Theological Musings from the Texas borderlands …

Thought for the day: I have been inside the Port Isabel Detention Center near Los Fresnos, Texas.  I visited the refugees from El Salvador who were detained at the border while fleeing the violence of the civil war. The center is a prison with the hardness and coldness of cement and barbed wire.  The detained were fleeing violence and death squads. They endured forced migration and displacement. The result was dehumanization which continues today with the plight of Central American refugees seeking asylum at the border.  In the words of the Galilean, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  All economic sustainability issues fail when confronted by the values of the reign of God.  Matthew 25:35

Thought for the day: Presiding Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry and Roman Catholic priest James Martin were interviewed by Lawrence O’Donnell.  Their advice to the President: “Do good, be just, be kind.”  These were principles of living that we learned in Sunday School.  Both referenced the commandment to love the neighbor as one loves him or herself and thus fulfill the law. Both referenced the conscience as the voice of God within that steers toward good and guides away from evil. The battle being waged is not only for the soul of the nation. It is also a battle for the soul of a people who purport to know the scriptures.  Micah 6:8

Thought for the day: St. Augustine is purported to have said: “A nation is made of rational souls bound by the object of their love.” How does reason lead to goodness, kindness and justice among those who govern? What are the objects of our love that bind us as a people and as a nation? Are these no longer found in the values and principles that led to the construct of the most powerful nation in the history of the world?  May our conscience through scripture disturb us enough to afflict the comfortable (Martin Luther).  May it be our guide just as it served as the voice within for theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the German confessing church that rebuked allegiance to Hitler.  May it inspire us as it did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his resistance to injustice.  May the voices of these prophets whom we love to quote in church and teach in seminaries continue to speak to us over and above the silence of our inaction and our claims to apolitical piety. Micah 6:8

Thought for the day: It is hard to wrap your thought around what is happening along the U.S.-Mexico border with the separation of children from their parents. I am from the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas.  Every year we take students to Laredo to examine the reality of our militarized southern border. Many of the faithful are protesting the zero-sum game policy that makes winners of NO ONE, least of all the strangers referenced in Matthew 25, a text that mirrors the prophetic denunciations against the ill treatment of the stranger referenced throughout the biblical canon. Many are heeding this text with protests to end the inhumane and immoral policy against our southern neighbors. When human lives are used as a bargaining chip to create funding for a border wall, then we as a nation stand in the peril of judgment for actions taken against the suffering innocent. This is not a time for Lutheran quietism. Let us continue to cry out, march in protest, call our legislators, vote for justice and pray without ceasing for the end of this barbaric policy. History will judge this time in our history for the violations of the human rights that Eleanor Roosevelt drafted and championed in the U.N. Human Rights Declaration of 1948. May we heed the call to respond and be declared faithful at the judgement of the nations!  Matthew 25:31-46

Thought for the day: We prepare to receive 15 participants to our Spanish language, culture and theology intensive who arrive from all over the country to learn not only the Spanish liturgical language but also the theology and cultural characteristics that are unique to Hispanic/Latinx identity. This intensive will equip our servant leaders to serve the growing Latin@ demographic throughout the nation. It will be a joy to serve these participants in the coming week and end with a fiesta second to none!  Acts: 2:1-13

Thought for the day: Today our graduates will be receiving their certificates in recognition of the three years of theological studies at LSPS. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve the church by preparing leaders who will serve throughout the nation, from coast to coast and across the world through their global ministries. We give thanks for the bishops in attendance and for all who traveled with the graduates to make this day truly special in the reign of God.  Matthew 28:16-20

Thought for the day: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” we hear the psalmist declare. We pray for all who claim the holy city as the center of their theological universe. However, it is difficult to celebrate the opening of the U.S. embassy in the city of peace when so many Palestinians perish.  It is difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that an embassy relocation could create such violence.  The nature of the political and theological divide that has characterized the history of the region is long and complex.  We pray for the peace of Jerusalem that all may be blessed who pray for her.  We pray for all nations who stand for peace in the face of great complexity where answers are forged through dialogue, compromise and mutual effort for the sake of the common good. Their Salem is our Salaam for the absence of La Paz of any people is the absence of the Peace of the human family.  John 17:22-23

Thought for the day: The campus is quieter today since the end of final exams.  Many students will graduate and leave to follow their call.  I give thanks for the ministries that await them throughout the nation and the world. It is such a privilege to take part in forming students for service in the church universal. It is a joy to be a part of their lives and to see them grow during their time with us. We who teach get to witness living epiphanies as they acquire a fuller understanding of the Sacred. We get to witness their transformation. May the Spirit of the Holy One continue to bless their journey of faith for the sake of the life of the world!  Psalm 139

