Author Archives: Rev. Emily Heitzman

About Rev. Emily Heitzman

Follower of Jesus and minister with children, youth, and families at four congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago.

The Pastoral Is Political: A Call To Be UnPopular

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I often wonder how the disciples had the courage to follow Jesus. I’m sure it would have been difficult for them to give up the things in their lives that they relied on for comfort and security. And I think it would have been very difficult for them to go out and proclaim Jesus’ good news after seeing the kind of backlash Jesus got from many of the religious leaders, by some people in his hometown and home synagogue, and even at times by his own family.

I wonder how the disciples continued participating in Jesus’ ministry when it would have been much easier for them to turn away when Jesus called out to them and to just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to acknowledge the suffering and injustice around them.

I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times – particularly as I have become more aware of how much systemic racism still prevails throughout our country – when I just want to hold tight to my own privilege. There have been many times when I have just wanted to shut my eyes and pretend that the evil sins of racism and the unjust racialized systems of which I am a part don’t exist.

Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in. It allows me to avoid any kind of opposition that those who speak out often face. It allows me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the racialized systems in our country that still privilege those who look like me while deeming those who don’t as “less than.”

You see, as a white woman, I have the privilege of being able to live my life without having to fear what my siblings of color fear every day.  My whiteness is a privilege in so many ways (which you can read about in my last post: The Pastoral Is Political: I Am Racist). And one of the many white privileges I have inherited is that I can choose to live my comfortable life without ever having to think about those around this country who are being suffocated and killed by the very same systems that uplift and benefit me.

And yet, this is not a privilege I get to hold onto when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.

Because just as Jesus called the twelve disciples to loosen their grips on their privilege and just as he sent them out into the world to boldly proclaim his very unpopular good news, he calls and sends all of his disciples to do so, as well.

Now, this work of proclaiming the good news is not always easy. It means we must denounce dehumanizing tweets that compare real people with real suffering to a bowl of poisonous candy. It means we must reject claims that terrorism has a religion. It means we must truly believe in our hearts that (clean) water is life and therefore stand with our siblings who are being denied access to it or who are at risk of loosing it. It means we must proclaim that Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!… over and over and over again until our country actually acts like it.

And it means we must call out the evil sins of systemic racism, confess and repent of our own participation in and benefits from it, and do whatever we can to cast out the demons of these unjust systems so that one day our country does in fact provide liberty and justice for all.

No, following Jesus will not make us popular. And for many of us, this work of proclaiming Jesus’ good news – which seems so radical to so many – will likely lead to opposition, even from some of the people we are closest to.

However, while following Jesus is not always easy, Jesus will never leave us to do this holy work alone.

We have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And no matter what, when others – even those who are closest to us – take offense at Jesus’ good news and hurl even the harshest of insults at us, we are not left without a family. We have a family right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us, and who will walk alongside us as we discern how Jesus is calling us to go out boldly into the world.

So, may we have the courage to be the body of Christ. May we support, encourage, and hold one another as we join in this difficult work of proclaiming Jesus’ good news for all.  Because the lives of our siblings, elders, youth, and children are far more important than our longing to be popular.

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Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com. Check out our growing list of Anti-Racism resources here.

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Categories: clergy women, Racism, RevGalBlogPals, The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Pastoral is Political: I Am Racist

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Dear white sisters, brothers, siblings:

I have a very difficult confession to make.

I am racist.

I wish so much that I wasn’t. I try so hard not to be. But I am.

I think this is such a difficult confession to make because we often think people who are racist are “bad” and are intentionally hateful. Yes, there are many people who say and do overtly racist things. But the truth is, most people who are racist are good and well-meaning people, who don’t want to be racist, try their hardest not to be, and don’t even realize they are.

You see, I don’t belong to extremist groups like the KKK, call people racist names, or say things that are overtly racist. I even shut down jokes and call out comments that I recognize are racist. And yet, I am still racist.

I grew up in a diverse town and went to diverse schools. I currently live and work in a diverse community, and I have friends, colleagues, parishioners, neighbors, mentors and even a family member who are persons of color. And yet, I am still racist.

I follow people of color on facebook and twitter, read books and articles about racism and white privilege, attend anti-racism workshops, preach and teach in my churches about racism and white privilege, and participate in marches and rallies that address systemic racism.

But despite all of this: I am still racist.

Why?

Because my entire life I have been socialized to be. I have been conditioned to see the world through my eyes (the eyes that belong to a white body, which is the kind of body our society has supported, deemed the “norm,” and uplifted as superior for 400+ years.)

My school textbooks have been written from a white perspective. My television shows, movies, and books have been dominated by characters who look like me. The media I follow often perpetuates harmful racialized stereotypes and biases – no matter how progressive it might be.

