Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 New Year's Reflection: American Exceptionalism and an Invitation to Lament

As the Ball dropped and the clock struck midnight, crowds cheered, fireworks exploded, couples
kissed, balloons fell, and a New Year was rung in. It was a huge celebration.

But in many ways 2014 was a difficult and painful year, especially for minority communities in the United States of America. Ferguson, Eric Garner, failed Immigration Reform, the US Senate report on torture.  We watched hunger strikes on Capitol Hill, protests in NYC, shut down freeways in Northern California, and thousands of African Americans crying out in pain, desperately trying to remind our leaders and our nation that #BlackLivesMatter. Time and time again we were reminded that racism and dehumanization are integral parts of the fabric of our country.

Many people have been asking what can be done, and how can these issues be addressed. New policies, better education, and higher quality training are all ideas that have been floated. Unfortunately, while these ideas are well-intentioned, I fear they are woefully inadequate. I believe the problem facing our nation is rooted in our belief in our own exceptionalism.  

I have spent much of 2014 studying and speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery. This is a troubling doctrine that came out of the Catholic Church through a series of Papal Bulls written in the 15th Century.

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V wrote the following words in a Papal Bull:
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.”
Essentially, the Doctrine of Discovery was the Church in Europe saying to the Nations of Europe, whatever land you find that are not ruled by Christian Rulers, those people are less than human and the lands are yours for the taking.

It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed European nations to colonize Africa and enslave its people. It was also the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land in a “New World” inhabited by millions, and claim to have "discovered" it. Because his doctrine informed him that the indigenous peoples of North America were less than human, and, therefore, the land was empty.

Throughout European history in North America, the Doctrine of Discovery has become embedded in the foundation of America. The Declaration of Independence dehumanizes Indians by referring to us as "merciless Indian savages." The US Constitution specifically excludes Indians and counts African Slaves as three-fifths of a person. And in 1823, the US Supreme Court set a legal precedent when it stated that based on the Doctrine of Discovery Indians only had the right of occupancy of the land while Europeans had the right of discovery and, therefore, the true ownership of this land.  This precedent was referenced by the Court as recently as 2005.

Over the years the centuries, the Protestant church also adopted the Doctrine of Discovery and began to use it for its own benefit.  In 1630, in the colony of Boston, John Winthrop preached a sermon in which he referred to the colony as a “City on a Hill” and reminded them that they must be obedient to God so that "the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it."  Through the lens of the Doctrine of Discovery, the colonies beginning to see their presence in North America as a God-blessed, even a God-ordained, event out of which comparisons to Old Testament Israel and their journey to a "Promised Land" could be drawn. Over the next hundred years or so this thinking matured into an understanding that not only was this new nation a "City on a Hill" but it also had a “Manifest Destiny” to discover, occupy, and rule this continent from "sea to shining sea."
American Exceptionalism - By Mark Charles

Today, our leaders and our institutions continue to ease our guilt and massage our egos by telling us, that as a people, as a nation, we are exceptional. Our educational systems may be failing, our infrastructure may be crumbling, our manufactured and genetically modified foods may be killing us, our technology and consumption may be altering the earth’s climate, our middle class may be disappearing, we may be torturing our enemies, we may be aborting our babies, and our minority populations may be forced to scream out that "their lives matter." But, we tell ourselves, "We are exceptional." "We are good." "We have a 'manifest destiny'." And "The United States of America is still a 'City on a Hill'."

As a nation we have to believe that we are exceptional, because if we aren't, if our history is truly this dark, then that means our nation is merely average. If our nation is not exceptional, then our unjust history of discovery, slavery, genocide, theft, torture, and dehumanizing the other is no longer justified. If we are merely average, and our nation has not been established and ordained by God, then we can be held accountable for our unjust actions, both past and present, just like everyone else.

Our nation is in agony, and our people are literally crying out in pain. Our history is dark and the path forward is difficult. As a country we need to give up the false notion of our exceptionalism and accept the fact that we are no better than any other nation around the world. We need to remember that this land was not empty and Europeans did not discover it. We need to acknowledge that Africans and African Americans are human, their labor is not free, and their lives do matter. We need to accept that many of our national holidays, like Columbus Day, are meant to be mourned, not celebrated. We need to own our history and accept responsibility for our actions.

It may be a new year, but the problems and challenges of the old one have not magically disappeared. Immigration reform still needs to be passed. Our leaders and our institutions still need to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter. We still need to deal with the revelation of the fact that the United States of America tortures its enemies. And we have yet to acknowledge that we are citizens of a nation that has been built on a foundation called the Doctrine of Discovery that dehumanizes the other and attempts to "God-ordain" our collective selfish desires in our so-called exceptionalism.


Perhaps rather than turning the page and celebrating the start of a New Year, we would be wise to better educate ourselves and lament the old year(s).

Lament is not hopeless. It is not merely wallowing in guilt. Lament is a godly weeping over our own sin and brokenness. It is an admission that a wrong was committed and justice is due. But there is also hope. For while God is a God of justice, He is also a God who loves mercy. He is a God who heals. And he is a God who will go as far as sending his only son to be born in a manager, tortured, and crucified on a Roman cross in order to be reconciled with his creation.

