Interview with Rev. Sandra María van Opstal

03.30.2021  |  Season 2  |  Episode 14




SHOW NOTES

In this episode, Dr. Madison Pierce and Dr. Josh Jipp interview TEDS alumna Rev. Sandra María Van Opstal, Co-founder and Executive Director of Chasing Justice, a movement led by people of color to mobilize a lifestyle of faith and justice.

Josh and Madison talk to Sandra about her calling to equip BIPOC leaders and to help predominately White organizations develop hospitable and multi-ethnic spaces characterized by mutual love and respect.

We hope you learn as much as we did!

Want to check out more of the Rev Van Opstal’s work? Check out her Amazon author page (here). Here’s some recent highlights:

Transcript

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Intro
[00:00:00] You’re listening to Foreword, a podcast from faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, hosted by Michelle Knight, Josh Jipp, Madison Pierce, and James Arcadi. Foreword invites listeners into the mission of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School through conversations with faculty, staff, and guests.

Madison Pierce
Oh hey, Josh! What’s up? [LAUGHS]

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

Josh Jipp
I didn’t know if we were ever going to begin! Hey, Madison! [LAUGHS] Hey, um, you know, an important part of life is beauty and aesthetics. And often how we decorate, you know, says a lot about who we are. I don’t know if you can see, but I’ve got, like, a little Twins pennant hanging up there to sort of advertise my love for the Minnesota Twins. Often I’ll have, you know, whatever record is I’m listening to. Here we’ve got Being There, by Wilco, and the books aren’t, you know… I actually read those. Those aren’t so much, you know, decorations, but those are sort of, like, my aesthetic sensibilities. And I just wanted to like, come at you hard here. What is up with the butterfly picture and the corn? [PIERCE LAUGHS] Who is going to decorate their house with, you know, these, like, field corn? What’s going on here?

Pierce
Well, um, I’m really resisting making a joke about our corn-loving co-host Michelle. [JIPP LAUGHS] But, I’m actually—

Jipp
Just do it! She’s not here.

Pierce
—[LAUGHS] Oh, just say, this is art…this is art that we might find in the, uh, in our friend from Bloomington-Normal—her house. No, I’m just joking (JIPP LAUGHS). I am in Effingham, Illinois, on my way back from a trip with family, and so I am—

Jipp
Okay. Love… love Effingham. Great place.

Pierce
Yes. I’m coming to you from the Effingham La Quinta.

Jipp
Okay. Okay.

Pierce
—So it’s pretty special. Here on location.

Jipp
And you… did you request the room with the corn artwork, or did they just… that was just randomly assigned to you—the corn?

Pierce
There was an interesting polar bear in our previous room, and I said, “Oh no.”—

Jipp
“No way.”

Pierce
—“We need…do you have anything a bit nicer?” And this is perfect, so yeah. [LAUGHS]

Jipp
It’s not doing it. Alright, alright. Well, uh, I’m going to confess that I’m glad that’s not your own—since I’ve never been in your living room, I’m glad to hear that this is not your living room from which you are broadcasting. [PIERCE LAUGHS] I hope…enjoy the corn, enjoy the butterflies, you know, until you have to check out.

Pierce
Thanks.

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Jipp
But in seriousness, we have a great episode for you today. We are talking with alumna Sandra Van Opstal. She’s a pastor, she’s director of a new organization called Chasing Justice, she’s an author—and the conversation goes a little bit longer than normal, it’s about 50 minutes or so, but it is really well worth your time. So stay tuned and enjoy the conversation!

Pierce
Yep. Thanks, y’all.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

Pierce
Welcome to Foreword: A TEDS Faculty Podcast. I’m Madison Pierce.

Jipp
And I’m Josh Jipp.

Pierce
Today, we’re sitting down with Sandra María Van Opstal, a second generation Latina, who is Co-founder and Executive Director of Chasing Justice, a movement led by people of color to mobilize a lifestyle of faith and justice—which I really love. Pastor Van Opstal, or Pastor Sandra, is a gifted preacher and speaker who is also a doctoral candidate at North Park University and previously served as the Worship Director for Urbana student ministries—sorry, student missions conference. Josh and I get the privilege of interviewing her because she’s a TEDS alumna and we can’t wait for you to learn more about her work. So Sandra, welcome.

Sandra Van Opstal
Thanks for having me!

Pierce
Let’s jump right in. Sandra, can you tell us about some of the early seeds that were planted in your life that kind of flourished…you know, that helped you develop into a Christian leader?

Van Opstal
Okay, so. I mean, I have to give a shout out to my mother and my grandmother every time—

Pierce
Amazing.

Van Opstal
—because we all know that our faith, even though we don’t have words for it oftentimes, is formed in those first years. And yeah, I grew up attending mass with my grandmother in Spanish, and then later on, attending—both within Catholic tradition and then later on within the Southern Baptist tradition—with my parents, and watching their lives just form, like, how to be a neighbor, how to live, you know, how to be a good worker for Jesus and all of those things. So I don’t think I had words for those things but it wasn’t until I became a student in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which is a student movement, that I really was confronted with God’s word and the ability to just see God in the word and to live it out in a very distinct and vibrant way. And so I started leading a small group of mostly people in the arts—kind of arts and theater—and folks that weren’t involved in the main intervarsity chapter, I started leading investigative bible studies and kind of…for people that were interested in faith, but didn’t quite know if they wanted to be in relationship with the church or follow Jesus. And so I did that primarily with, uh, actually football players that were living in the building—in the apartment that I was living in with my friends at the time. So my ministry always was kind of outside of the center and to people that weren’t being reached by what was kind of the traditional mechanism of outreach within the context of, in that case, college ministry. And at the end of my senior year, I thought, “Oh my gosh, maybe I’m supposed to be in ministry,” and my InterVarsity staff worker said, “No. We don’t think you are.” [LAUGHS]—

Pierce
My goodness!

