Category Archives: Speaking

Lee McNeil and I Speaking Together Again about Racism and Abolishing Constitutional Slavery with Amendment A

Lee McNeil of Shorter AME Church and Caitlin Trussell

Together Colorado Annual Meeting and Celebration, May 23, 2019

I went first.  Lee’s comments brought it all home.  She and I spent the last year presenting together to committees in the Colorado Legislature as well as the Amendment A campaign launch.  We were invited to present together again this evening.

[My remarks]

I’m Pastor Caitlin Trussell and I bring you greetings from the sinner/saints of Augustana Lutheran Church.  I’m also a Faith Leader on Together Colorado’s Transforming Justice Team working to transform the criminal justice system.  Mostly I’m happy to be standing here with Lee McNeil.  She and I have been on quite the circuit together over the last year – standing together to share our stories so that something new can be born.  It’s in that spirit that I share the following…

When my first child was born a little after 3:00 in the morning, the doctor spent eternity telling me that it wasn’t time to push when I was sure my body was telling it was definitely time to push.  In the weeks before my second child was born, I spent time practicing how I was going to respond if that happened again.  Again, it was a little after 3:00 in the morning.  I quietly let anyone who was nearby know that the baby was coming and was again it wasn’t time. I’d finally had it, rolled over and shouted, “I am pushing NOW!”  My husband loves to regale people with the ensuing chaos of doctors reaching for gloves and nurses running every which way.  My point is, the people who thought they had the power to put the pushing on hold, didn’t have the power to stop new life. Something new is being born, my friends, and we’re laboring to bring that new life into the world.

Racism was born into the very air we breathe in this country when the very first white toe stepped onto this land over 400 years ago.  By self-proclaimed white supremacy armed with guns and disease, indigenous people were either killed or relocated and black Africans were imported and enslaved to work the newly claimed land.  I am the great-great-great granddaughter of a family who bought, worked, and sold slaves in South Carolina in the mid-to-late 1800s. Abolishing slavery and indentured servitude as punishment for a crime from the Colorado constitution, by passing Amendment A in the ballot box last November, was deeply personal, redemptive, and way past due.

Passing Amendment A took many people from many different groups, including Together Colorado, working together in a coalition to educate state legislators and voters.  Passing Amendment A took digging deep into our particular faith traditions to sustain the intensity of the campaign and encourage each other in the work.  Passing Amendment A took each of us in the coalition becoming clear about where our personal story fit into our country’s story of slavery and racism to love people into freedom by taking action, to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Passing Amendment A was one important push in dismantling racism.

People we love are dying. We can neither wait for permission nor a more convenient time to push through racism into the new life that takes its place. It’s way past time for new life to be born, for something new in the air we breathe.  It’s time to push…

[Lee’s Remarks]

Testimony for Together Colorado Annual Celebration (433)

AMENDEMENT A      –          May 23, 2019

My name is Lee McNeil, a Board Member with Together Colorado, a Community Leader and member of Shorter Community AME Church.

I am, ALSO, the Great granddaughter of a slave.  Both, My maternal Great grandmother and Great grandfather, came out of slavery, which places me very close to Slavery…Very close to the Pain.  I often reflect on some of my mother’s stories, the history of SLAVERY, and I am reminded of the cruelty, pain, the inhumane treatment of many and the suffering that so many families lived through and witnessed and continue living through today.   Slavery really wasn’t that long ago, because my Mother who is 106 years young is still with us.

Many families are still in bondage.    It isn’t as simple as “Just get over it” or “Why don’t they just move on; Racism is a thing of the past”.  The Pain is REAL.  A Space should be available for our communities, families, schools and places of worship to focus on the common good of the people so that they are able to thrive.

Removing “the exception” in the language that allowed for “Slavery and Involuntary Servitude” from the Colorado Constitution has been an important step for the State and Most Important to me, Personally.  It is just one step in moving forward with a process of healing and reconciliation among our families, our communities.

Pastor Caitlin and I share our testimony with legislators and throughout the state.  Our testimonies come from different perspectives, different life struggles.  The Dialogue, the Conversations are also a much-needed step in moving forward with the healing process and Dismantling Racism.

At such a time as this, with so much Racism, Hate, and White Supremacy in our midst, it is a struggle to feel that there is real and true freedom & equality for all: The Dialogue and the Conversations must be had, they must continue.

We, at Together Colorado are making a conscious effort and have begun a process to dismantle racism, come out of that place of darkness, and be at the forefront of change for our communities, where we no longer living in FEAR, Isolation, and to work toward Liberation and Life and a Beloved Community for “WE the People”………………This is a work in progress!

We must continue to build relationships and work together, in hopes that you will take part in moving with us on this Moral Decision/Moral Journey to Liberate our Communities.  STAND with US!

Let us continue on this Journey of Hope for the future of “WE the People”, begin/continue this journey of Healing for the many hurting communities.  Let us lay out a path, a journey together towards Liberation, Life, and a Beloved Community.