The United States of America does not have a covenant with God and the continent of North America is not our promised land. Our citizenship in this country does not provide us any additional hope or preference in the eyes of the Creator. But if we are able to repent of our American exceptionalism and instead find our identity solely in the blood of Jesus Christ, then there is hope. We can lament our sins, even the sins of our nation, and still trust that no matter what judgment comes, or what mercy is shown, God is good. Our relationship with him is still intact.


I invite you to read another article I recently published titled "The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair." This article gives an in-depth history of the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on the United States of America. It also contains a proposal for a step towards healing and reconciliation.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair

Picture a chair, an empty chair. There are dozens, even hundreds, of them sitting on the stage behind the podium. At the microphone is a Native American elder. Hurting, trembling, shaking, but standing. Full of resolve. Sharing a story of the horrors of the abuse, neglect and trauma, experienced as a young child at an Indian boarding school. In front of this elder are hundreds, even thousands, of people. Native Americans, with their heads bowed in grief, sorrow, even panic, as their own memories of similar stories are triggered. African Americans, sitting silently, staring at the ground, as they recall stories of the trauma their ancestors endured as slaves, the free labor force of an emerging nations. Americans of European descent, sitting uncomfortably, even squirming. Their eyes are wide open and their hearts are pounding as they hear stories of a history they had spent a lifetime denying existed.

Over the meal, even though the seating is open, the tables are mostly segregated and the room is unusually quiet. Food is eaten, napkins are folded, the garbage is dumped, as everyone solemnly returns to the room where more stories of a similar nature are shared.

This process is repeated the next day, and the next. Some of the voices are angry, some are broken, some are resentful, but a few are hopeful.

As the days progress and more and more stories are shared, subtle changes begin to take place. The room is opened up to create more space. The story tellers are standing taller. The audience is beginning to make eye contact. The lunch and dinner tables are noticeably less segregated. There is more conversation. And on the stage behind the podium, a few of the empty chairs are occupied.

A Buried Apology to Native Peoples of the United States: 
December 19, 2014 was the 5th anniversary of an apology given by the US Congress and the President of the United States on behalf of the citizens of the United States to the Indigenous peoples of this land.  Unfortunately, this apology received very little, if any, press over the past half-decade. It was inserted by Senator Sam Brownback (KS) into House Resolution 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act and buried on page 45 in sub-section 8113.

This seven bullet point apology contained no reference to any specific tribe, treaty or injustice and ended with a disclaimer. It was inserted into this bill because Senator Brownback had tried unsuccessfully for about 2 years to get an apology into a stand-alone bill. But that bill never made it out of committee. So he inserted it into an appropriations act after a colleague informed him that was how Congress historically passed Indian Treaties. They found that there was less likely to be opposition when the treaties were a part of large appropriation bills.

The bill passed and went to President Obama's desk to be signed on December 19, 2009. Originally the bill signing was supposed to be public, but at the last minute reporters sitting in the room were told the signing would be closed to the press. Later in the day the White House released a press release regarding the bill, but no mention was made of the apology contained within it.

You may be wondering how this could be. How could a bill containing an apology from the United States Congress to Native Americans for centuries of injustice be buried so deep and not make any public waves in either political circles or in the media?

I believe it is because of the history this apology is attempting to address. It is a history that is not taught in schools. A history that our leaders don’t know well, but are terrified is true. And a history that most citizens are too ashamed to learn even exists.  It is a history that goes back centuries and affects the very foundations of this nation.

15th Century – Doctrine of Discovery: 
In 1452, Pope Nicholas V wrote the following words in a Papal Bull:
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit”

This Bull was the first in a series of Papal Bulls written in the 15th century that became known as the Doctrine of Discovery. Essentially, the Doctrine of Discovery was the Church in Europe saying to the Nations of Europe, "whatever land you find that are not ruled by Christian Rulers, those people are less than human and the lands are yours for the taking."

It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed European Nations to colonize Africa and enslave the African people. It was also the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land in a “New World” inhabited by millions, and claim to have "discovered" it. Because his doctrine informed him that we, the indigenous peoples, were less than human, and therefore the land was empty.


The Doctrine of Discovery is a systemically racist doctrine.


1776 – Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are; Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Most US citizens can easily recite the above passage, and our leaders and our media frequently refer to these words. It is what we use to justify ourselves to the world. We use it as evidence that as a people, as a nation, we are good. However very few can recite much beyond what was quoted above. If they could, and if they understood something about colonial history, they might not be so quick to reference this declaration.

After the Declaration there is a long list of justification given for why the colonies were declaring their independence from the control of England. And the 7th justification reads:
"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."

13 years prior, King George issued the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation a line was drawn down the Appalachian Mountains and the colonies were essentially told that they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian Lands west of Appalachia. Only the crown could thereafter negotiate treaties and buy or sell those lands. This deeply upset the colonies. For they wanted those empty Indian lands and King George was "raising the conditions of new Appropriations of (their rightful) Lands."

Justification 27, the final justification in the list, states:
"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

How can a declaration that begins by stating "All men are created equal" go on to include justifications that dehumanize the Indian tribes and peoples who were already living in this land? Clearly the founding Fathers had a very narrow definition of who qualified as human. Therefore they could state “ALL men are created equal” because they did not believe that the “merciless Indian Savages” who occupied the empty Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains were actually human.


The Declaration of Independence is a systemically racist document.


