second video which will walk you through the process of the Public Church Framework. We have included a PDF of the PowerPoint slides so you can take notes as you watch the presentation. Please contact us if you have questions or would like a follow-up conversation.

 

Fear & Mercy: A Sermon Series

We were asked to preach a sermon series on the public church at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Roseville, MN during Lent. The remaining services have since been canceled to allow for social distancing. This sermon was the last sermon we preached on Wednesday March 11, 2020. We wanted to share it with you, our partners, because we think it speaks to the tension and anxiety we find ourselves ministering in these days. 

There is an irony in asking a congregation to “be public” when the times call for social distancing. The purpose of the Public Church Framework is to move us into a humble relationship with our neighbor for our neighbor’s sake. And sometimes the best thing we can do for our neighbor is disengage and physically distance ourselves. At times like this we must find new ways to be public, new ways to proclaim God’s mercy in the midst of fear.

Fear & Mercy

March 11, 2020

Ezekiel 47:3-5

“Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed.”

river at sunset

Continue reading “Fear & Mercy: A Sermon Series”

Interview with AYTI Program Assistant Marty Wyatt, former participant and mentor

Group of students and staff in the chapel, Marty Wyatt is in the middleAYTI Ambassador Ian Heseltine interviewed Marty Wyatt, AYTI Program Assistant, to learn more about the impact of Marty’s participation in Augsburg’s Youth Theology Institute. In 2007, Marty was a youth participant, and he was a mentor in 2008 and 2009. In addition to his role at Augsburg, Marty is pursuing a masters of divinity at Luther Seminary.

Here is Marty’s response: 

Honestly, the week [of Youth Theology Institute] made me want to come to Augsburg for my undergrad. Looking back this is the biggest impact because of how going to Augsburg impacted my life. I would have never met the people I did or experienced the city if I didn’t go to Augsburg, and that started with the Theology Institute. The Institute introduced me to Augsburg’s campus, professors, students, and staff. They seemed to genuinely care about people and the community. It made me want to get to know them better and be a part of this community that cared so deeply for each other.

I think during the week my faith was renewed. High school can be a hard and isolating time for some and the Institute reignited my faith in a powerful way. I learned (or re-learned?) to look for God in everything, from the mundane to the exceptional. The Institute opened a way of thinking about faith differently than I had before. I began to think critically about what I believe and why, which over time led to a deepening of my faith that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t critically examine it first.  Continue reading “Interview with AYTI Program Assistant Marty Wyatt, former participant and mentor”

Our Calling as a Dusty People (Part 1 of the Lent Series)

As we move through Lent, into Holy Week and eventually Easter, Christian communities across the globe are moving through the life-giving story of Jesus as they gather together. We are reminded in this season that this resurrection story has the reality of death as a cornerstone of the truth it speaks. This three-part blog series by Riverside Innovation Hub Program Manager, Kristina Frugé, explores the complexities of being a people whose Christian story requires us to hold death and life in the same desperate grasp. The series will reflect on how we struggle to steward the gift of this complex but beautiful story and why we must continue to come alongside each other in our call to live into its promise.

 

Roxy and Marie (Kristina’s youngest daughter) on a beach

Nearly 15 springs ago we brought a tiny spry Vizsla pup home. We named her Roxy. She was our first “baby” as a newly married couple in our new-to-us home. She brought joy and mischief to our family through all it’s ups and downs. She was the constant source of comfort and companionship through the birth of three children, the loss of three other pregnancies and the many other in between moments of our life together. She worked her way into the hearts of our family and our children and taught us all how to love and let others love us.

This winter Roxy also taught us how to grieve. Our family huddled together over her aged body, shedding tears and final kisses knowing that her spirit had accepted the end. She impressed upon the hearts and minds of my young children that love is costly. She also clearly showed how it’s all worth it. After especially long days, I often find my 8 year-old son huddled in a corner or on the stairwell trying to push the tears back into his eyes with his fists.  “I miss Roxy,” he sniffles. She was always his most faithful ally, at the ready to comfort and cuddle with him at the close of the day. I sit next to him, with tears welling up in my own eyes and press my hand to his heart. I say, “Do you feel that hurt right here?” He says, “Yes.” I tell him, “This is the greatest gift. Not everyone gets to feel this. This sadness in your heart is proof that you got to love and be loved unconditionally. You will always have Roxy’s love and it will remind you how to keep loving.” Logan shakes his head knowingly and we hold on to each other and the cherished memory of Roxy’s love for us.

