A Communion of Care, a sermon for World AIDS Day

December 1, 2008 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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bu_aids_badge2

I was asked to preach today for World AIDS Day at Advent Lutheran Church.

I woke up this morning on World AIDS Day with many emails in my inbox from around the world.   WAD is a time of social networks, and we celebrate it in many ways – we post liturgy on websites, email, worship, remember, give money, wear ribbons.  Today is the day that we do these things all at once, all over the world.  By sitting here in these pews we are part of a chain of reflection and action.

AIDS is with us in the US, but from my work at the Lutheran Office for World Community, an office representing the ELCA and LWF at the United Nations, I have seen the immense and tragic effects of AIDS’s in countries that are poorer than ours.  Having traveled to far off places, I feel I must tell you what I have seen, that among suffering I have felt awe.  This witness is what I am going to talk about today.

When I visited Kenya last year, I sat with a group of women at Jerusalem Parrish in Nairobi.  These women meet weekly for a widows support group. In Kenya, widowed women are considered outcasts, and face discrimination.  After the husband dies, it is part of the culture for his family to take his land and his house, in the worst cases forcing the woman out on the street with nothing.  One of the women told me: “As you mourn death of your husband, someone from his family is in Nairobi filing the paperwork.”  I can’t imagine, on top of such a loss, having to fight for your home at the same time as you grieve.

Continue Reading A Communion of Care, a sermon for World AIDS Day…

a gospel of gender equality in Papua New Guinea

September 24, 2008 at 4:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Pastor Michael

Pastor Michael

I spent the last week in Papua New Guinea – not something I ever expected!  With over 800 languages, communication in PNG is fascinating.  There is no internet and even phones are hard to come by, a few cell phones are here and there.  Most people I met promised to write me — as in a letter.  We will see how that goes.

I went to PNG as an invited guest to a Lutheran women’s conference.  Colonized by Germans, more than one-fifth of the country is Lutheran.  One of the key features of the conference was a bible study called “Jesus Liberates women in PNG from male dominated cultures”.

Growing up, Pastor Michael, a seminary professor, watched his mother suffer in a polygamous marriage. His father, a “bigman” would forceably take the pigs she raised so that he could enjoy a high status in the community, beating her if necessary.  When mensturating, women were (and still are in some places) secluded, and some believe that even the food they touch is contaminated so they are no allowed to cook meals.  After the age of 13, Michael was discouraged from spending time with his mother.  Because of a tradition called the “Bride price” –similar to a dowry– women cannot divorce their husbands because their family is expected to pay the money back. By paying for their wives, it encourages a culture where many men consider their wives a possession. Even though she was often beaten by her husband, his sister was unable to divorce him because of the culture and eventually committed suicide.

All this caused him to read the bible searching for stories of women’s liberation.  At the conference he distributed a 60-page book written in Pidgin (the national language) and English that systematically unwraps the stories of women in the bible to deliver a message of respect and encouragement for women’s leadership.  It ends with a chapter: “Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan Women (and others) could be a model for PNG men to follow”.   Some of the suggestions:

-PNG men should put aside their beliefs of gender-based concepts of clean and unclean…

-Women ought to be given equal invitation and opportunity for leadership roles in the church

-Women should be given equal theological education…

-Women should be ordained

Now – the format of this communication was not modern, it came in a dense booklet – footnotes – even the original greek in some cases.  But this is an oral culture, so the women may not read this thesis booklet, but they will remember his message and retell it in their villages. They asked him to address the synod meeting next year, which will be mainly men, and hopefully this will happen.  In a male-dominated culture, it will help women gain credibility to have a man – and the bible – speaking on their behalf.

I think this was a historic occasion in PNG, and it speaks to the power of education.  He went to school and chose to study this subject and is now preaching a new gospel in his own language in a country that is hungry for it.  The “West” cannot export gender equality, it has to come from up from the grassroots within.  PNG is a very religious country, they have mixed Christianity with their own beliefs and it permeates almost everything they do.   I can’t think of a more credible way for a gender equality movement to gain foothold in this country.

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