1788 – Constitution of the United States of America:
“Article I
Section 2
…Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

After the colonies had won the Revolutionary War and their freedom from the Crown, then they needed to establish guidelines for their grand experiment of building a new nation. In the founding documents they needed to clearly define who "All men" actually referred to. And a plain text reading of the Constitution makes it quite clear; African Slaves and Native Americans are NOT included in the group of ALL.


The Constitution of the United States of America is a systemically racist document.


1823 – Johnson vs. M’Intosh – Supreme Court
“As they [European colonizing nations] were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements, and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle, which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.”

In 1823, a case, Johnson vs. M’Intosh, was brought before the US Supreme Court. This case involved 2 men of European descent litigating over ownership of a piece of land. One purchased the land from an Indian tribe and the other acquired the land from the Government.

“The court viewed this (the above statement) as a minor procedural act, but in articulating this doctrine, the case took on a meaning far beyond the imaginings of the court. The core of this decision was that the United States inherited the right of discovery from the British following the War of Independence; by stepping foot on North America, settlers had, according to this understanding of discovery, the absolute right to the land on which they stood. This created a situation in which the American government owned a monopoly concerning the purchase of Aboriginal land, which decreased the price of that land. This referred to the papal bulls of the fifteenth century, encoding it in federal case law. This has since been declared a legal fiction, meaning that it has no foundation in law in spite of its common legal and popular usage. It has still been the foundation for legal and policy decisions in Canada and the United States. The impact of Johnson v. M’Intosh is, according to Wilkins and Lomawaima, an Indian policy that ‘rests on a foundation of racism, ethnocentrism, repression of tribal histories, inappropriate policy-making by judicial bodies, and inaccurate historical understandings.’”
(Footnote - 1)

This legal precedent and the Doctrine of Discovery was referenced by the US Supreme Court as recently as 2005.


The Supreme Court of the United States of America is a systemically racist court.


1830 - The Indian Removal Act:
"The Indian Removal Act gave power to the government to make treaties with Native nations that forced them to give up their lands in exchange for land west of the Mississippi.  These treaties on the surface, spoke to a voluntary exchange and removal of nations, though in reality, most of these treaties were made forcefully, by withholding food, through the decimation of food sources, such as the buffalo, and through violent acts including warfare.

  • 1838 “Trail of Tears”. 17,000 Cherokee people were removed from their home territory. As many as 4,000 died on the way, about as many died as a result of the forced march and as many as half of the survivors died within the first year of relocation, due to disease. 
  • The forced removal of the Navajos to Bosque Redondo, a reservation in eastern New Mexico. Collectively known as the “Long Walk” the approximately 400-mile-long series of marches was endured by more than 8,000 men, women, and children. 
  • Many nations including Chickasaw, Shawnee, Lennape, Osage, Kickapoo, Chocktaw, Seminole, Creek, Sauk, Fox, and Dakota all experienced forced relocations."
    (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

1864 - Sand Creek Massacre:
"On November 29, 1864, approximately 675 United States soldiers under the command of Colonel John Chivington killed more than 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho villagers, mostly elderly men, women, and children, approximately 180 miles southeast of Denver near Eads, Colorado.  Despite assurance from American negotiators that they would be safe, and despite Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle raising both a United States flag and a white flag as symbols of peace, Colonel Chivington ordered his troops to take no prisoners and to pillage and set the village ablaze, violently forcing the ambushed and outnumbered Cheyenne and Arapaho villagers to flee on foot. Colonel Chivington and his troops paraded mutilated body parts of men, women, and children in downtown Denver, Colorado, in celebration of the massacre." (3 - Colorado Senate Joint Resolution 14-030)

1879 - Indian Boarding Schools:
The federal government began sending American Indians to off-reservation boarding schools in the 1870s, when the United States was still at war with Indians. An Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first of these schools. He based it on an education program he had developed in an Indian prison. He described his philosophy in a speech he gave in 1892.

"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one," Pratt said. "In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

“Beginning in 1887, the federal government began an immersion program.  By 1900, thousands of children were attending close to 150 boarding schools throughout the United States.  The schools sought to strip children of their culture and remove them from the influence of their family and nation.” (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

"The number of Native American children in the boarding schools reached a peak in the 1970s, with an estimated enrollment of 60,000 in 1973. Investigations of the later twentieth century have revealed many documented cases of sexual, manual, physical and mental abuse occurring at such schools." ("Soul Wound: The Legacy of Native American Schools". Amnesty International USA. Retrieved February 8, 2006)



1887 - Dawes Allotment Act:
“Under the 1887 Allotment Act (Dawes Act) – every man 18 years or older was allotted 160 acres of land.  The idea was designed to settle Native peoples on land, encourage farming, and assimilate them into the broader society.  After all Native men were designated land, the rest was opened up for white settlement.   By 1934, land the United States government allowed Native people to occupy was reduced by about 2/3, which is approximately 156,000 square miles, a land mass roughly the size of Californian.  Of the land that remained unsettled, about1/3 (25,000 square miles) was unfit for most profitable uses, being desert or semi-desert land.”
 (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

1890 - Massacre at Wounded Knee:
Lakota Chief Big Foot and between 150-350 women, children and warriors are massacred at Wounded Knee.

20 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to US Soldiers who participated in the massacre.

Numerous efforts have been attempted to have these medals rescinded as this massacre can arguably be seen as a war crime. But every attempt has failed.