Despite that my family taught me that all people were created in God’s image and deserve to be treated equally, I am still racist.  When I first see a person of color, I still sometimes fail to see her as an individual and instead see her as a stereotype. When I hear people of color share their stories of being racially profiled or denied upward mobility in their workplaces, I still sometimes question if their experiences are valid. There are still times I say, think, or do things that I don’t even realize are racist and that perpetuate systemic racism. There are still times when I worry too much about ticking off my white friends or accidentally saying something that is offensive to my friends of color that I don’t speak up when I should. There are still times when I am in the virtual or physical spaces of my siblings of color and I end up wanting to center myself. And when people call me out on any of this, there are still times I feel defensive and focus more on my own discomfort than on the fact that black and brown lives matter more than my feelings.

You see, as a white person who was raised in a country that was founded on white supremacy (the belief that white people are inherently superior to people who are not) and that throughout its history has continued to reinforce this white supremacy through social and political forces (slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, glass ceilings, racial profiling, racialized policing – to name just a few), it is extremely difficult to shed myself fully from my own racist views, biases, thoughts, and ways I believe the world should function… No matter how hard I try.

I am stuck in this 400 year old deeply engrained racialized system that not even the activists of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s could completely free us from.

And I benefit from this system. My whiteness is a privilege in it.

For example, as a white person, people look at me as an individual, not a stereotype. I will never be denied a loan, housing, or job interview because of my skin color. A store clerk will never follow me closely to ensure I don’t steal anything, and I will never be taken advantage of by a car salesperson because of my whiteness. I have always had access to quality education and upward mobility. My white body is not seen as a threat. People will not call the cops if they see me taking a walk in their neighborhood past sundown or quickly move to the other side of the road when they see me walking on the sidewalk where they are walking. I will not be pulled over in my car for no reason or on my bike because I look “suspicious.” And if I do get pulled over, I will never have to worry that if I reach for my ID in my pocket, make a quick move, or even mouth back, I could get shot.

Among many things, racism denies the humanity in God’s beloved children and fails to see that God created all God’s children good, in God’s image, and beautifully and wonderfully just the way they are.

Racism is a painful and deadly sin.

And I am racist.

I live in a racialized society dominated by racist systems that were founded by white supremacy. And I benefit from and contribute to these systems.

Now, this may sound incredibly hopeless.

But it is not.

Because as Christians, we believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he freed the world from its bondage to sin. Does this mean we are no longer sinners? Of course not. Because we are human.

But this does mean that we no longer have to be bound to sin. When we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another, our sin loses its power over us. Confession leads us toward repentance, where – by the grace of God – our hearts, minds, and thoughts begin to be transformed and we start to turn away from our sins. And whenever we turn away from something, we also turn toward something in the opposite direction. In this case, when we turn away from our sins of racism and white privilege, we turn toward a life of being anti-racists. But we cannot just turn away from our sin, turn toward a new way of life, and then pat ourselves on the back and go on our merry way. We must continuously and actively move toward this new way of life.

Since the sins of racism and white privilege are so deeply engrained in us and in the racialized systems we participate in and are conditioned by, we must actively check our privilege and racism, confess it, repent of it, and be moved to take action. We must do this over and over and over again.

While I am still racist, I choose to not let racism and white privilege dominate who I am.

I choose to be actively anti-racist.

I choose to learn about and become more aware of my white privilege and how I can work to dismantle it and the harmful racialized systems of which I am a part. I choose to listen to and learn from the voices and the cries of my siblings of color, to show up, and to grieve and stand with them in their pain and anger. I choose to speak with my white friends, neighbors, parishioners, and family members about white privilege and interpersonal and systemic racism. I choose not to allow my discomfort, embarrassment, guilt, defensiveness, or the mistakes I have made (and will make) to take over me and hold me back from doing this important work.

While this new way of life is really difficult, in the Christian tradition, we believe that we do not pursue this way of life alone. We do this with the help of God and with one another.

So, fellow white siblings, will you join me in this holy anti-racism work of calling out and dismantling our white privilege, white supremacy, and the racialized systems we are conditioned by and benefit from? Will you support me and encourage me? Will you help open my eyes to the ways in which I am still blind to my own white privilege and racism?

I need you. We need each other. So let us do this holy work together.

And as we begin this work through confession, repentance, and action, let us hold onto the beautiful gift we have: that God, who is rich in mercy, loves us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ.

In Jesus Christ we are indeed forgiven! So now together let us act!

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Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com. Check out our growing list of Anti-Racism resources here.

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Categories: Racism, The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Pastoral is Political: Valentine’s Day Edition

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Here are a few things to keep in mind this week as we get ready for Valentine’s Day:

While Valentine’s Day is a fun holiday for many, it can also be painful, stressful, and lonely for others. There is a lot of pressure in our society to “find a partner, settle down, and have a family.” In some cases, our “value” is even determined by our relationship status and being single at a certain age is seen as a personal failure. The hype around Valentine’s Day (and the entire month preceding it) can often create a lot of stress for those of us who already feel these societal pressures and can be very painful for those of us who have experienced broken relationships or are grieving the loss of loved ones.