Van Opstal
—Well, they didn’t say “No.” They just said, like, “Well, we don’t know. You kind of seem to spend time with some, you know, colorful characters.” Um, and so that was the beginning of my ministry journey. I had…I came back home, I got a job as a consultant making some really good money to pay off student loans and volunteering with…with a campus nearby. And eventually, I came into full time ministry through that route. So I think it was one of testing a call, like—again, I think I heard internally…like, I think I saw a path forward of what my life could be like and, while the people that were close to me affirmed it, the people that were actually in charge and in power didn’t affirm it. And so it’s kind of been that way all along, since the beginning. So that’s how I kind of ended up in Christian ministry. I studied music business. I was going to be a famous singer, you know, and in my era, I would have been Selena—like, the first one [LAUGHTER]—and, you know, just make some crossover records in English and Spanish and wow the world. And that was going to be my life, and that’s why I studied music business to do that work and I ended up in ministry.

Pierce
Wow.

Jipp
[00:06:54] Now, Sandra, you…I got to know you a little bit, I think…I don’t know if this is going to feel like a former life to you—it kind of does to me. [VAN OPSTAL LAUGHS] But I got to know you through my wife Amber, when you were…and I would see you in two different roles, in that you were the director of the Chicago Urban Program, and when I was at Emory, my wife would—who was also with InterVarsity—would take students there, and we’d spend,  think, like, you know, the whole spring break or whatever it was. And you were our mentor and our guide and our teacher. And then I would also see you—I didn’t get to know you this way, but I would see you, you know, from whatever that huge stadium in St. Louis is. You know, like, leading worship, right, at Urbana. I’d love to hear like, what…how do you reflect back on, you know, that time in terms of…what were some of the things that you were really passionate about or still with you that sort of  put you in those roles in terms of doing ministry and sort of focused on justice, and then also leading worship?

Van Opstal
Yeah I think, um, it’s interesting now reflecting back on that, because I even probably would have given a different answer a year or two ago. But I really believe I’ve come to know my kind of passion in the world…is to help create and inspire a Christian imagination—you know, to quote Willie Jennings—to really look at the distorted imagination that we have and the distorted narratives that the Christian faith in the West has, and to reorient it—instead of, like, throwing it out or kind of just yelling at it. You know, I feel like my role is really to say, like, “Can we imagine something different for students?”

Jipp
Yeah.

Van Opstal
You know, like, “Can you imagine your life more than the nice house and the three cars and whatever else you want”—because I was at Northwestern, so, you know, they’re all going to make some money.  Like, “Can you imagine being more meaningful than that? Like, making a difference, not only in sharing your faith in those spaces, but, like, in creating and developing and impacting a world?” And then with the Urban Program, it was the same. It was like, “Can you imagine these neighborhoods and these churches being taken seriously for the faith movements that are happening here, and for them being seen as more than just people to come and help, but actually brothers and sisters to come and learn from?” And kind of flipping the script on what was at that time “Urban ministry is you go and help poor brown people in the city and you feel good about yourselves and you walk away.” But really seeing them as partners and as people of…that we practice reciprocity and mutuality with. And so I think every space—in worship, you know? It’s like, “It has to be more than these six chords and a guitar. It just has to be!” You know? [JIPP LAUGHS] And as a person who had studied global music and ethnomusicology and had studied jazz and had studied all of these, you know, things within my music program, I just thought to myself, “There has to be more to expressing yourself in preaching, in the forms of preaching and musical worship and prayer. There just has to be more than what we’re boxing up and sending out all over the world.” So I think really all of those things include for me, like, identifying what is…what is distorted or incomplete in what we’re doing, disrupting those systems—which I already did on two calls today, which I felt terrible about, but oh well—and then helping people to imagine something new.

Jipp
Yeah.

Van Opstal
Like, it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a better way. And so I feel like, that’s been my soul’s cry. Like, “There just has to be a better way than, you know, ten… one percent of the world holding all of the wealth and the rest of the world dying in poverty. There has to be a better way than enacting your own personal rights versus caring for your community by exercising protocol around COVID.” You know? There just has to be a better way to do things. And so I think each space that I’ve been in, too, that’s the question that I’m asking, is, “What can we imagine together?”

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
And that’s what we’re doing with Chasing Justice. It’s like, there has to just be…it doesn’t have to be either loving Jesus or doing justice. It absolutely has to be doing justice through loving Jesus. So, yeah.

Jipp
[00:11:18] I love, too—it sounds like you yourself are continuing to develop your own thoughts and not just sort of, like, content and comfortable with all of your own—all of your own answers, maybe? Is that fair to say, in terms of what you’ve had in the past, in terms of there’s a trajectory—in terms of your thinking and your ministry and your preaching and so forth as you continue to grow and learn?

Van Opstal
So for me, it’s been really a journey of engaging what God is doing in communities around the world and allowing those communities to inform my questions, really. Like, “Oh, they do it that way. I wonder why.”—

Jipp
Yeah.