1924 - Indian Citizenship Act:
The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 declares all non-citizen Indians born within the United States to be citizens, giving them the right to vote. Non-citizen Indians had to be specified because previous legislation and allowed Indians to apply for and receive US Citizenship if they renounced their allegiance to their tribe.  Despite passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, the right to vote was still governed by state law, and many Native Americans were effectively barred from voting until 1948.  This is an important date to note, because in 1942 several Navajos from the Southwest were enlisted into the United States Marine Corp and asked to develop a top-secret military code for use in World War II. Based on their language these code talkers developed a code so effective that it was never broken and is credited with helping to win the war in the Pacific. However, in 1942 these original code talkers were effectively not even eligible to vote in the country they were being asked to serve.

2007 - United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
"The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN in 2007.  Initially the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand voted against it, though 143 member states voted for it, and 11 abstained.  It wasn’t until three years later, under pressure from Indigenous Peoples and the international community, that the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia signed on." (Section taken from: Footnote - 2)

2009 - Apology to Native Peoples of the United States:
This apology is buried in H.R. 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. To this day this apology has not been publically announced, publicized or read by the White House or the US Congress.

Why was the apology to Native peoples buried deep within the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act?

The institutions of this nation have been established on the premise that Native Americans and African Americans are not human. They can be enslaved, their lands can be taken and their populations can destroyed, incarcerated or killed without a trial.


The United States of America is a systemically racist nation.


American Exceptionalism:
In 1630, in the colony of Boston, John Winthrop preached a sermon in which he referred to the colony as a “City on a Hill” and reminded them that they must be obedient so God to that "the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it."  This sermon was the Protestant church in America beginning to internalize and adopt the Doctrine of Discovery. It is the colonies, and later the nation, beginning to see their presence in North America as a God-blessed, even a God-ordained, event out of which comparisons to Old Testament Israel and their journey to a "Promised Land" could be drawn. Over the next hundred years or so this thinking matured into an understanding that not only was this new nation a "City on a Hill" but it also had a “Manifest Destiny” to discover, occupy and rule this continent from "sea to shining sea."

Today, our leaders and our institutions continue to ease our guilt and massage our egos by telling us, that as a people, as a nation, we are exceptional. Our educational systems may be failing, our infrastructure may be crumbling, our manufactured and genetically modified foods may be killing us, our technology and consumption may be altering our climate, our middle class may be disappearing, we may be torturing our enemies, we may be aborting our babies, and our minority populations may be forced to scream out that "their lives matter." But, we tell ourselves, "We are exceptional." "We are good." "We have a 'manifest destiny'." And "The United States of America is still a 'City on a Hill'."

As a nation we have to believe that we are exceptional, because if we aren't, if our history is truly this dark, then that means our nation is merely average. If our nation is not exceptional, then our unjust history of discovery, slavery, genocide, theft, torture and dehumanizing the other is no longer justified. If we are merely average, and our existence is not ordained by God, than we can be held accountable for our actions, both past and present, just like everyone else.

So we bury our apologies, we rewrite our history, and we point to the words of our founding fathers who blindly stated that "we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

We just don't tell anyone that, as a people and as a nation, we have an extremely narrow definition of who is actually human.


The United States of America is not rich and powerful because of God’s blessing. We are rich and powerful because we are systemically racist and inherently unjust.


A Truth Commission: 
2 years ago, on December 19, 2012 I had the privilege of hosting a public reading of the US Apology to Native peoples in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. More than 150 people from throughout the nation traveled, at their own expense, to DC in order to take part in this reading. The Apology was translated into the Navajo and Ojibwe languages. And it was publically read in English, Navajo and Ojibwe.

I spent most of 2012 traveling throughout the United States speaking with leaders from Church denominations and evangelical associations. I delivered letters to members of the House of Representatives and the US Senate. I communicated with the White House and spoke with Governor Sam Brownback (previously Senator Brownback). I visited tribal councils and spoke with tribal leaders. I spoke at educational institutions and with academic leaders. I wrote articles and sent Press Releases to national media outlets and news organizations. But virtually none of these leaders opted to attend and only one national news organization wrote a story regarding the event (CNN – Navajo man wants the nation to hear its official apology).

This experience taught me that the government and institutions of our nation are simply incapable of engaging with this history. The topic is too hot, the liability is too big, and the risks are too great. So that leaves it up to us. You and me. The citizens of the United States of America. Native Americans, African Americans, Americans of European descent, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, recent immigrants to this land as well as immigrants whose families established the original colonies.

The institutions of this nation may be systemically racist, but I do not believe a majority of the citizens are. However, in a nation that is systemically racist, anti-racism is less about personal racist attitudes and more about a willingness to change the system. So if our leaders and our institutions are incapable of addressing these issues I would like to invite the American people to address these issues.

I would like to propose that we begin planning a Truth Commission. A series of national conferences to be held throughout the country that would create space and give platform for indigenous elders and peoples to share their stories and let the truth be known about the abuse, trauma and injustice that they endured. Other countries, such as South Africa and Canada, have held Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that were of a similar nature, but the major difference was the governments and institutions of those countries were compelled through litigation or other circumstances to engage in those conversations.

That is not the case here in the United States, and I am hesitant to try and force our government and institutions to participate through lawsuits. For as was demonstrated above, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Supreme Court are all systemically racist, so in their current form they are incapable of delivering justice regarding these issues.