This loss has created a gap in our family. It feels similar to what I see when I look out the window at a winter that has overstayed its welcome. Daily, I pine for a glimpse of green grass and the hope-filled promise of new buds on trees. I strain to hear the sweet songs of the birds beckoning spring to takeover the chill of this season. We are in a gloaming, in-between time. Winter’s barrenness holds fast as signs of a fresh season begin to spring to life. Christians have a name for this season that parallels the truths that creation has on display this time of year. It is called Lent.

Lent is a season that works to open a gap in our routines and our false assumptions about ourselves and our neighbors. It parts the veil, shedding light on the vulnerabilities and fears that we work hard to keep at arm’s length. It names the unpopular truth that from dust we have come and to dust we will return. Churches find their pews most full on Christmas and Easter, the joy-filled seasons of the year. We prefer the glad-tidings of celebrating the birth of Jesus and the triumphant Hallelujahs of Easter’s resurrection chorus. But Lent disrupts these two seasons with the harsh, brutal reminder of the necessity of death. The fullness of God’s love for the world as embodied in Jesus is not complete without this part of the story. The most vulnerable truth Lent points us towards is the intimate and integral relationship between life and death.

The rhythm of life, death, and new life is woven into every fiber of the world God created and is creating. Each day on my way to work and home, I drive a few extra minutes out of my way to follow the parkway along the Mississippi River. The trees that reside along the riverbank state this truth each season, a constant reminder of how creation is called to be.

For months, their brittle branches arch naked through the chilly sky until spring emerges with signs of new life budding and humming and growing larger as the days get longer. This makes way for summer’s flourishing green cover that helps the planet breath and shades the soil and its critters from the sun’s warmest days. Finally, and always, autumn arrives with a vibrant burst of color as the trees beautiful hues point to what always must follow life and flourishing—death. This dying display of beauty gives way to the barren and dormant winter season, and the waiting begins again.

And so as this gap in the seasons daily displays the complexities of death and life, how do we pay attention to the truth? How do we let the soil filled with decayed bits of life from last summer teach us? How do we be aware that the stuff of loss all around us is also creating the space for life to breath anew again? These are the things I will ponder this week as we honor what would have been Roxy’s 15th doggie birthday. We will spread her ashes in the places she loved to run, play and explore, adding them to the mix of muck and spring mess that is preparing for a new thing.

The season of Lent begins by reminding us that from dust we came and to dust we will return. This is not a morbid sentiment, but a statement of the sacredness of the cycle of life and death and new life again. The trees along the Mississippi River speak this truth as they move through the seasons, just like the memories of our silly, loving, bed-hogging dog Roxy will remind my kids that love is worth the risk of loss. The dust pressed into our foreheads on Ash Wednesday reclaims this holy life giving element of dust, soil, ash—the remains of what was once living which holds the power to bring about life and love again.

We are a dusty people. This is our calling. In a culture where death is perceived as the enemy, we are called to embody this mystery and live it out defiantly.

Meet Our AYTI Ambassadors-Lizzy

Hello, my name is Lizzy. I am a first year at Augsburg University. I am majoring in Communication Studies and maybe double majoring in Business Management. To me, theology is incredibly fun because there is a theoretical aspect which enables the participant to ask difficult questions through a different lens. AYTI is incredibly important because being a young adult intrigued by faith and theology can be isolating, and AYTI has given me a community of peers who are equally curious about faith. I am thrilled to be an ambassador for AYTI this year; I have only been here a little while but love the campus and love this program. I cannot wait to guide others into this community I love so much.

Lizzy sitting at a table with other AYTI participants

Meet our 2019 AYTI Ambassadors-Fidelina

Fidelina with her small group in 2018Hi everybody, My name is Fidelina Xinico, and I’m from Guatemala. I am a senior double majoring in international business and economics with a minor in management information system. I have been involved in AYTI by being a mentor for the summers of 2017 and 2018, and as one of the AYTI Ambassadors for the academic year since 2017. Something that I like about AYTI is that you always keep learning and working with people for the common good by educating yourself, spreading information, and by doing hands-on jobs. I am excited to be one of the Ambassadors again this year!

Meet Our 2019 AYTI Ambassadors-Grace

Hi! My name is Grace Porter, and I am a first year here at Augsburg University. I am majoring in Theology and Public Leadership with a concentration in Youth Studies and a minor in music. I attended AYTI a few years ago, and it was one of the best weeks of my life! I grew so much in faith and friendships and had so many wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Attending the camp is also one of the big reasons I chose to attend Augsburg, and I love it here just as much as I thought I would!

Grace Porter