Van Opstal
—“Oh, they approach it that way. I wonder why.” And to go in, really, with questions of “Why is it done this way?” versus a strong opinion about how it should be done, because I just didn’t have a lot of background in that. I wasn’t a…I wasn’t going into ministry from a ministry family, for example, or having grown up as an MK—mission kid;  missionary kid—or a pastor’s kid. So I was really going in with, like, “What can we develop and imagine as the church, given what Scripture tells us?” And yeah, so, and then for me, really, the work has been—somebody asked me this yesterday; it was a question about justice, and we were talking about the work of justice. We’re studying the book of Amos with our Chasing Justice creative team, and I was telling them that for me, I didn’t come to my commitments around justice because of the injustice in the world. I actually came to them because the Scriptures invited me to consider them. So for me, the Scriptures transformed my theology and my understanding of what it meant to be a believer and to be socially engaged in our world, therefore, when I saw the injustices that I had always seen as, you know, growing up in an immigrant family, I now had answers for how to respond to them. Because the life of Jesus—you know, from Genesis to Revelation, there was a concern that God had about how we love one another and how we live in the world. So that’s what I told them. I said, “I know…”—and one of them was like, “Yeah, a lot of places I’m at in the justice world, they don’t really study Scripture or do this.” And I’m like, “Well, we will be doing this.” [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
I love it.

Jipp
Yeah. So good, yeah.

Pierce
That’s probably a good segue. I mean, you’ve already mentioned the organization that you’re…where you’re Executive Director and Co-Founder, Chasing Justice. Can you tell us a little bit about how Chasing Justice kind of fits into your journey and what y’all are doing and what you hope for it?

Van Opstal
Yes. I never imagined myself starting anything. I am the kind of person that likes to go into existing institutions and reform them. So I like to start things within, or change, or influence things, but I really got to the point where I was seeing a very strong desire from each emerging generation to live out their call as Christians in the world to make a difference. And, you know, the Barna research supports that; the Pew research supports that. With every generation, there’s this sense of, like, “There’s something really wrong with the world. And we have access to why that is. We see all of the pictures and all of the videos, and we see the data, and yet my faith doesn’t actually inform—what’s talked about on a Sunday morning or in my bible studies doesn’t inform how I should respond to this.” And having worked with college students, you know, from 1996 forward, having been an Urban Project Director, having done global projects and global urban treks, having led the…really mission development and justice spaces globally, I realized that there were just—there were dots that were not connected for students and for young people that I felt I could connect. And so, just being an organization and a community that gives people a picture—so it’s less about statistics and curriculum; it’s like, “Let us show you how to live. Let us show you what it could be like.” And so, through storytelling and through, you know, mostly storytelling right now on IG because, you know, it’s a platform—Instagram’s a platform—that’s most used within that generation, and through developing, for example, we have cohorts that we have. So I have an executive leaders cohort that’s for Black and Indigenous people of color who are leading at a national level, but find themselves ill-equipped to navigate certain spaces. And so, I’m giving them a year-long coaching experience—executive coaching experience. We have a group that will start pretty soon that’s for women of color that’s really looking at women in their 20’s, and now they have a platform, some of them, of, you know, half a million followers on Instagram. They’re doing this fantastic work. I mean, I don’t know how this happens, because it wasn’t happening for women in my generation; like, nobody had that kind of platform in the church. But…and they find themselves kind of, like, they don’t have a lot of spiritual mentoring. They have…they don’t have a seminary degree, but they’re actually creating and messaging issues of justice and faith that they don’t have—they don’t feel confident, always, in what they’re saying. They’re definitely saying the right thing, but when they’re questioned or when they’re confronted, maybe, they want to have a little bit more security that what they’re doing is really on the right track. And also, just navigating predominantly white spaces in Christian spaces is difficult as a woman of color, so that cohort’s like six months. I have a cohort that’s coming up for worship leaders—so my expertise is in the area of worship and preaching, and so this will be specifically for artists and creatives and worship leaders who create and curate our experiences as people of faith, and how to do that intentionally so that it mobilizes people towards reconciliation and justice. So that’s some of the internal stuff that we don’t kind of put out there; it’s happening behind the scenes. But I think my heart is really to give emerging leaders of color the kind of guidance that my mentors gave me, that isn’t formalized right now in other spaces.

Jipp
[00:17:40] Sounds really creative.

Pierce
That’s amazing.

Jipp
I mean, it’s not as though I know all of these circles, but I can’t…I don’t know anything that’s like that. Are there other movements that are doing what you’re doing? I mean, it sounds very…it sounds unique to me.

Van Opstal
Um, there are movements that have existed that have been doing that, so I think…you know, there are organizations like Christians for Social Action—

Jipp
Okay.

Van Opstal
—and Sojourners, and, um, oh my gosh there’s so many…you know, Christian Community Development Association—which I serve on the board of—that are doing aspects of this, like leading people in faith and advocacy, leading people in Christian-based community development, leading…but all of those were actually—most of them were founded by white leaders and white boards, and they were kind of including people of color afterwards.—

Pierce
Yeah.

Jipp
Okay. Yeah.

Van Opstal
—And most of them have…they’ve been around since, you know, the 70’s or the 80’s, so they’ve been around awhile—

Jipp
Got their own ways, yeah.

Van Opstal
—and they have their own ways. And I love them; I appreciate it; I was mentored by them. But I just feel like…what I felt like was anytime there was a new emerging charism that the Holy Spirit is giving to the generation, there needs to be new wineskins. And so I felt like I was tired of trying to squeeze these projects into other spaces, and then Mark Reddy, my Co-Founder, who was the Executive Director of The Justice Conference and who was a vice president with World Relief in marketing, he said to me, you know, “We’ve been working on these side projects. What if we just made this a thing?” And so it was really because of him that I said, “Okay.” Like, “If you really want to do this with me, I’ll do this with you.” Because there was no way I was going to do it alone, you know?

Jipp
Right. Right.