However, I am also not hopeless regarding our leaders or our institutions, and I would propose that at the Truth Commission gatherings we leave “empty chairs” for the leaders of these governments, organizations and institutions to participate. We leave chairs for President Obama, Pope Francis, state governors and members of Congress. We leave chairs for church denomination heads and leaders of academic institutions. I would even recommend we leave empty chairs for heads of state from other countries that participated in the “discovery” and colonization of this land, such as Spain, England, France and the Netherlands.

Our nations is in agony, and our people are literally crying out in pain. Our history is dark and the path forward is difficult. As a country we need to give up the false notion of our exceptionalism and accept the fact that we are no better than any other nation around the world. We need to remember that this land was not empty and Europeans did not discover it. We need to acknowledge that Africans and African Americans are human and their labor is not free. We need to accept that holidays like Columbus Day are meant to be mourned, not celebrated. We need to own our history, publicize our apologies and accept responsibility for our actions.

Our leaders and our institutions have already demonstrated they are incapable of doing this. So it is up to us. You and me, the citizens of the United States of America, and the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.

I propose that we host the first conference of this Truth Commission in Washington DC in December of 2016. We will have just elected a new President but, President Obama, the signatory of H.R. 3326 and the initiator of the annual Tribal Nations Conference, will still be in office.

President Obama’s signature and lack of acknowledgement of this apology bewilders me.  On May 19, 2008, then, Senator Obama held a campaign event on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Before speaking to the thousands of supporters who attended, a private ceremony was held and Mr. Obama was adopted into the Crow tribe. Sonny and Mary Black Eagle became his adoptive parents and he was given the name "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.” Ten months after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, President Obama hosted the first annual Tribal Nations Conference at the White House. Representatives from each of the 560+ federally recognized tribes were invited to attend a day of meetings and discussions with President Obama and members of his Cabinet and staff. While such a meeting is not completely unprecedented, this was the largest such gathering ever held and President Obama is the first President to such meetings annually each year he has been in office.

After all President Obama has done to engage our nation in conversations about race as well as to include the indigenous peoples of this land at the table. I would like to give him an opportunity, as the sitting President of the United States of America, to participate in this dialogue and fill one of the empty chairs.


111210-N-HJ351-039 WASHINGTON (Dec.10, 2011) As fans of the Army and Navy football teams take their seats in FedEx Field, the Army and Navy parachute demonstration teams, the Golden Knights and the Leap Frogs, fly overhead in preparation for their pregame jump into the stadium. The demonstration teams paired up for the jump in the spirit of the interservice rivalry represented by the Army-Navy game. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Meagan E. Klein (Released).
Picture the stadium of a newly renamed football team located in the heart of Washington DC. In the center of the field are representatives from many of the tribes located throughout Turtle Island. They are standing alongside “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.” Smoke wafts from the hundreds of sacred bundles that are smoldering throughout the stadium.  Prayers are said, songs are sung, dances are performed and stories are told.

This gathering is not an event. Nothing is being concluded. No treaties are being signed. No final decisions are being made. But there is a commitment, a resolve. The citizens of the United States and the peoples of Turtle Island have swelled up from the grass roots level and virtually filled the stadium. They have started a conversation and initiated healing.

Everyone understands that this gathering is only the beginning and there is still much work to be done. For the chairs, the ones on the stage behind the podium are still mostly empty. However, there is hope. For the stadium is full and the sheer number of citizens willing to engage these issues and discuss this history has begun to give courage to a few of the institutions and some of their leaders. And each day throughout the gathering there is one or two less empty chairs.


Next Steps: 
I, my family and my organization (5 Small Loaves) are fully committed to the vision of a Truth Commission. But we clearly recognize this is something that we cannot do alone. We need friends, partners, colleagues, supporters and other leaders in order to make this happen. Because of this, my wife Rachel and I have decided to move our family to Washington DC. Building such an extensive network of relationships and partners is going to require a lot of travel, speaking, writing and collaboration. And Fort Defiance AZ, where we currently live, is a 3 hour drive from the nearest airport. Washington DC has 2 major airports. It is a national, even global, hub and a frequent travel destination for countless organizations, leaders and every day citizens. I already have 3 trips planned in the months of January and early February to speak with people who are interested in partnering in this work and I am positive that is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Our plan is to spend the next 6-9 months building a network of support, raising public awareness and gauging national interest. If by August or September of 2015 we determine there is sufficient engagement and interest in a Truth Commission, then we will move into the actual planning stages for the first gathering in Washington DC in December of 2016.


How to get involved: 
  1. Join our email list – Sign-up to receive updates, news and information specifically regarding this work. 
  2. Follow and Share us on Social Media: 
  3. Invite Mark Charles to speak at your conference, college, university, community group or church.
  4. Donate – Donations to this project can be given through the 5 Small Loaves CrowdFunding page on GoFundMe. Donations marked “Truth Commission” will specifically be designated to cover travel, staff and other expenses related to this project. 


