Roots – (White Supremacy is Sin. Say it. Sermon 8/20/2017)

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Grace and peace to you on this Lord’s day. On our trip to Norway these past couple weeks, there were 34 people plus a guide who led us through the mountains, valleys, and fjords of the southern part of Norway. It was meaningful for me to see the places where my own family members had come from – to stand in the church and on the roadside where generations before me had stood, to smell the air, to feel the weight of the time that had passed. My great-grandparents who left Norway were people I never met but it was important for me to know something about those places they left. It reminds me of something the tour guide said one afternoon. She was talking about how so many come to Norway to learn more about their roots and that is important, because just as a tree dies if it is cut off from its’ roots, something inside us dies as well if we lose touch with where we come from.

Perhaps that is the only way to explain why it was so meaningful to catch a glimpse of the homeplaces of my ancestors. While I may know next to nothing about Johanna and Halvor Haugen and Jonas and Ane Hetland, now I’ve seen places they walked, felt the sunlight on my skin there, touched the baptismal font that held the spirit-filled water that was placed on my great-grandfather’s head the day he was baptized. These people and their lives are strangers to me and yet they are part of me. Our roots matter in complex ways and throughout all our lives we will find various ways to connect to our roots. That is important.

Our roots matter. That is why we take time to acknowledge roots in various ways. We celebrate anniversaries. We take time to mark birthdays. It’s why New Years Eve always has a little bit of a haunting feeling to it – because we think back over all that the last year held and the years before it, too. Where have we been? Where are we going? What is being written on the pages of the stories of our lives? How can we make the next chapter the best it can be?

Our roots as Christian people matter. If it weren’t so we wouldn’t spend time every Sunday recounting the stories from the Bible. We find our history as God’s people and our direction for how to live by studying God’s word.

And our roots as a nation matter. We remember those roots – not just the good stuff so we can pat ourselves on the back – but we remember the bad stuff, too because hopefully it can help us make better choices now. Hopefully. You would think this would be, true, but human beings seem to have short memories about certain things.  That’s the only explanation I can think of for why in the news the last weeks we have been hearing about things like white supremacy and neo-Nazi gatherings. If you watched the news at all, you heard about how in Charlottesville, Virginia, a group of White Nationalists chanting, “White Lives Matter” and “We Will Not Be Replaced” met at the same time as there was another group there celebrating peace and diversity – many of our ELCA brothers and sisters were there in the group advocating for peace and diversity. I was told about how they were gathered in a church and singing and praying and the white nationalist group surrounded the church, yelling and bearing their torches and refused to let those in the church come out. Those who were there say it was terrifying and like nothing they had ever experienced before. This was just the beginning of the terror as in the days that followed there was much bloodshed and injury and even the death of one of the peaceful protestors, Heather Heyer, by a white, racist terrorist driving a vehicle through a crowd.

And my first thought when I heard about it was that, well, it was far away from our little church here in MN.  However, then I saw an interview with a white supremacist in Fargo – and it is becoming clear that maybe while this is one of those things that feels like an earthquake far away, the tremors of it are much closer than we think.

I have been guilty myself of thinking that racism isn’t actually a thing anymore. I remember saying that. Because I have friends of all races, and you know segregation and all that was a long time ago and we are all supposed to be equal, right? – so why are we even still talking about this?

But then I learned that point of view is a luxury of people who enjoy privilege. Because people who are marginalized don’t ever get that luxury.

I studied for a while at a diverse little seminary in Denver. In my class, there was a variety of faiths represented – one Lutheran, one Presbyterian, a couple Unitarians, a Buddhist, a Baptist, and a United Methodist – we also had a variety of races.  The summer seminar was on racism and I was deep in my thinking that this was all kind of “ho-hum” – that racism wasn’t really a thing anymore.

But the professor did an exercise with our class that I will never forget.  She asked us to each tell what our first impression of other members of the class would be if we only saw each other on the street or had just briefly met each other.  I thought it was so ridiculous and probably a waste of time. I glanced at my watch as the first person who tried this practice, Veronica, a black woman, offered to give her first impression of me.  She said she assumed I was wealthy and had always been wealthy, that I probably lived in a nice suburban house, that I liked to shop, that the church I served was probably all white and in a nice part of town.  I forget everything she said but I remember feeling a little like I had been punched.  Even though I knew this was just an exercise for a class, I was angry that she judged me just based on the color of my skin and what she thought she knew of me – guessed that I was rich and I had never wanted for anything.  How dare she think my journey had been one of ease and security when the truth was that my childhood had known its’ share of food stamps and government cheese and wearing the same pair of jeans and shoes every day because that is all I had for school.  How dare she think that she really knew me…

And then I got it. I realized the exercise our professor was trying to do with us had worked perfectly – because for the first time I understood the smallest speck of what it felt like to experience racism.  That thinking that something can be known about another person just by the color of their skin.