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
Um, and so we started it, and we started—actually, we went live a year ago when the pandemic started because we realized that there was a lot of…there were a lot of people giving voice to what was happening in the pandemic, but most of those voices were not people of color, and were not people that lived in communities that were most…that were being most affected and disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
So we started inviting our global brothers and sisters to give voice to what was happening—in Uganda and in Mexico and in South Africa—and we started interviewing urban school teachers to talk about how education—how the inequity in education actually was just exposed through COVID, and inequity in healthcare and all of the things, you know, to try to give a space and a platform for people of faith, for Christians, who were working in different vocations to speak to how the injustices in our world are accentuated and exposed when something like a global pandemic happens. So we prematurely started about three months in advance, [LAUGHS] and just went on Instagram—you’ll see that there; it was rough in the beginning. And then we started gathering leaders in their early 20’s and kind of under 30 to develop and curate content that would be helpful for their peers. So I’m there, you know, kind of doing the same thing I always do—gathering young leaders, trying to identify their gifts, guide them in that, and elevate voices of color. So I think for us, Chasing Justice is a place where I believe we can model for others what it looks like to center the voices of people who have been systematically and institutionally silenced. I think in the summer that we experienced with the racial tensions and the responses that people had to it, we can see very clearly that without communities of color being at the center of a movement towards reconciliation, we will not find a way forward.

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
So I think Chasing Justice is my—is our, Mark and I’s, attempt to create a platform where younger voices of color, and especially women, are centered.

Pierce
That’s incredible.

Jipp
[00:21:36] That’s great, yeah. Sandra, you…it’s been about five years—I want to talk a little bit about your book, The Next Worship!

Van Opstal
Yeah!

Jipp
It’s been five years now since your…you wrote and published The Next Worship. I…I loved the book. Like, it was incredibly helpful to me as I was…you know, I did my dissertation and it encompassed a lot of hospitality, so when I saw the Table of Contents and it’s, you know, there’s food and there’s table fellowship, [VAN OPSTAL LAUGHS] and, you know, even like specific meals I think, like, are some of the book chapters or something. [LAUGHTER] I…basically I want to hear a little bit about your book. And I’m curious to hear, you know, what…how does that…how does The Next Worship connect to justice? And, maybe in some ways, like, why is hospitality sort of, like, a metaphor that’s running through the argument—the book—as well? So…

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
Yeah! So I’m glad you remember what’s in The Next Worship. [LAUGHTER] You reminded me. So yeah—so it celebrated its fifth year this year, and I have to do something special for it, because it’s not every day you write a book, you know?

Jipp
Yep.

Van Opstal
But for me, it really was a culmination of about a decade or more of practicing worship—practicing things in urban communities, in multiethnic communities with students, in global communities. And observing how worship could be…or really is one of the most formative things that we do as God’s people. So The Next Worship, um, was really my attempt at explaining how I did what I did, because I didn’t want people to mimic the action without knowing the theology underneath it. And so my hope was to kind of marry—to kind of find a sweet spot at the center of theology, sociology, and anthropology—all of those, like…what is…what is…you know, kind of, what does the Scripture say about how we should orient ourselves as believers in worship? Because so much of worship is really individualistic and narcissistic, which doesn’t make sense to get into a room together to do that. So how do we really develop communal worship and congregational worship that helps us identify that we are part of this thing called “the global church”? That’s why the subtitle of the book is, um…oh my gosh. Tell me. What is it?

Jipp
I’ve got it…oh no, go ahead, Madison.—

Pierce
“Glorifying God in a New World” or “…a Diverse World.” Yeah.—

Van Opstal
[LAUGHS] “Glorifying God in a Diverse World”! Yes. It’s not a book that says, “If you want to be a diverse church, you should do this kind of worship.”

Jipp
Yeah, yeah.

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
It’s not that book. I was very clear to the publishers and to…hopefully to the reader that this is not a book about “How to make your church diverse,” or “If your church is diverse, this is how you should worship.” The argument I’m making in the book and the invitation I’m making in the book is that all of us, regardless of what our churches look like, or sound like, or where they’re located, should practice and participate in worship and hearing the narratives and theology of the global church. Because, by doing so, we actually form, for example, children and teenagers and adults into understanding their place in the world. So I’ll come back to that in a second. But, so, yeah. So I wrote it; the point of the book was like, “Every church should be doing this. Don’t tell me about your demographics. Every church should be doing this—every Asian church should be doing this, every Black church should be doing this…” And so, it was really my attempt to…to compel people to something different and new. And I know now from the book sales, as well as what’s happening now with the book, that it was probably about 5-10 years ahead of its time. So, I know if you’re a dreamer—if you’re listening to this, and you’re a dreamer, you understand—it’s like, you have a picture of what the world could be like, and nobody wants to hear you, you know? [JIPP LAUGHS] Nobody wants to take the risk or try something new, and I think I just knew things could be different, because I had experienced them to be so. I also knew that as long as we call…so, for example, in the first chapter, I talk about “normal” worship, like “normal” theology. That if we normalize one form of worship as the way to worship, and we hyphenate every other form of worship— “Black-Gospel worship;” “Latina-Spanish worship;” etc., etc.—that what we’re doing is we’re telling people there is a theological center; there is an ecclesiological center, and that center is in the West.

Jipp
Mmhmm.

