changing perspectives

I have so appreciated learning about the history of different kinds of reparations in various times and places, and the results of diverse approaches. This Sunday evening at 6:15 Central, Rev. Terrance Thomas of Bethel AME in Champaign will lead Conversation #3. (We are still working on processing Convo #2 for listening!) Our own Anja Thiessen, raised in Germany, exchange student to Urbana in high school, key leader of Spring Initiative in Mississippi, shares her thoughts comparing our two countries and the need for ongoing conversations. May her perspective ready us to dive in again together. 


This is such an important conversation – thank you for engaging in it as a congregation. As someone who grew up in Germany and who chose to make a life in the US, having spent 25 years in my original country and 12 years in total now in my adopted country, I never stop comparing these two places.

Both countries have such painful histories, in very different but connected ways, and both countries’ present day situation is informed by the past and how it was dealt with.

As a young person in Germany, learning about the Holocaust was a major part of our educational journey. Time and resources were dedicated to it. In the 9th grade, we had an exchange program with our Polish partner city, and when we went to live with our Polish families, all German students took a 2 day trip to see the concentration camp in Auschwitz. We visited museums in Germany, read books, debunked Aryan myths in biology class. Even if you weren’t that interested, you couldn’t miss this critical building block of the German education system.

I know I didn’t actually spend those comparable years in the US – I only spent my junior year at an American High School. But from what I’ve learned from the majority of my friends and from young people I know, their educational journey does not include a deep dive into the shameful and destructive parts of this country’s history.

I think it’s really hard to build something sustainable, and impossible to build something better, if you’re not familiar with what has been. It’s difficult to deal with the sins of the past, now knowing what to take on as your own legacy and how it should inform your actions in the present. But it’s easier to start that conversation with young people who are still developing, who are trying to figure out their world and who they will be in it, than to start that process with adults – many of whom feel the need to defend the ideas and beliefs they’ve come to rather than to keep an open mind, learn, and adjust with new information.

I’m really glad you’re doing this work as a community. The current moment has such a heightened awareness about the ever present cruelty and systemic devaluation of life that has been a reality for Black and Brown people in this country. I hope that from this moment, more healing, accountability and justice will come and that we’ll grow to be a more equitable country. There’s so much to learn and so much to do. I often feel paralyzed and go from hope to despair, from despair to hope. I know we need to try and I look forward to learning with you.

Anja Theissen

the Why of Us (Pastor Renée)
5/30 Bulletin
Spotify or Apple Music

3 Comments On “changing perspectives”

  1. Thanks, Anja. It’s really helpful to hear your perspective. Unlike Germany, we’ve tried to either bury the reality of our past, distancing ourselves from both past history and current realities or heroize the southern confederacy as some kind of noble effort for freedom, which is still alive in many people’s minds as the Trump years made so apparent. This is true whether we are talking about African Americans, Native Americans or Mexican Americans. We’ve never faced our shame. It’s hard to face both past and present racism without doing so. We’ve missed the mark; failed to collectively turn in a new direction.


  2. Thank you Anja. What I know but many readers may not know is how your views are not from the sidelines but from the deep South where you have lived for at least 8 years now, working to empower “underserved families” (largely of color). As for Carolyn’s comment, the U.S. (of my generation) was raised on shame so avoiding shame by blaming the victim is an unconscious tactic to avoid dealing with our own trauma of feeling shame.


  3. Thank you, Carolyn and Lee Ann, for these thoughtful responses to Anja’s insights!


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