That exercise informed me of my privilege. Most of us probably don’t feel like we are super privileged, and yet most of us have more privilege than we realize. I am a good example – as a middle-aged white woman, I could probably go walking anywhere, linger in any aisle of a store, sit on a park bench for any length of time, and go relatively unnoticed. Few people would stop to question if I am up to something. This would not necessarily be true if I were a black teenager. It’s unfair but it is true – and this kind of thing is called privilege – an advantage someone carries around not because they earned it but because they were born into it. And with privilege comes responsibility, with being followers of Jesus comes responsibility, to stand up for those who do not share in that privilege. Jesus always, always, always was on the side of those who were marginalized – and so we must be as well.

White supremacist gatherings are a cancer, an infection – they need to be called out and cut out, recognized and eradicated as quickly as possible or they can slowly poison the rest of the body. While we might feel far away from racism and all of that in our own thinking and in our own family, or church, or community – we must be on guard and be vocal for the sake of others who still experience it every day. We Lutherans, have a history of wanting to be so nice and not wanting to make waves – but we have to be brave to say, “that is not okay” when we hear the racist joke or remark – because otherwise we contribute to the cancer of racism. It’s like Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Dear God, help us to not be silent when faced with racism.

One of the most chilling things about this news story for me was seeing several of the white nationalist young men wearing crosses around their necks – as they held their torches, as they shouted their hate – they wore crosses. And I thought, “Shame on us.”  Shame on us – if we don’t teach our children better than that. To be a Christian is the opposite of hate like that. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to promote love and peace and all God’s children. Dear God, help us to raise up our children in the church better than that.

And while we need to be vocal to shut down voices of hate, we need to learn to be quiet and listen when those who are oppressed are trying to speak. Everyone needs to be heard.  We all need to know our stories matter – to one another and to God. There’s a great example of this in our gospel. A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus.  She needs help for her daughter, yet she just doesn’t count as a real person. Nor does her daughter. Jesus’ disciples want Jesus to send her away, and Jesus seems to agree. Jesus refuses to meet her, dismissing her because she is not an Israelite, he says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”.  She kneels before Jesus, and he calls her a dog. Jesus and his disciples deny this woman’s humanity. It’s a difficult story. It doesn’t paint our Jesus in a pretty light.

The Canaanite woman struggles to be heard. She cries out. That doesn’t work. She kneels, begs. Jesus rejects her. Finally, she says something so clever that Jesus grants her request – she is the only person who wins an argument with Jesus.

But it took Jesus a while to get there – perhaps his humanness was coming out a little more than usual that day.  And it may take us a while, too.

But make no mistake – racism is still a thing.

In the twisted, tangled roots of our nation, there is a history of strife between races. Horrible injustices have happened – most at the hands of white people – but there has also been healing – a healing that is slow and was fought for by so many. We’ve seen great strides happen. But now we get to guard the healing that has begun so that it continues. We have a holy and urgent task – to make certain our children and grandchildren grow up knowing that every person – regardless of race or religion or social status or ethnicity or gender has unsurpassed worth in the eyes of God. We say it out loud again and again so that there is no mistaking whose we are – followers of Jesus Christ, a brown-skinned, middle-eastern Jew, who taught us unequivocally that God’s love is for all – and that white supremacy is sin.

In Jesus’ name we pray – Amen.

Norway Trip – August 7-17

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Last year, I was asked by some in this area with Norwegian ancestry to put together a trip to Norway. This summer, we are going! After looking around at different companies to help me, I decided Brekke Travel’s reputation and long history of leading trips to Norway was unsurpassed. They helped me put together this trip – the itinerary is one of their most popular and the price is great when you look at all that is included. Also, if you have ancestral places you would like to visit while we are there, Brekke can help you get to those places. I plan to see the homeplace of my great-grandparents on both my mother’s side and my father’s side while we are there! I would love to have you join us for this exceptional journey. For more information, message me at ruthehetland@gmail.com or call me at 254-265-5349. Let’s go to Norway!

Alt for Norge – Roisheim

The next day we got up and were loaded onto a bus with the crew to head somewhere, of course no one would tell the cast anything about where we were going, they only told us what to bring with us. As we were riding along, I started to get excited because we were headed toward the area where my mother’s side of the family came from in Norway. I knew from watching the show that most weeks someone on the cast had something revealed to them about their family. I was a little teary-eyed at the thought of getting to see the farm where my great grandmother grew up. My own mother never got to see it and she always had wanted to do so. My mom died in 2011 and we always talked about making a trip to Norway together. My mom was the person I was closest to in the whole world and her loss is the greatest sadness of my life. As we rode along, I looked at the map and the gorgeous scenery and I felt so lucky that I was in the homeland of our ancestors.