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
[00:26:14] And so I don’t write about it overtly in the book, but I do write about it extensively afterwards—and I will address it also in my upcoming book. But I think the issue of power and who gives voice and who has decision-making power in creating and shaping worship—that is touched upon as I talk about “shared leadership” and kind of forms of worship—but it really is the beginning place of me trying to say, “Look, every kind of worship we do is contextual. Every single thing we do in worship is contextual—not just the language, but the chords that we play, and the way we preach, and what we do with our children, and how we walk in the door, and all of it.” And that’s, in detail, explained through stories mostly in the book. And if our worship is contextual, and we are trying to live into this reality that we are brothers and sisters in a global church, then what would it look like to actually have an embodied experience of worship that pointed to that reality, instead of, you know, just saying, “Well, today’s Missions Sunday. Let’s sing a song in Swahili because we have a partner there.” Like, what does it truly mean to…um, and if you do that—in chapter three of the book, I talk about “If you do that, you practice hospitality, which says…” —which is really where most churches are. Like, “Oh, we have Latinos in our neighborhood. Let’s sing a song in Spanish,” which is fine; you can do that, but that’s not really going to make them come. But it’s the idea of, like opening your doors…like, “Hey!” —telling people “You’re welcome here.” And then you move to solidarity, which tells people “You’re not only welcome here, but whatever you go through, we stand with you. We’re in solidarity. We see something in the news that’s happening that is impacting your ability to parent as a parent of a Black child? Then, we’re with you. Right there. We need to address it. Anti-Asian hate crimes? We understand that that impacts the way that our Asian brothers and sisters on our campuses and in our churches are experiencing reality in this world today, then stand and we advocate and we talk about it and we pray about it and we mention it and we name it in the church. It’s not political; it’s pastoral to do that.” And so…and then, the third one would be living in mutuality, which is to say, “Not only do we want to welcome you, and not only do we want to stand by you, but we really want you to know that we are not ‘normal’ and you’re hyphenated. We want you to know that we are in a mutual, reciprocal relationship where you have just as much to teach us as we have to teach you.” And I think that Western Christianity and American Christianity has a huge issue with that—even in the way that, for example, our seminaries function. So I did a project when I was leaving for one of my classes on reciprocity in academic…in kind of Christian academics. And I asked and interviewed all of these Christian seminaries on how they practice mutuality with the global church, and all of their answers were: “We send our professors to Uganda. We send our professors to Korea. We have an outlet campus that we do…,” but the arrows only went in one direction.

Pierce
Yeah.

Van Opstal
And I thought, “Wow, isn’t that interesting? They really think that’s mutuality and reciprocity.” I couldn’t think…there were very few—maybe there are now, but, like, I literally could not think of more than two that had arrows pointing in the other direction. Like, “Well we actually…we do a swap and we have a Kenyan professor come here and teach us the ways of church planting without money,” you know, or, “worship without smoke and mirrors,” you know? So I think that that really opened my eyes to…the problem wasn’t just that people were different and we wanted our preferences. The problem is that we have…we as American Christians and as Western institutions see ourselves as the universal donor in Christian theology in thought and practice. Everybody can receive our blood—

Jipp
Yeah.

Van Opstal
—But we cannot receive anybody else’s blood because it’s toxic to us. So we don’t know how to live with other people’s input. And I think that to me, then, became the pathway towards Chasing Justice. It was like…it’s not just about difference and reconciling difference—although, you know, we need to do that. It’s actually about who’s holding power and how the process…how that process happens. And so, yeah. I mean, the book is a beginning point. It…I usually only get through the first three chapters when I’m training. I work with a lot of churches, and denominations, and seminaries, and I do a lot of class lecturing on the book still. And it’s coming out…you know, there’s a video curriculum that’s on Seminary Now that’s helping pastors go through it. There’s a curriculum with Fuller, the Leadership Platform, that’s trying to help lay leaders and pastors work through that. And so I think the questions I’m proposing are really just to provoke imagination, and I think we need some…we have a lot of work to do in that area. So I’m happy that it’s still living. You know, I never knew when I wrote it—I never knew that it was…yeah, I didn’t know how it would be used. I just wanted to be faithful to say, like, “I’ve had at least a decade of all of this amazing experience, and if I don’t capture it somewhere, I feel like I’m being unfaithful. And so, actually, Dr. Roy—Dr. Steven Roy, who was my preaching professor and who helped me write The Mission of Worship, which came before it. He let me do it for an independent study—he really encouraged me. He said, “Sandra, you’re, like, writing in the middle of academic and practitioner. Like, very few people write in that space.”—

Jipp
Yeah. Totally.

Van Opstal
—“It’s probably going to be too academic for the street people—you know, kind of on the street—and, you know, not academic enough for the academics, but it’s a place of reflective..,” I think he said, “a reflective practitioner. And so, you’re really thinking about, ‘Why do we do what we do?’” And he encouraged me so much, that I felt like, “Oh, I can…I can write…I can do this!” You know? And, yeah! I hope it provokes imagination. I hope it shows us that there are…there are not only new ways, but better ways to embody God’s kingdom and being God’s people in the world today.

Jipp
Yeah.

Pierce
[00:32:48] That’s incredible. Yeah, we’re big fans of Steve Roy. [VAN OPSTAL LAUGHS] Um, I wonder…I have a lot of questions, Sandra, and I appreciate all that you’ve shared with us. I think that what…one of the things that has been important to my own journey, and that I’ve been learning a lot, and that I saw threads of this in The Next Worship is the identification of White and Western as…you know, as its own kind of social location and recognizing, you know, how I shouldn’t consider what I’m doing as “default” or “normal” or whatever. And I wish I had come to that a lot sooner. So, can you help us understand, you know, for those of us that are coming from—not the majority culture but the majoritized culture—what are some ways that we can become more aware of what’s…what we think is “default,” but really shouldn’t be? Does that make sense? I hope it does.

Van Opstal
Yeah, no. I mean, I’ve got a couple of really helpful exercises that have helped me along the way. One of them was—and if you’re a TEDS student or you’re, you know, in grad school still, I mean, one of the things is to look at your curriculum, your syllabus—your syllabi—and to ask…and to mark all of the books and resources and thought leaders and theologians and historians that you’ve been given to read that are not White men. I have to say that in my time in seminary, I was not given one—not one.

Pierce
Wow. Wow.