This week, let’s not forget about those around us who may find Valentine’s Day to be stressful, painful, and lonely. Let’s think about how our words might affect others when we talk about our Valentine’s Day plans, when we preach on Sunday, and when we write our faith reflections this week. Let’s create spaces (small groups, worship, or social events) where members in our faith community can gather with one another without having to hear or talk about Valentine’s Day. Let’s call, write a note to, or make plans with individuals who may be feeling particularly lonely this week.

Valentine’s Day leaves a large carbon footprint and creates a demand for unethical goods. Though we often claim Valentine’s Day is a holiday that focuses on celebrating our loved ones, it has actually become a day that is driven by mass-consumerism. According to the National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay, “Valentine’s Day remains one of the biggest gift-giving holidays of the year.”  Approximately 142 million Valentine’s Day cards (not including the valentines made in children’s school classrooms) are exchanged each year.  The NRF estimates that the total spending on Valentine’s Day gifts this year will be $19.7 billion, and the average amount that individuals will spend on Valentine’s Day gifts will be around $146.

Not only is this mass consumerism around Valentine’s Day bad for our environment, it also creates a demand for products that are made quickly and cheaply and thus enables and contributes to the slave labor industry.  Check out these horrifying statistics about the most popular gifts we purchase for Valentine’s Day:

–      ROSES: 1 out of 12 roses we buy in the U.S. for Valentine’s Day are likely cut by a child in Ecuador or another employee (most likely a woman) who is extremely underpaid and required to work sometimes up to 20 hours a day.

–       CHOCOLATES: 70-75% of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans harvested in West Africa, where almost 2 million children work under violent and hazardous conditions.  Many of these children are kidnapped or sold (some as young as 7 years old) and forced into such labor.

–       DIAMONDS: 65% of the world’s diamonds come from Africa and are mostly either mined by children or other laborers working under brutal conditions or are conflict/blood diamonds, which are mined and sold to support rebel wars.

–       GOLD JEWELRY, CELL PHONES, COMPUTERS: $180 million per year is spent on computers, cell phones, and jewelry made from conflict minerals (gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum) that are mined and sold to fund militia groups that have killed millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  (40% of these minerals are mined by children.)

–       TEDDY BEARS/STUFFED ANIMALS: Many of our teddy bears and other stuffed toys are made in sweatshops in China and Indonesia with poor working conditions, little pay, and long work hours.

Let’s find ways this Valentine’s Day to reduce our carbon footprint and our demand for unethical goods. Here are some ideas:

GIVE HOMEMADE GIFTS, VALENTINES, AND CARDS

GIVE THE GIFT OF EXPERIENCES INSTEAD OF STUFF: Give the gift of doing something fun together.  

SHOP LOCAL: Support local stores and businesses by shopping local. Purchase flowers that are locally grown.

 SHOP FAIR TRADE: Purchase gifts, coffee, chocolates, clothing, and jewelry that are fairly traded and empower communities, farmers, and women around the world.  In addition to checking out your local shops that sell fair trade items, here are a few fair trade websites:

Ten Thousand Villages      31 Bits      Bead For Life      Mata Traders 

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“God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” – Genesis 1:26, 31

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.
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Categories: RevGalBlogPals, The Pastoral is Political, Valentine's Day | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Pastoral is Political: Why I Was Arrested At Moral Mondays IL

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On Monday, June 29, 2015, two Lutheran pastors, two Methodist pastors, a rabbi, two community organizers, and a senior citizen got arrested for trespassing in the lobby of Citadel in downtown Chicago during a Moral Mondays Illinois action.

I was one of them.

…Sounds like a line of a joke, right?

Well, it’s not.

Illinois is in the middle of a crisis right now.  We are being told that it is a budget crisis.  However, I think the more accurate name for it is a revenue crisis (and what I like to call a moral crisis.)

Since July, we have not had a budget.  And because so many non-profit organizations and services have no money on the budget line, they are at risk of having to shut down programs and/or lay off staff.  And even if the current budget proposal does go through, budgets for many services and organizations will be cut, and thus those in our communities who rely on these services and programs will greatly suffer.