Along the way we stopped in Lillehammer for lunch. It was a gorgeous day, but cool.  By late afternoon we made it to our destination for that day – Roisheim, a beautiful hotel out in the mountains not far from Lom.  http://www.dehistoriske.com/hotel/roisheim-hotell/

I was going to be sharing a room with Candice that evening so we got our stuff moved into our accommodations. Roisheim has quaint cabins all over its’ property and hiking trails as well. Before supper, many of us went on hikes and explored the beautiful setting.  Part way up one trail we came upon a tiny chapel in the woods.  Guy took my picture by it – that was nice.

 

We had an excellent supper and wine. Before bed we were told what to bring with us and wear the next day. We wouldn’t be staying at Roisheim again and we knew that all day the next day we would be filming part of the first episode.  Where would we go? What adventures were in store? I was nervous but happy to finally be exploring beautiful Norway in such a strange and wonderful way.

 

Alt for Norge – the Journey to Chicago

It was only a few weeks later that I received an e-mail that I was being flown to Chicago to meet with the producers. I didn’t know how many people got to come to these “callbacks” but I read somewhere it was maybe 40-60 people. My only plan was to just go and be myself and have fun and enjoy the moment. After all, how many times in my life was I going to be flown somewhere to meet with a casting director? The casting office in Chicago made all my arrangements and I was flown into Chicago on a February evening. I took the train into Chicago and then proceeded to get lost and wandered around downtown Chicago for about an hour before I found the hotel. Fortunately, there were lots of street lights and people out and about even though it was quite late, but I still was getting frustrated because it was very cold and I couldn’t figure out the direction to go for the longest time even though I had a map of downtown Chicago in my hands! I have come to rely on my phone to tell me directions but my phone was out of battery and without it, I was literally lost for a bit. As I wandered, I laughed to myself that maybe finding the hotel was the first challenge in the Alt for Norge competition and I was failing miserably! Finally, I got going in the right direction and knew I was getting close. I actually walked right by the hotel several times before I found it. It was a very cool place – and looked like no other hotel I had ever been to. Once I could plug in my phone, I called my husband and told him I wasn’t nearly cool enough to be at that hotel. (This is the hotel: http://www.acmehotelcompany.com/) There was great artwork everywhere and just a vibe that was the opposite of a regular chain hotel in most every way. I set down my small bag in my hotel room and immediately went down to the bar for a ridiculously expensive martini and appetizer. Then, off to bed – I had to get up early the next morning to go to my audition!

It was pouring rain the next morning and I had to make it across Chicago to the casting office. The casting office had given me directions for how to take the bus there but after getting lost the night before, and not having taken a city bus for about twenty years, I decided to just ask the front desk to get a cab for me and that worked out really well. I made it to the casting office with about an hour to spare so I walked to a nearby coffee shop and had some coffee and a scone.

When the time got closer, I walked back to the casting office and entered. I had to fill out some forms and then waited for just a short time before the casting director, Joan O’Connor, came out to greet me. She told me that the Norwegian producers would be in one corner of the room and I could greet them but when I answered the questions, to talk to her and not them. She brought me into the room and I greeted the Norwegians – who all seemed to be impossibly good-looking and very well-dressed. I sat down and began to answer the questions and I don’t remember a lot of the questions. I do remember she asked me what my parents would think if they knew I got to go to Norway, and just the thought of that made me tear up. I said that they would be so glad to know I had the chance to go even though they never got that opportunity. She probably only interviewed me for ten minutes and then I was done. I remember she remarked that I “looked really good on camera” – which I enjoyed hearing. I didn’t get to meet any other people who were there auditioning. Just like that, my moment auditioning for something was over and it was time to go home.

It was just a few days later I was sitting in a meeting and I got an e-mail that Joan O’Connor, the casting director, had a few more questions for me and she wanted to Facetime with me sometime that day. It turned out she only had one question, which was, “Do you still want to go to Norway?” And I found out I was selected. I could not freaking believe it. I still can’t.

Right after I finished talking to Joan, I went to eat lunch with the other pastors in the meeting and could hardly eat a bite. I called Chad and told him the good news. A little later that day, I told the bishop’s assistant who was there at the meeting, and as soon as our activities for the day were over, I went to my room and watched Alt for Norge videos on youtube and marveled at what was to come.