Van Opstal
And so, I hope that’s changed. I gave that comment in every single class that I took, and when I asked a particular professor in a practical…Christian kind of “practices” class if I could read a book on leadership from a woman, he said—or I said, “We don’t have any that are written by women. You know, a third of our class is women.” And the person said to me, “Yeah, you can totally read that as a supplemental. And when you’re done, can you give me your report so you can tell me what’s in it?” And I think they thought they were being helpful, but the reality is, I was not exposed to theologians of color until after I left seminary, aside from the ones that InterVarsity had already exposed me to and had connected us with. So I think one really tangible way is to ask “What is going into our minds?” So every single theology that we practice or understand or hold is actually contextual—every single one of them. And so the question is, “Who’s creating and developing your thought as a leader and as a Christian?” And if every book that you read is written by a White male who’s—an educated White male, you know, probably in an air conditioned office, like, and they’re writing about the story of Ruth and Naomi, I mean, I’m just like, “Okay. There may be some Hebrew expertise there, but the cultural distance between that and what’s happening in that book is something that needs to be taken very seriously.” And so, I would hope… I would really hope that scholars, that biblical scholars, would gather communities to study Scripture with them so that they can write their commentaries, but they typically don’t. And so, I would say one very practical thing is to go over to your bookshelf—I have seven of them, seven bookshelves, three are in my house—to take off all of the books of your bookshelf, and then to only put onto your bookshelf books that are written by women, or global scholars, or people of color, and then see how much of your book…like, visually see what is on—you have to clean your bookshelf every once in awhile, right?—so visually see what’s on your bookshelf. And then add in people that, like… I mean, I’ve got myself some John Stott books in there, some Mark Labberton, I mean, there are some books you’ve got to keep, you know? Like, a commentary or two. I did that about three years ago and I purged almost all of my library, because I realized that I could never truly be free from the captivity of Western theology or Western thought if I didn’t take away what was there. So it’s kind of like when you clean out your closet. It’s like, you keep wearing the same holey shirt and you’re just… and your roommate or partner keeps telling you, like “Stop wearing that holey shirt.” But if they throw it out, then you have to actually buy a new one, right?

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Yeah.

Van Opstal
Or it’s out of style—it’s not holey, but it’s out of style. So I think part of that discipline is to say, like, “I love the books I grew up reading in InterVarsity. And, you know, Knowing God, by J.I. Packer—I mean, they’re all fantastic, you know? But, why did every single one of them have to come from one social location?” So I would do that discipline. I would say…one day, if you’re serious about…if you’re serious about being a scholar and a leader who’s going to shape and form disciples that will be able to live in a global generation, then you need to do that. Take all of your books off and only put back on the ones that are written by folks that have often been underrepresented and silenced and marginalized. And then build yourself a new library, because we are writing. You know? There’s fantastic global scholarship. So fill that. The other thing is, I would do that with your podcasts. So delete all of your…unsubscribe to all of your podcasts and then only subscribe to podcasts—or, keep the ones that are voices of people of color, because they’re teach—if they’re informing your perspective on current events and news and, you know, theology and spirituality… And so, I don’t think…I’m not saying—so hear me clearly—I’m not saying “White people don’t have a place at the table,” or that “White theologians shouldn’t be, you know, listened to,” or, you know, “White written commentaries shouldn’t be read.” I’m saying we should identify them as being that way, and the only way we can name them is by actually doing some kind of exercise that shows you what you’re…what you’re actually reading. And then, from there, you just say to yourself, “Okay, this is my favorite commentary, and I know it’s written by Darrell Bock, but I love it. You know, it’s my favorite one,” or whoever your commentary is, you know, “I love this commentary. It’s written by Boaz Johnson. I’m going to keep it, you know, because I want an Indian perspective.” So I think you have to know, um, you know, be informed of what you’re doing, and those are the practical things that we…that we do. I would also say, you know, part of it is just studying Scripture and being in community with people who are different than you—class, race, culture, generation—because they’re going to ask different questions than you ask; so I think that always helps us to do it. But for me, because most of how I…most of the world I’m in is reading—[LAUGHS] you know, like, I’m reading—then I’m very careful about…I’m not going through another graduate degree without…without being very careful about who I’m reading and how that shapes what I believe about the world. And in this world, because—in a time where we find ourselves now, because only—I think it’s ten. I know the thing says 11, but I think we need to do more data—let’s say 10 or 11 percent of the world’s Christians are in the Global West, then we have to ask ourselves why 90% of the books on leadership are written and translated and sent all over the world from the West. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not mutuality. And why, to speak to worship, we’ve allowed iTunes and Spotify to theologically colonize the entire world, um, you know, because the theology and the stories and the narratives that are shared in those songs are not ones that would have come out of Majority World cultures. So we have to undo it. Like, I was talking to my team yesterday about Scripture study, because I love studying Scripture, so I was talking about Scripture study, and I was like, “Yeah, how many of you, when you were being taught how to preach and kind of do your thing, like, how many seminarians, or preachers, or pastors were taught that a part of their preparation for Sunday should be to study that Scripture in a community of people who were different than them, so that when they stood up in the pulpit, they were actually addressing the desires, the worries, the laments and the longings of the congregation they’re preaching to? Or, that they’re actually seeing the Scripture correctly, because they’re coming with their own lens?” None of us were. But when I have had that opportunity to study—for example, the book of Amos, which I’m writing about right now—when I studied it with diverse college students on a college campus, different things have come out than when I studied it in seminary in Hebrew, you know, like, in Hebrew class. We have different lenses—different things we’re looking for. When I studied it at Stateville Prison—I’m going to tell you, that it took me ten years to actually get to the root of what was happening in Amos, until I was in Stateville, and then I understood Amos’ tone, which I couldn’t understand until I was in there. And now I’m writing a different book than I would have written two years ago, because my brothers who have spent most of their adult life incarcerated, who went in as seventeen-year-old boys, and are now forty-year-old men, they have something to teach me about what it means to see injustice and to know God cares about injustice, and yet to be a person that pursues injustice—that pursues justice while centering God’s power and our faith. So, yeah, I just think…there are lots more I can share, but those are my big ones.