Thought of the day: Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of his disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth … that they may be one.” The prayer for unity is ours and one we should strive to live in faithfully.  We can retain our theological distinctions while working for peace and justice in our communities.  Working together to promote the values of the reign of God is to bear witness to this unity in diversity.  John 17:17-21

Thought for the day:  I ask five questions. Is our call and witness in the reign of God transparent? Does it promote integrity? Does it affirm human dignity? Does it promote justice? Does it witness to the grace of God?   Answered together, do these five foci lead to a life that thrives and a witness of the love of God in and for the world? Unity is not about liking each other; it is about finding theological agreement in a common witness “that the world may believe in the One who was sent.”  We are called to cross theological borders and boundaries for the sake of the life of the world.  John 17:20-23

Thought for the day: Mother’s day. How we cherish them and our memory of them. They bring new life into the world as the graced co-creators of the Divine Creator of all being. An ancient indigenous proverb states: “every time a child is born the creation is renewed!” We give thanks for the mothers who gave birth to us, who helped to form us and guide us with their special wisdom and love and who nurtured us so that we might be a blessing in the world. We remember and pray for those mothers who endure all kinds of hardship for the sake of their children, like the ones we meet at the U.S. – Mexico border who cross deserts, rivers and nations seeking refuge from the fear of violence and death. We hold them in our hearts as they held us in theirs and spoke our names lovingly in their sacred prayers. For those who have gone before us, we say: ¡Gracias, Madrecita linda, que Diosito bendiga tu memoria por toda la eternidad! Psalm 139: 13-18

Thought for the day: The words from Rev. Megan Elliott’s sermon at synod assembly are still ringing in my ears: “In baptism, we die a thousand deaths!” What a powerful statement. We do indeed die daily to our old self, our old nature, the being that Martin Luther used to say we drown daily in the waters of baptism, but then there is a BUT THEN! But then we rise to the New Life in Christ, the New Being that Paul Tillich coined in his theology bringing clarity to the New Being that rises daily from those life-giving waters. If we die a thousand deaths we then rise to a thousand New Beings in Jesus the Christ. He is risen and so are we in the Sacred waters of New Being!  Matthew 3:13-17

Thought for the day: Worship during the three days of the synod assembly was such a blessing to everyone. The sermons were life-giving and inspiring.  Singing “What a friend we have in Jesus” transported me to my youth in south Texas when we sang the hymn in Spanish in a white wooden frame church made timeless by sacred memory.  It allowed me to recall the faithful pastors who traveled to the Rio Grande Valley from the Midwest, the Sunday School teachers who taught us the parables and the many parents who showed us the Way of Christ by their unconditional love and example. “O que amigo nos es Cristo,” a timeless hymn for the ages.  Sing it and be renewed!  John 3:16

Thought for the day: The Southwestern Texas Synod shares the longest border with Mexico in the ELCA.  This geo-political border is known as the Galilee of Texas. It is a cultural and linguistic border-crossing region that grants the church a unique position to influence the lives of countless peoples from many nations.  It is a place where accents dwell in rich harmony with the land.  It bears a soil that has been watered by a timeless river that does not discriminate.  We are called to leave our imprint on this soil, to be watered by its river in baptism and to proclaim the life-giving and hope-granting Gospel in a mixture of languages birthed in the crucible of bread and wine.  Matthew 5:1-16  

Thought for the day: I often revisit Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-19 to reaffirm my sense of call: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, …proclaim freedom to the captives, grant recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee.” This text serves as a litmus test and reminds me that what I teach, proclaim and do for others is in sync with Jesus’ self-understanding. We know how radical the statement sounded in Nazareth and how radical it sounds for many today. Jesus suffered persecution for itt, but remained undeterred.  He healed and brought hope to a broken world. We do the same through our vocations of service and advocacy for economic justice. The test of our popularity in the reign of God is faithfulness. Luke 4:18-19

Thought for the day: We inherit a rich theological tradition from Martin Luther. He asks a poignant question in his Small Catechism: How do we know the love of God dwells in us? Answer: By the love we show our neighbor in need. He goes further: “Defend her, speak kindly of him, forgive them their blind spots …” Luther reminds us that in Christ we are freed from sin, death and the power of the devil and freed for service in the world. Our ethical decisions affect the neighbor. They either defend or harm others. Read your Small Catechism this day and recall that the love of God for you covers a multitude of missteps and offers the freedom to serve with gladness.  The Small Catechism