Fifteen Things I Learned from Being on a Norwegian Reality Show

Earlier this spring I participated in the filming of the fifth season of Alt for Norge, a Norwegian reality show. I can’t give out details of the experience until after the show airs in the fall, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I spent there and here are just a few things I learned:

1. Just as I was told it would be, Norway is simply beautiful. It is so clean and cool and green. I can’t wait to return someday.

2. Being on a Norwegian reality show is fun. The first day in Norway we participated in a photo shoot at TV Norge where they are making commercials and posters featuring all of us for the fall line-up of shows. To get my hair and makeup done and pose for the cameras was an interesting and cool experience. TV Norge said we’ll get copies of some of those photographs in the fall – it will be fun to share them with you.

3. Being on a Norwegian reality show takes a lot of patience – there was so much hilarity and adventure but also a LOT of waiting: waiting for camera setups, waiting for people to get in place, waiting for interviews.

4. If you are in a Norwegian restaurant, have the fish – you’ll never be disappointed.

5. A common saying about Norwegians is that they are “born on skis” – skiing is a popular hobby among much of the population. It had been about twenty years since I had been on skis and I was never good at it back then – and as it turns out, I’m not any better at it now.

6. I learned that while most Norwegians left Norway because of the poverty and lack of land in Norway and the possibility for land and religious freedom in the United States, there were others who left for different reasons – namely, a fresh start for their family and for their family name. (This revelation came to me after I was given particular information about my own family history while I was in Norway…I can’t elaborate now but it will be part of an early episode)

7. While some people, namely most of the other cast members, seemed to love being in front of the camera and having their life and conversations being filmed, I found it to be slightly entertaining for a couple days but then after that I was less than enchanted with the process of having to reconstruct conversations for the camera, being interviewed incessantly about the “challenges” we had to do and our thoughts about this or that. It’s good that I never aspired to be in front of the camera for a career – because a little limelight goes a long way with me. It was a great experience and I am so glad I could do it, but the friendships made with the other cast members and the things we saw and did were much more valuable to me than actually being a part of the filming. Upon reflection, I think being a director would be a very hard job – to try to find a balance between dealing with the people who crave the spotlight and those who are nonplussed by the camera operations and incessant questions (me) would be constant challenge.

8. Most of the time we were being filmed for challenges, we were outdoors, it was freezing cold or raining, and there was no access to mirrors or makeup – so it’s awesome that for majority of my stint as a Norwegian television personality I will probably be looking about as good as an uncooked chicken leg with glasses and a stocking cap.

9. It’s nice to have a chance to write in a journal and live out of a backpack and remember what that feels like. But it is even nicer to come home and be with my boys and spouse.

10. I feel like I’m still in my 20’s – until I hang out with a bunch of people in their 20’s – then I remember I’m definitely in my 40’s.

11. There are many places in Norway where you can get sparkling (carbonated) water out of the tap. Out of the TAP! Seriously – one faucet will have regular water and the faucet right next to it has wonderful sparkling water. I need this innovation in the parsonage immediately.

12. One can get used to the little luxuries of being on a reality show cast very quickly: we never had to make any plans or arrange any details of our days. We were told when to wake up, given clothes to wear (I now have a pretty great cold weather wardrobe I was given to KEEP!), fed delectable meals, stayed in (mostly) excellent accommodations, shown gorgeous sights, and then our “job” was to participate in fun “challenges” (these challenges were never hard – each one was mostly based on luck or speed, not skill). It was not a hard life.

13. The greatest part of being on Alt for Norge was spending time with the rest of the cast. What a truly wonderful group of people. I laughed SO much.

14. I learned that while you can take the pastor away from her congregation, the congregation is never, ever far from the pastor’s heart and thoughts. Each day when I was writing in my journal I would write down all the things we were doing so I would never forget, but then I found myself also always writing about my prayers for my congregation – wondering how they were and what was happening. Since we couldn’t have contact with anyone while we were in Norway, it wasn’t until I called my husband to tell him I was on the way home that I found out one of the active members of our church had died shortly after I left. It’s still difficult for me to believe he is really dead. I went to visit his grave site in our cemetery as soon as I got home and stood there for a long time, wondering how it could be possible that the last time I had seen him we had been having a conversation in the Parish hall just like we always did, and now his body was laid to rest in that rocky Texas soil. I can’t believe I wasn’t here to lead his funeral service, to sit with his wife and family and pray with them in the days that followed. I feel sad about that and yet I knew when I left that there was the very real possibility something like this could happen in my absence.

15. Just as I imagined it would be, the experience of Alt for Norge was tremendous. It was challenging and restorative and invigorating. I made wonderful friends whom I cannot wait to see again. I saw places I never dreamed I would get to see and did things beyond the imagination. Stay tuned for more stories in the fall when I can share more.