A New Day for Justice

I’m excited about the future, and feeling inspired.

That’s probably not how most of us tend to feel after two days of meetings. But yesterday was filled with inspiration and hope for the future, listening to students talk about their passion for justice and for meeting their neighbors and making sure people know about a loving God (as opposed to the mean, judgmental God of “No” and “Don’t” that gets all the press).

And it’s not often that I get so caught up in a sermon that I had to take notes, but Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary student Cassandra Chavez inspired me to grab a pen and jot things down. She talked about two types of stories we tell about change — we tell about how good things were back in the old days, and how we wish we could go back there. And we also tell the stories about the legacies we’ve left and the excitement, potential and possibility of what is to come. She was very clear that “narratives of glory” aren’t necessarily wrong, but they’re incomplete. The “good old days” were never good for everybody. 

As an example, she quoted a Bay Area pastor passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement, who asks about what the “good old days” were like. Those days when prayer took place in schools? Well, he wasn’t permitted in those schools. That story is incomplete.

But we do leave powerful legacies. Important legacies, and that’s something to be proud of. That is something that can shape our values and passions and stories, pointing us to something new, something creative, an as-yet unimagined future. 

I loved the “Oscar Romero Prayer,” composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw that she referred back to:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. 

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision…

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

My seminary is undergoing a lot of change. We are now Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University, embedded in a university rather than being a freestanding seminary. And the plan is that beginning next fall, the campus will relocate to downtown Berkeley, in a space across from City Hall where everyone will be able to be gathered in one place, and where students, faculty and staff will be immersed in the comings and goings, protests and excitement and struggles of the city. 

Grieving what is lost is an important part of moving through change. But let us also not lose sight of the possibilities and potential ahead.
I graduated from PLTS in 2000. I’ve long loved this beautiful campus on a hill. But it always felt far away from the world, often too far, and too set apart. It was fantastic to hear the excitement and enthusiasm from both students and faculty as they prepare and anticipate the potential of this move. As they reflect on what place means and how it shapes us. As they look forward to being better equipped for justice, for learning to connect with the neighbor. 

ELCA Lutherans have been known as a Northern European, largely white, highly educated church. And more and more, we don’t match the neighborhoods we inhabit. I’m so excited to see what these new leaders will bring as we strive to make deeper connections and roots in the places we are, connecting to our neighbors, learning and growing and serving.  We will look different. I’m pretty sure that’s how God calls us to be.

Theological education will need to look different in the coming years as well, and I’m so proud to be part of a school that takes that very seriously, where faculty are collaborative, where there is a clear commitment to a just world and a future of hope.

We members of the PLTS Advisory Board spent our day listening to the stories of students and staff. We heard about their excitement about the opportunities that come with being in the midst of Berkeley, encountering people in new ways, having a smaller carbon footprint, experiencing diversity more powerfully. Learning to manage change, and to reflect more deeply about the power and connection of place — something my Alaska Native brothers understand much more intuitively and deeply than I have, a topic I yearn to explore more.

And finally, it was great to catch up with some of the incredible PLTS professors, scholars passionate about justice and collaboration. I love that the seminary is exploring ways to better equip students to do ministry with Spanish-speaking peoples. 

The future is bright and exciting. As Cassandra Chavez said to us, “We are children of the resurrection, of a future we cannot see yet.” I’m proud to support PLTS. Will you?

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