I serve as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households for three ELCA congregations in Edgewater, a community that is home to a large population of immigrants and refugees. As a pastor who works with many refugee and immigrant youth and families, I am well aware of the multiple hurdles and struggles these families (who have already been through so much severe trauma) face as they transition into a new country and culture. Refugee resettlement and immigration organizations help these families with job placement, finding affordable housing, gaining citizenship, English language assistance, and wellness programs that help meet their mental health needs. They provide these families with referrals to food pantries, utilities subsidies (LIHEAP), and low-income clinics, as well as help families apply for medical cards, childcare, and food stamps. RefugeeOne is one of the major refugee resettlement organizations in Chicago, receiving around 500 new individuals a year. Several families I’ve worked with have greatly benefited from the services offered by RefugeeOne, and many youth and children I’ve worked with have attended the RefugeeOne after-school program, which meets at Unity Lutheran Church, one of my congregations.

About 70% of RefugeeOne’s funding comes from the government, much of which is from the state. With the proposed cuts to immigration services, the organization could see program closures and staff layoffs. Similarly, Centro Romero, an immigrant and refugee assistance organization that serves many families in my community, was forced to lay off four of their staff and close their Family Service Program in early August because there is no money on the immigration budget line. The potential closures of such crucial programs and services are absolutely devastating for those who are already in dire need. These cuts will greatly impact the wellbeing of so many refugee and immigrant families in my community, as well as those who will be resettled here soon (including the thousands of Syrian refugees who are expected to be resettled in Chicago in the next few years.)

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This May, grassroots organizers and clergy of many faith traditions got together and discussed how we were going to respond to this moral revenue crisis.  Inspired by the Moral Mondays movement in NC, we started the Moral Mondays IL movement, which began a series of actions in Chicago that included prayer, faith teachings, and biblical stories/images and called our state legislators to create a moral budget.  We are calling our legislators to raise progressive revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes, having a fair graduated income tax, and taxing financial transactions on Illinois exchanges (which could raise billions of dollars and could help us avoid cutting crucial programs and services). 

Many of my parishioners have been participating in the Moral Mondays IL actions regularly throughout the summer – both because they feel their faith calls them to and because of personal reasons.  Several of my parishioners have participated in these actions because they or their family members will be affected by cuts to Medicaid, mental health services, home-care services, and LIHEAP (Low-Income Housing Assistance Program.) One of my seniors has been particularly active in these actions – even participating in civil disobedience in June. Her daughter is bi-polar and is on Medicaid. However, the proposed Medicaid cuts will cut a portion of her medication. She will not be able to afford this medication on her own and will thus rely on her mother (my senior) for help, who is already financially strapped since her only source of income is Social Security. These are just a few of the many examples of how the budget impasse and proposed budget cuts are affecting the seniors, youth, children, and families at my congregations and in my community.

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I’ve been active in Moral Mondays IL actions, standing with and marching alongside my parishioners and community members, and I participated in civil disobedience at Citadel this June because the proposed state budget cuts (and the current budget impasse) are already devastating so many of our children, youth, families, and seniors.

It is despicable that there is so much money in the hands of the most wealthy in our state – including our governor and many of his top financial supporters like Citadel’s CEO Ken Griffin, who makes $90,000 per hour – and yet instead of raising new progressive revenue, our governor and his buddies have chosen to balance the budget on the backs of those in our communities who are most vulnerable! 

Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

In the psalms we hear God’s call to: “Defend the cause of the weak and orphans; to maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. To rescue the weak and needy; to deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)

In Proverbs we hear God’s voice proclaiming: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13) “…[Therefore] speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)

In Leviticus, we hear God’s command to redistribute wealth.  “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:22)

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On Monday, June 29, 2015, two Lutheran pastors, two Methodist pastors, a rabbi, two community organizers, and a senior citizen got arrested for trespassing in the lobby of Citadel in downtown Chicago during a Moral Mondays Illinois action.

I was one of them.

Because my faith proclaims that ALL people are beloved children of God and deserve to live holistic and healthy lives.  It calls me to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God, and to take action with and for those who are being pushed to the margins and trampled on until we do have justice for ALL.

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If you are in Illinois, please join the movement.  Educate yourself on what is going on with our budget and revenue crisis.  Listen to the stories of your neighbors who are being impacted by these proposed cuts.  Follow Moral Mondays IL on Facebook and march with us in our upcoming actions.  (Our next action is this Monday, November 2 at 10:30am at the Thompson Center.)

So join us in saying “Enough is Enough!  Love thy neighbor as thyself: tax the rich and share the wealth!”

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Emily HeitzmanEmily Heitzman is the Pastor of Youth and Households for three multicultural congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago. This post was originally published at her blog, Musings from a Bricolage. A fellow Chicago pastor described Emily as a denominational “bricolage,”  a word usually used to refer to artwork or some other form of creation, meaning: “something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available.” As a graduate of a United Methodist seminary, an ordained clergy in the Presbyterian (USA) denomination, and a pastor of three Lutheran (ELCA) congregations (who formerly served in Evangelical Covenant, American Baptist, and Congregational churches), Emily decided that instead of calling herself a “Presbaptutherist,” bricolage was a much better (and more fun) fit.

Categories: The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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