Jipp
[00:42:27] That’s already quite a bit for us to chew on, Sandra. I mean, it’s—

Pierce
Yeah, thank you.

Van Opstal
[LAUGHS] Sorry!

Jipp
No! It’s good—

Pierce
No, it’s…no, it’s fantastic.

Jipp
—I love your intellectual hospitality is there that you were talking about earlier. Like, “Why…instead of judging people, why do they do what they do? Let me ask questions and let me try to…try to understand them,” as well as, like, passion for other people’s lived experience. I mean, there’s so much there that is—and even, just, you know, I sometimes think of, like, “If we’re academics, surely we should be curious and hungry and thirsty to know about, you know, the experiences of people that are different from us, and not just sort of, like, staying in our own little circle in terms of, you know, what…what we’re familiar with or what we’re comfortable with.” Whether we call that hospitality—or, you know, at least Madison and me, teaching at TEDS, like, academic curiosity—I mean, there’s so much there for us to chew on, so thank you.

Pierce
Yeah.

Jipp
I want to… man, there’s so much to talk about. Let me…can I ask you…you have to…can I put some, like—two sentences you have to answer this one, Sandra. [PIERCE LAUGHS]

Van Opstal
Okay. Yeah.

Jipp
Alright. You are a powerful preacher, but you only can preach on one text, and here are your three choices [PIERCE LAUGHS]—you have to tell me which of these three you’re going to pick and why. Okay? Are…are you willing?—

Van Opstal
Oh my gosh. That’s so easy. Okay.—

Jipp
No, but I get to pick the three texts, and you don’t know what they are.

Van Opstal
Oh, okay, okay. You get to pick them? Okay. Okay.

Jipp
Alright? You ready? Can you…you’re willing to play this? [PIERCE LAUGHS]

Van Opstal
Oh, well I could try. [LAUGHS]

Jipp
Alright. Amos, Jeremiah, or the Gospel of Luke. You can…[LAUGHS]

Van Opstal
Oh, shut…shut up! You picked my three! [LAUGHTER]

Jipp
Really? [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
Amazing.

Jipp
Alright, you’ve got sixty seconds to pick your number one and tell us why. What would you preach from?

Van Opstal
[SIGHS] Okay, I’m going to pick Jeremiah 1.

Jipp
Oh, okay!

Pierce
Oh, I love it.

Van Opstal
I know. I know. It’s crazy—

Jipp
I love it. Yeah.

Van Opstal
I’m also working on some stuff in Jeremiah; sad we didn’t study it in Hebrew, but I feel Jeremiah, in the last…since 2017, in the last iteration of our administration. As a Latina, who’s lived in a neighborhood with immigrants, um…I just feel Jeremiah. Like, the experience as a…as a prophet, to have the responsibility to bring God’s heart into the room, and…and to be rejected. It’s…it’s…I can’t imagine, you know? So, I feel…I feel Jeremiah. Like, the desire to—not because you’re aggressive or mean, but to really uproot and to tear down and to take down the things that are keeping us from loving God, and then to rebuild something that is solid and true and beautiful and attractive and compelling to people who don’t know Jesus. Like, that image in Jeremiah of just…just a bobcat like, you know, just rip it down, and nobody likes that. Nobody likes the demo of a house or their… nobody’s like, “We’re so excited a demo crew is here,” you know? They’re excited about when that house goes up. And so, you can’t build a new house on the foundation of idolatry. You cannot build a way forward unless you’ve called out the idolatry in the church. And for me, over the last four years, seeing American exceptionalism, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, I mean, individualism… the church around the world is growing and thriving and we are…we are hurting here in the West, particularly the White church, because we’re not running with God. And so I think that Jeremiah’s call to have to be in those spaces and just try to show up with God’s heart and then people just can’t stand it. And so I think I feel that right now, for…not just for myself, but for leaders of color and for women of color; that we are…have come through our Evangelical institutions and are now trying to bring God’s heart in the room and being shut down, and being called and named all sorts of things. And so, yeah. I think Jeremiah…I mean, Amos is fun; it’s poetic; it’s awesome. Jesus…well, it’s Jesus. But I think Jeremiah is…carries the lament of what I believe is happening in the church right now.

Jipp
Thank you. Thank you.

Pierce
[00:47:15] Oh, I love that. Yeah, again, I feel like there’s so much. Um, you know, Sandra, as you were talking—I’m going to go in maybe a surprising direction with this, but as you were talking, you were saying that, you know, in Jeremiah, we see modeled this desire to tear down and to rebuild—not because we’re angry or mean—and this actually made me think of your upcoming book on being an eight—

Van Opstal
Oh yes. [LAUGHS]

Pierce
—because it sounds like you’re actually connecting with some of the unfortunate stereotypes of an eight, and kind of processing and giving us a beautiful picture of what it means to be strong and courageous and bold and all of that. So, I don’t know. Could you say a little bit more about what it means to be an eight, and how that kind of intersects with your vision for justice and things like that? So we’re talking about Enneagram, you know, check out this series from IVP—sorry, I’ll plug it a little bit, and then let you jump in, Sandra.

Van Opstal
Yeah, um, you know, I would like to say…I would like to reorient what you said—

Pierce
Please, please.