For Sara, A Celebration of Life

Caitlin Trussell with Sara’s family and friends on February 24, 2019

I am Pastor Caitlin Trussell and I bring you greetings from the sinner/saints of Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver.  Much closer to home, I’ve been friends with Sara’s sister Susan for almost 20 years, after our sons met in preschool.  My heart and prayers have been with Sara and you all through her diagnosis and death.  The invitation to close the remarks today is an honor.

There’s a verse that I hang onto in the Christian Bible that helps me in difficult times.  It goes like this, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is made complete in us.”** Notice that this Bible verse doesn’t say love is perfect and it doesn’t say love isn’t messy. It says that God’s love is made complete in the love we share with each other. When I pray out loud with people, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people.  And today, I thank God that you all had Sara to love and to love you – not perfectly revealing God’s love, but completing it nonetheless.  Sara was one such person through whom you experienced a small fraction of the love that God has for us.

And also, in a very real way, God did this through Jesus, who gave his life on a cross. There’s many things that the cross means but I’m going to spare you and highlight just one thing the cross means. It means God knows suffering and grief. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer and grieve. Because grief is often a messy mix of our love and our unfinished business, the cross also gives us hope that grief will be transformed by the love God shared with you through Sara.

Grief is transformed in part through the love you share with each other here today. Because with Sara’s death, the fabric of relationship is torn.  And it’s as if each one of you is given a needle and thread, so that with every story you tell, every laugh with remembered stories, every tear with remembered grief, every silence shared that cannot be filled with words, you are stitching your relationships together in new ways that continue to reveal Sara’s shape, making God’s love complete in loving each other.

With the remarks concluded, you’re invited to continue sharing time, food, and stories.

And now hear this blessing:

May God bless you and keep you,

May God’s face shine on you with grace and mercy,

May God look upon you with consolation and (+) give you peace.

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**1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete  in us.

Memorial to Victims of Violence [Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh]

**sermon art is Star of David by Ram Coenca, arcrylic on canvas, coenca-art.com

Caitlin Trussell with the residents of Kavod Senior Life in Denver and other faith leaders by invitation of Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav, on October 30, 2018

[Rabbi Steve invited our remarks and prayers to reflect unity in diversity as well as to offer comfort to residents of each faith leader’s tradition. He notes that the deaths in Pittsburgh hit Kavod’s residents in “some unique ways, including: Most of the victims in Pittsburg were over 60 as are our residents; a little under half of our residents are Jewish; our non-Jewish residents feel a special closeness, and vulnerability, with our Jewish community.”]

[Remarks begin]

I am Pastor Caitlin Trussell and I bring you greetings from my colleague Pastor Ann Hultquist, who is traveling, and the good people of Augustana Lutheran Church, your neighbors one mile to the east.

Over lunch on Tuesday a week ago, a rabbi friend of mine talked about his fear about being a Jew in America [2]. Then Saturday came and, with it, the murder of Jews in Pittsburgh. Twenty-four years ago my brother married a lovely Jewish woman. They raised their children at Congregation Or Ami in California.  My brother converted to Judaism more recently.  When I heard about the shootings, weighing heavily on my heart and mind were those who died, their friends and family, my Jewish friends and colleagues, as well as my brother, his family, and their Jewish congregation.

In Christian scripture, the Gospel of John, the 14th chapter, Jesus says to his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

I suppose that’s easy for Jesus to say.  Not so easy for us.  We can get lost in the details of Jesus’ words because, in the aftermath of Saturday’s killings of our Jewish cousins in faith, we see all too clearly how the world gives, which troubles our hearts and makes us afraid. Christians sometimes refer to our life here on earth as living on “this side of the cross” – meaning that we live in a world in which we so clearly see and experience suffering.

It’s a truth we understand deep in our gut. The truth that being human involves real suffering and pain. However, Christians see along with that truth that the cross means that God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the world that God loves unconditionally.  Not only that, the cross also reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer, revealing life in the midst of that suffering through the love we share with each other; and through the love and solidarity we share with people of no faith and people of all faiths in our collective determination and actions to prevent future suffering.

It is in the spirit of love and solidarity that I offer this prayer from my faith tradition…

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, you have brought us this far along the way.

In times of bitterness you did not abandon us, but guided us into the path of love and light.

In every age you sent prophets to make known your loving will for all humanity.

The cry of the suffering has become your own cry; our hunger and thirst for justice for all people is your own desire.

You entered our sorrows in Jesus our brother. He was born among the poor, he lived under oppression, he wept over the city. With infinite love, he meets us in our suffering.

O God most merciful, our comfort and our hope, graciously tend those who mourn, that, casting all their sorrow on you, they may know the consolation of your love.

O God most majestic, you are breath and fire, our strength and our song, you show us a vision of a tree of life with fruits for all and leaves that heal the nations.

Grant us such a life as you make us instruments of your peace.[1]

Amen.