*5 Small Loaves does not currently have non-profit status and is unable to provide tax deductible receipts. We are working to establish a fiscal partnership with another organization that will be able to provide us with a 501(c)(3). We expect this partnership to be finalized in the 2015 calendar year. Tax deductible receipts can be obtained for gifts given off-line. Please visit our 5 Small Loaves DONATIONS page for more information

Related Articles:
  1. An Apology, An Appropriations Bill and a Conversation that Never Happened
  2. A Public Reading of the Apology to Native Peoples of the United States
  3. Text of H.R. 3326 Apology to Native Peoples of the United States
  4. YouTube Video of Invitation to Public Reading of H.R. 3326

Footnotes:
  1. The Christian Doctrine of Discovery: A North American History - CRCNA Doctrine of Discovery Task Force - Seth Adama
  2. Quotations from "The Loss of Turtle Island" drawn from script adapted for use in the CRCNA.  The CRCNA acknowledges with deep thanks, the work of MCC USA to develop this content and Kairos Canada's ongoing work on the Blanket Exercise - the inspiration for the US version "the Loss of Turtle Island"


Monday, September 1, 2014

The Problem with Systemic Racism...


They say a "watched pot never boils." But that's not entirely true. Of course a watched pot boils, it's just that intently watching a pot of water reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit is not an incredibly exciting way to spend your time. And so most people get bored or distracted and end up leaving before it ever reaches the boiling point.

The problem with systemic racism is that it is like a heat source that keeps a pot of water simmering at a constant 211 degrees. Extremely hot, but not quite boiling. Every once in a while the heat gets turned up just a tad. Like when a frightened white police officer in Ferguson MO shoots a young unarmed black man while his hands were in the air. Or a group of ignorant, overzealous college students create a banner for a football game that makes light of an act of genocide committed against Native Americans by the United States government.

And the water starts to boil.

Protests are organized. Twitter goes ablaze. Op-Eds are written. And civil rights leaders are given the microphone.

And the temperature is brought back down to 211 degrees.

Even the dominant culture gets caught up in the frenzy. However, their fight is vastly different from the fight of the Native American, African American, Latino or other minority cultures.

For while the minority culture is angry because of the entire system of racism they are surrounded by, the dominant culture is either protesting because one individual committed a single offensive act that caused the equilibrium to be thrown off, or they are completely bewildered that such an "isolated" event could have caused the water to boil in the first place.

But the goal of the dominant culture, the one that benefits from the systemic racism, is not to bring the water down to a reasonable temperature, or even remove it from the fire altogether. Their goal is stop the water from boiling and get it back to a steaming hot simmer.

For to the dominant culture, a simmering pot is normal and even good.

Because the dominant culture primarily sees the problem in the context of the current situation, they attempt to address it not on a systemic basis, but rather on an individual one.

"That officer needs to be disciplined."
"Those students need to be expelled."

And while the minority culture is angry towards the individual, we are more frustrated, and at times even livid, towards the entire system.

The challenge for us, is to not allow our immediate anger and frustration towards the individual to cause us to forget the larger goal, which is systemic change.

Systemic change is most likely not going to happen while the water is boiling. Protests, Facebook likes, sit-ins, Op-Eds, angry Twitter feeds, and 15-second sound bites on the evening news may help us vent our current frustration, but by themselves are not going to bring about systemic change.

To get systemic change, the conversation needs to go much deeper. The audience needs to be far broader. And the leaders need to be vastly more courageous.

This past weekend, when I saw the banner that some students displayed at the OSU football game which made light of the Trail of Tears, I was extremely frustrated and angry. I felt an incredible desire to say something but was well aware that the student’s banner was merely a symptom of a much deeper, systemic problem. So I created a graphic using the banner the students displayed and adding some comments that connected the banner to the deeper systemic issues.


I posted this graphic on my Facebook and Twitter feeds in hopes that it would be shared, commented on and possibly even make its way into the mass media. But I was not counting on the latter.  For an in-depth interview regarding our misinformed national identity, a broken educational system or the Supreme Court case law precedent based on a Doctrine of Discovery, would in no way help ABC, NBC, CBS or ESPN sell advertising on the opening weekend of the college football season. They would be looking for controversy, not dialogue. Their purposes would be much better satisfied with an angry Indian rather than a weary indigenous host.

But the graphic did get shared many times on social media. I have not gotten an overwhelming amount of feedback on it, but I have received some. And it is my hope that the systemic problems the graphic highlights will open new doors to the much deeper and broader conversations that need to take place.

The crisis of systemic racism is not that the water occasionally boils, but that it is kept simmering at a constant 211 degrees. Working for systemic change is not flashy, it will not get politicians elected, and rarely will it help sell advertising. For most people do not pay attention to things like systemic racism because, after all, "a watched pot never boils."

But we all know that’s not true.


Mark Charles (Navajo)


Updated 09/02/2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

The World Knows...

People know...

Not just Americans, but the entire globe.

People know that the founders didn't mean it then, nor does this nation mean it now. Sure the words were written down, and our leaders frequently point to them as evidence that we are good. But no one really meant them. They were merely a means to an end.

Back in 1776, when representatives from a bunch of colonies wrote the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," they did not literally mean ALL men.

But people know that.

They see the news reports that on July 2nd, 2014 (*) a town within the United States of America congregated, waving their red, white and blue flags, and demonized busloads of undocumented immigrants, telling them to go home, that they are not welcome here.

The world knows.

The entire globe looks on and shakes their heads. They understand that if that if anyone in that crowd had any integrity whatsoever, they would climb aboard those same buses and depart this land themselves. For this nation is undocumented, never once having asked for, nor having received permission from the indigenous tribes and peoples of this land, that they might live here.