Van Opstal
—and say that most eights that are men are actually applauded for their leadership, for their assertiveness, for their creativity, for their pushback. So most eights that are White men in Christian institutions rise to the top. Many of them become the CFO, the CEO, the Executive Pastor, the lead. I learned this through my work in spiritual direction, that it was being a woman in a gut space—so an eight, a nine, or a one—and being a woman of color in that gut space, especially, I would say, especially if you’re a Black woman eight. I mean, that’s just…people are going to call you “angry” and everything, you know? That’s not a surprise. So I think part of it is, with the work we’re doing with the Enneagram books, particularly for the leaders of color that are writing, we’re trying to talk about how those things overlay. So we are addressing, for example, in the Enneagram eight book, it’s not just that we have to be invited into letting go of control, but we have to do that sometimes in spaces where people are controlling us—in spaces where we’re being silenced, in spaces where we’re being gaslighted, you know? In spaces where people are literally, like, you know, “Prove yourself to me.” When you’re coming with the degrees—I mean, that’s why I went to TEDS. I went to TEDS not because I didn’t know anything; I went to TEDS because I wanted to have the framework and the legitimacy of a White Evangelical institution to speak to the White Evangelical church—thank you, Dr. Cha. He advised me. So, I wanted to be on the inside to know…what were the concerns? So as an eight, I would say, it’s not just that I’ve—I’m sharing my journey. It’s devotionals and all of that kind of stuff—but I think what I’m really trying to do is to identify why it’s…why our culture, our personalities, even our spiritual gifts—so being an eight that’s a prophet, versus being an eight that’s an administrator—you know, like, trying to kind of navigate and nuance devotionals that would invite people in to consider those things, that it is very difficult for eights because we’re constantly challenging the status quo. But women that challenge the status quo are not received the same way that men that challenge—that’s the research that’s done.

Pierce
Of course.

Van Opstal
And particularly people of color that are challenging the status quo around injustice—we’re seen as it’s being self-seeking or self-serving. And so, yeah, so I wrote the book. I’ve been utilizing the Enneagram tool for almost fifteen years—

Pierce
Wow.

Van Opstal
—with my spiritual director. I utilize it when I work with couples that are having—you know, wanting to work on their relationship. We utilize it with younger leaders, and so I’ve been navigating and utilizing the tool and teaching and training from it for about fifteen years. And I didn’t think I would write it, because I come from the school where you don’t tell people your number. It’s not like a personality parlor game, like, you know, coffee shop. It’s the place where you’re basically revealing your most vulnerable, darkest self. And so an eight would never release that kind of information into the world, because people will use it against you. You know? So I had to really think about whether I wanted to be public about being an eight, because my fear was that people would say, “Oh, well that explains why, you know, she’s always causing trouble and disrupting things.” You know, and not really take me seriously. So I thought about it long and hard, but I thought it’s…it’s a journey that for many of us, especially…particularly, I think, men of color that have been stereotyped because of their “aggression,” instead of their leadership. I felt like I had a heart for making space for those kinds of conversations, so yeah, I’m excited about it!

Pierce
Love that.

Van Opstal
I think…I think it’s going to be…I’m interested to see how people receive it, so, yeah! [LAUGHS]

Pierce
[00:52:32] That’s wonderful. Yeah, my husband is actually…we both bought the books for ourselves, and to be reciprocal, I’m a four. Curtis, my husband, is a seven, so he’s actually reading that right now. And he was reflecting on some of the ways that the author—And I’m sorry, will you remind me of the author of the seven book? Do you…do you remember?

Van Opstal
I think Gideon is the author.

Pierce
Yes. Yes.

Van Opstal
Gideon Tsang? Yeah.

Pierce
Yeah. And so he’s reflecting on his culture, and how, you know, being a seven, it kind of bumps up against Asian stereotypes and stuff—

Van Opstal
Yes it does.

Pierce
—so he’s loving that as well. So I’m looking forward to my…my four book when it comes out and everything, so yeah.

Van Opstal
Yeah, and your four book is going to be so good, because Christine Yi Suh wrote your book, and she’s a spiritual director, and she’s a young Asian—younger Asian woman. She’s fantastic.

Pierce
I can’t wait.

Van Opstal
She does a lot of stuff with us for Chasing Justice, but she’s worked very hard on that thing, and you’re going to love it.

Pierce
I can’t wait. Ugh, thanks, Sandra. We really appreciate it. Unfortunately, we have to wrap, but thank you so much. So, here—

Jipp
Yes, thank you, Sandra.

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Pierce
This is just the foreword. You can learn more about Sandra Van Opstal’s work with Chasing Justice at chasingjustice.com. Her books, including The Next Worship and this forthcoming book on the Enneagram, Forty Days on Being an Eight—they’re all published with InterVarsity Press, and you can hop over to their website and grab not just one, but a few. Be sure and do that. And if you’re not already a part of our TEDS community, we hope that Sandra has inspired you to join us. I’m not sure we can take credit for her, but we’re thankful that she’s an alum, and especially since that gives us the chance to interview her here. So thank you, Sandra, for joining us; thanks, Josh; we want to thank our handsome producer, Curtis Pierce; [VAN OPSTAL LAUGHS] our graduate assistant, Lauren Januzik; and, all of you, our listeners. So, I’m Madison Pierce.

Jipp
And I’m Josh Jipp. We’ll see you next time.

Pierce
Thanks, Sandra. Bye, y’all.

Outro
Foreword is a podcast hosted by faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The views expressed by the hosts and guests of Foreword do not necessarily represent the views of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can subscribe to our newest episodes on your preferred podcast app or at forewordpodcast.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook @forewordpodcast to get updates and additional links to content. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is located 25 miles north of Chicago, with extension sites across the country and online. Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning. You can find more information at teds.edu.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

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