_____________________________________________________________________

[1] The prayer above is modified from Prayers for Worship VIII and X as well as the Funeral Prayer of the Day in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Hymnal).  (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), 67, 69, and 281.

[2] This same rabbi friend encourages the use of the word Jew acknowledging that non-Jews are squeamish about it given the pejorative use in history up through today.

Why I’m Grateful For Iliff [OR Multiple Theological Fluencies Rock]

Alumni Reflection for Iliff School of Theology Board of Trustees, Former and Current, on August 18, 2016

[full disclosure: this is an blend of my prepared remarks with the spontaneous ones that come in the moment of being with people]

I bring you greetings from the good people of Augustana Lutheran Church on East Alameda in Denver.

I’m going to begin at the beginning but, hang with me, it won’t take that long.  Born in Boston, raised in Pasadena, married a Nebraskan, and now in Denver for the past 23 years, I’ve covered a lot of ground…literally, personally, professionally, and theologically. A…lot…of…ground…

I worked as a Registered Nurse for 16 years in pediatric oncology and home hospice. During that time, I received a Master’s in Nursing from UCLA in pediatric oncology and pain management.  I loved nursing. Still do.  I carry a current R.N. license in my wallet because I promised my mother I would.  I knew I wanted to be a nurse when I was 13 years old and didn’t look back for almost 25 years. But something else was happening along the way, too.

Baptized through the Roman Catholic Church while living with my first father, then baptized again through the fundamentalist Christian tradition of my step-father, I spent about ten years as an adult religious refugee of sorts. I moved to Colorado and married Rob in 1995. When our two children were born, Rob’s unscathed Lutheran memories, and my fond memories of older church ladies, drew us into an ELCA Lutheran church…along with Rob’s mom asking us when we were going to baptize those babies.

I’d never heard anything like what I heard there – that there was nothing I could do to make God love me any more or any less. Turns out it’s much easier to love Jesus once I heard that Jesus actually does love me. About 5 years into it, 2002, my pastor invited me to preach.  After that, the people at church started pestering me with the idea of seminary.  Of course, I thought they were crazy.  My children only came up as high as my knees, so small.

Eventually, I got online and looked at what it meant to be pastor. A few months went by…truly, a few months…before I mustered up the courage to tell Rob that I thought I was supposed to be a pastor. It sounded absurd even to my own ears. When I did, he said without pause, “Of course you are.”

So, while starting the process with the ELCA, I also started seminary at Iliff adding required Lutheran classes taken in Minnesota at Luther Seminary for three summers and a Fall semester.  The Master’s of Divinity part of becoming a pastor took me four and a half years.  I graduated with that M. Div. from Iliff in 2011.

It was interesting attending two seminaries with such different assumptions. Yes, they both have them – some examined and some not.  Any institution can do a better job challenging their own assumptions, including Iliff.  But here’s why I’m grateful that Iliff was part of my seminary training.

It’s because I carry multiple theological fluencies in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t. This means I can hear the words people use and hear how they understand truth – gifts, inconsistencies, all of it. In large part this is because I was challenged to examine my own. The infamous process of deconstruction. That is a gift from Iliff. Is it a perfect gift? No, but that’s a conversation for a different day.

Here are a few paraphrased lessons from Iliff professors that stick with me:

Ted Vial: Every theological system plays a mystery card, it’s just a matter of where.

Jacob Kinnard:  Religions around the world blend together in ways that are very complex resulting in multiple forms within any single tradition. Think Christianities, plural.

Pam Eisenbaum: The Biblical writings of the Apostle Paul may not mean what you think they mean.

Edward Antonio: Colonization is oppressive, no question. But if we stop at blaming the colonizer then we further oppress people by robbing them of their own agency.

Cathie Kelsey: Most people have a tendency to compare the best of their own traditions with the worst of other people’s traditions.

Mark George: People put their religious views into a Bible story that simply aren’t in the text.

Katherine Turpin: Try experiencing an event without simultaneously critiquing it…hard to do, but so worth it.

And, lastly, Vincent Harding: [turning to colleague in a panel, naming him by first name and saying,] “Dr. _____, I am going to disagree with you in love.”

The list could go on and on and on. Whether or not I agree with a professor is beside the point. Learning their particular fluency became the point. Those lessons and fluencies stick.  And they make a difference when I’m part of a one-on-one conversation in a coffee shop or Sunday morning worship or community organizing.  Those are not theoretical examples.

On any given Sunday, the people in the pews are thinking as many different things as there are people. I don’t see it as my task to convince them otherwise. My task is preaching and living with integrity at multiple levels – from my commitment to a confessional denomination to my own individual confession of faith.

Being educated at Iliff has been a key to that integrity. Just as it’s been a key to pastoral care as well as justice work in the community. I’m grateful for it. Looking back, I might wish to alter some logistics of attending two seminaries. I would not change receiving my degree from Iliff.