But if people know why are things not changing?  Why do we continue to make the same mistakes over and over?  And why do the countries of the world continue to follow the lead of the United States of America?

As a Navajo man living on our reservation, when I hear the United States speak on the national and global stage, I cannot help but compare our country to a runaway pre-teenager who, while running for his life, hijacked a car full of people at gunpoint. He shot or wounded all of the occupants, climbed in and took off driving down the road. But he had no idea how to drive, and he could barely even see over the steering wheel. As the vehicle moved down the road he could hear it scrapping parked cars, driving over landscaping, even hitting children and pedestrians on the sidewalks. He could not see the damage but he could feel the jerking of the suspension and the bumps of the tires. He could also hear the scraping of metal on metal, the breaking of glass, and even the screams of the people as he lumbered through the neighborhood, wreaking havoc everywhere he went. 

But on he drove. For over 500 hundred miles he drove. Soon he noticed that there was a long line of cars behind him. Occasionally one of them would try to pass him, but his erratic driving and frequent swerving either forced them off the road or caused them to slow down and stay behind. Soon he began to fancy himself their leader, when actually, most drivers, fearing for their own safety, were simply wise enough to drive behind him and stay well out of his way.

He didn't stop. He couldn't stop. For while he felt bad about what he had done and he knew that continuing to drive would mean causing more damage in the road ahead, that was for more preferable than the thought of stopping the car, getting out and facing the destruction he had left in his wake.

As a Native American, one of the original occupants of the hijacked car, the temptation is to respond to this child out of anger. His behavior has caused untold destruction, massive deaths and incredible pain. But responding out of anger will only feed our hurt and escalate his fear and his irrational behavior.  So anger is not helpful.

The child wavers between the silent sobs of remorse and the defiant screaming of commands and the waving of his gun.  He is in incredible pain. And he knows it. Everybody knows it. But almost no one is willing, or able, to speak up. Anger is not needed. What is needed is for the original occupants of the car, with tender but necessary authority, to address the child. Acknowledge his pain. And help him to stop the car.

As a Native American I daily see, and experience, the historical trauma caused by the actions of the child driving this car. But I also see that his hurt is even worse than ours. He has no home. He has no family. He has no place to belong. And he is terrified that if he stops driving the car he will be thrown out and left alone.

I often tell people that the United States of America is a nation that desperately needs to be adopted. This is a nation immigrants who have left their lands, their families, their people and their cultures. Everything that they knew and understood has been left behind. And they came to this continent largely following a financial dream of prosperity. But they never asked for, nor were they ever given permission to be here, and now they feel lost. They have no idea why the rivers flow where they flow, or why the mountains lie where they lie. As native people, our creation stories take place on this continent. And they tell us how the mountains and rivers came to be. They add to our sense of belonging here, and they motivate our desire to respect this land.

As indigenous peoples of this land, Native Americans are one of the few populations left in the world who are able to speak with authority to the United States of America. But we cannot do that if we are their victims. We cannot do that by suing them in their courts. And we cannot do that by collecting reparations for their injustices. Instead, we must rise above that way of thinking and adopt this nation of immigrants. Sharing our stories, our families and our histories with our uninvited guests. For in the end, they are merely runaway children, scared and desperately looking for a place to belong.
.
So what can we do? I have 2 practical ideas of where I think we can start.

  1. Truth Commission: I recently attended the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. I was deeply moved by the healing that came from the telling and hearing of stories from the boarding school survivors who came forward. The truth telling was even more powerful than the statements of reconciliation that were given by the government and the churches. For that proof will be shown in their willingness to follow through on their pledges. But the truth telling stood powerfully on its own.

    The United States is not ready for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for reconciliation requires an acknowledgement of past wrongs as well as a commitment to repentance moving forward. So far, our leaders have demonstrated no desire to do that, as was evidenced by the toothless US Apology to Native Peoples that was buried in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.  It ended with a disclaimer and was never announced, publicized or read by Congress or the White House.


    But a Truth Commission? A significant platform where our native elders and boarding school survivors can come forward and share their stories? This is completely doable and would shed some much needed light on the injustices that have been hidden for decades, even centuries.  We could also leave an empty chair. A space for this nation to come forward, willingly and on its own to join the conversation for reconciliation.
  2. Immigration Reform: As native peoples, we can rise up and take our place as the indigenous hosts of this land by sharing our wisdom and understanding of the proper protocol for dealing with visitors and foreigners who come to this continent, both invited and un-invited.  For nearly a decade I have watched and listened from the reservation as this nation of immigrants has unsuccessfully struggled with how to reform their immigration laws. They stand on their soap boxes and demonize the undocumented immigrants and each other, but none are able to acknowledge that they lack both the integrity as well as the authority to “comprehensively and justly reform” these laws. They need our help, for they are incapable of doing it on their own.
I have been speaking about these topics for nearly a decade. And recently I started an organization to better organize people and begin working specifically on projects like these. Our organization is called 5 Small Loaves and we are deeply committed to pursuing reconciliation through honest education, intentional conversation and meaningful action.

Our nation is in pain. Our people are in pain. And our land is in pain. It is time to step up, acknowledge our past, and begin to change the conversation.

If you are interested in joining this dialogue and partnering on these projects, please contact us.