Thought for the day: Casa Marianella is the home for displaced migrants in Austin. Delivering the Word and Sacrament in this casita reminds me of the hospitality that is at the core of the Christian message to the displaced of the world.  Teaching on Acts of the Apostles adds poignancy to the message of the universal Body of Christ. In Acts the Spirit sends Phillip to the Ethiopian eunuch who receives the Spirit through baptism, a sign that the least likely become life-giving branches bearing fruit in the reign of God. At this Casa the displaced of the world affirm their baptismal identity with water on their foreheads, the sign of the cross bearing witness that the least likely are welcome in the household of God.  Acts 8:25-39

Thought for the day: Students ask if the Gospel is political.  When the chaplains of the Congress are fired for their prayer of concern for the disempowered of the nation then the gospel becomes political. To defend the poor and the marginalized is a Gospel imperative.  To advocate for their justice is to be politically correct in the reign of God. The prophets bear witness of this concern and remind us to feed the hungry, care for the widow and the orphan, defend the undocumented, join forces with women abused by power and seek the welfare of the city.  The reign of God is a political force that affirms the common good and takes offense at the abuse of power.  Micah 6:8

Thought for the day: I wonder if Jesus ever referred to John the Beloved as “Johnny.” Many of us have nicknames. The Holy One calls us beloved above all given names. The folks who knew the beloved disciple may have referred to his story as the “Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Johnny.” What is your story of encounter with the Sacred?  How will your story be told when all is said and done? Imagine with me, the Gospel according to ‘you.’ Your life bears witness with the footprints you leave behind.  John Chapter 1

Thought for the day: During the Easter season we hear from the gospel of John.  John reminds us of the love of God for all people. It is poured over us in baptism and we affirm it in the congregation. It sustains us over the years even when we are unaware of it. The love of God comes to us through the church and family, friends and neighbors, strangers who act as angels and the care and counsel that comes from spiritual direction. The love of God clings to us like water in baptism and leads the way to the abundant life of the Spirit.  Meditate on John’s Gospel and be renewed.  John 3:16

Thought for the day: I offer a reflection on Latina spirituality for International Women’s day.  I have learned much from Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, Gloria Anzaldúa, our Lady of Guadalupe, but most significantly from my mother, aunts, godmother, sisters, nieces and amigas like them.  They all have been women of faith who carved out their roles in a heavily male dominated culture. They taught me to nurture the heart as much as the brain. They taught me to see beauty in the small acts of kindness like taking a plate of food to a neighbor. They taught me to serve the common good. They are my models of faith, love and caring who cross all kinds of borders of difference. They embody co-creating lives of the Spirit who bring into being those things that do not exist as part of the creatio continua of the Divine feminine. They shape the life of family, community and the Academy of the wise. Proverbs 3

Thought for the day:  Today we are living in an era of epistemological warfare. The construct of knowledge is a prized value of the free world. Conclusions are based on it and are influenced by social media and methods that often leave us polarized. We gather into tribes of similar opinions. Closing the gap is a challenge for all of us.  Faith leads us to examine how we relate to the neighbor who views the world differently than we do. That is where the challenge of faith lies. The truth often lies somewhere in the center of the two polarities. Living in the center allows us a different view than living at the extremes. It changes the view of the landscape. We close the gap together as a community of good will.  John 8:31-32

Thought for the day: A Guatemalan educator steers children towards their dreams for a better life and away from drug cartels.  He reminds us of the Dreamers of our country who yearn for the opportunity to fulfill their own potential. The desire for an education crosses boundaries and cannot be confined or restricted by systems of oppression. Students embody the Spirit of Life that yearns for creative expression and self-realization. The educator reminds us that education taps creative energies and leads to the creative potential of a nation.  In serving them we serve the world. Proverbs 4

Thought for the day: As we celebrate Women’s History month let us not forget the roles that Transgender women have played in history.  They continue to pave the way for a more inclusive and just society. Their gender identity is not new in history. These women played strong roles in indigenous cultures. They were shamanic healers as they embodied the wisdom of two polarities in one essence. They bring harmony and holistic awareness to the human experience. Their persecution is a result of faith traditions that make no space for a world without binaries. They have much to teach us about theological anthropology and the inclusive nature of the Gospel.   Gen 1:31 Thought for the day: Watching the Oscars reminds me of the power of women who persevere in an industry that often abuses their bodies. On stage was Dolores Huerta, a Latina activist.  Her film portrays the fair labor wage struggle of farm workers during the 1960’s. She coined the phrase, “Si se puede!” made famous by Cesar Chavez and President Obama. She reminds us that all women have dignity and gifts and talents worthy of recognition.  She invites us to embody the more inclusive and just society. Micah 6:8