Mark Charles                          
5 Small Loaves
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(* date edited July 5, 2014)

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Country Tis of Thee?

When we sing "My country tis of thee."  Who is "Thee?"  

It's God, right?

As a nation. As Christians. We believe that the United States of America exists because of God's blessing.

Why do we believe that God willed, sanctioned, even led 500 years of discovery, colonization, genocide, slavery, boarding schools, broken treaties, sexism, segregation and nuclear warfare? 

It's because of some Papal Bulls that were written in the 15th century known as the doctrine of discovery. At the most basic level, the Doctrine of Discovery is the Church in Europe saying to the nations of Europe, "Whatever lands you encounter that are not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking." It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land on a continent inhabited by millions, and claim to have discovered it.

In 1763, King George made a Royal Proclamation reserving the right of discovery of all Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains solely for the crown. So in 1776 when the colonies boldly declared their independence, one of the justifications they gave for their declaration was that their right of discovery across these "new" lands was being limited.  There was never even a hint of an inclination, when they claimed "all men were created equal," that Native Americans, African Slaves or women would ever be included in the group of "all."

The Doctrine of Discovery distinguishes between the right of occupancy, which indigenous people have, and the right of discovery, which belongs to those of European descent.

In 1823, the case "Johnson vs. Macintosh" was brought before the Supreme Court. And the court stated that, based on the "Doctrine of Discovery," the right of European discovery trumped the right of indigenous occupancy.

When you have a national and theological identity that at its foundation dehumanizes the other and elevates the chosen-ness of the dominant, you get implicit bias. No one says it. It's just understood. You can torture terrorists, abort unborn fetuses, or as nation of immigrants, believe you can comprehensively and justly reform immigration law without ever seeking input or wisdom from the indigenous peoples of these lands. You can do all things because these subjects are all less than human.

The Doctrine of Discovery also effects how we read scripture. Which of our churches and organizations have used passages like Jeremiah 7:5-7 to motivate believers to obey God? "If you deal with each other justly. If you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever."

The Doctrine of Discovery has given our nation an old testament Israel complex. But it's a lie. Americans are not God's chosen people.  And this continent is not your promised land.

"My country tis of thee?"

Just because we sing it, doesn't make it true.


*This post is the transcript of a 3 minute presentation I gave in a panel discussion on Implicit Bias at Sojourners Summit for Change (June 2014), Washington DC. It is an effort to educate people on the Doctrine of Discovery and confront some of the Implicit Bias that is present within the United States of America. I welcome your questions, dialogue and respectful engagement. - Mark Charles

Friday, June 20, 2014

Without Exception

The other day I observed a Twitter exchange between Pope Francis and Miroslav Volf.

Pope Francis (‏@Pontifex) Tweeted:
“God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”

To which Miroslav Volf (‏@MiroslavVolf) replied:
“@Pontifex How true! And yet the babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.”

Since moving to the Navajo reservation more than a decade ago I have done much thinking, studying, praying and reflecting on the dynamics between power and authority. And God has given me a few insights over the years. So when I read these tweets I had an instant desire to jump in and be a part of the discussion. But there was a problem. Pope Francis is the leader of the Catholic Church with over 1 billion members worldwide. And he has 11 million Twitter followers (between his various accounts in 9 different languages).  Miroslav Volf is a national, even global, voice in his own right. He heads the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University and is described as a Croatian Protestant theologian and public intellectual who is often recognized as "one of the most celebrated theologians of our day." And he has 11 thousand twitter followers.  

And then there is me, Mark Charles. I do not lead any organization nor do I work solely for a specific group, ministry or church. I am merely the son of an American woman (of Dutch heritage) and a Navajo man, who is living on our Navajo Reservation and trying to understand the complexities of our countries history regarding race, culture and faith so that I can help forge a path of healing and reconciliation for our people. And I have a grand total of 710 twitter followers (@wirelesshogan).

In terms of power, platform and voice, Pope Francis is Goliath, Miraslov Volf is David, and I am Jesse's long lost nephew, the youngest son of his step-sister's fourth cousin. On a power scale, I have no place in this discussion. And even if I were to tweet something in response to Pope Francis or Miraslov Volf, the worldly chances of actually being heard by either of them are almost non-existent.

But to me, that is the beauty of Pope Francis' tweet. God’s rules are different than the world’s rules.  God does not use the mighty things of this world to proclaim his glory, but the weak, the forgotten, and the over-looked.  And that is the hope which I both hold onto, and preach to our Native peoples and communities throughout the country.  For living on the reservation is very lonely. Our nations and peoples have been pushed aside to scraps of land that are largely unwanted and out of the way.  As a result, a majority of the country is unaware that Native communities actually exist. And of the few who are aware, those who do come to visit us are either giving us charity or taking pictures at the “Native American Zoo,” and then quickly leaving before any real relationship can be built.

And so, after many years of living in solidarity with my people, studying the scriptures, and looking closely at the model of Jesus, I can wholeheartedly agree that, as a rule, "God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe."

But, Miroslav Volf is also, mostly, correct when he says "The babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory."  Yes, Jesus did teach with authority and yes, he did rise from the dead, in glory, three days later. But the overemphasis that Dr. Volf places on power, making it a method equal, in the ministry of Jesus, to authority, I believe is inaccurate.

Power is the ability to act. Authority is the right of jurisdiction (the permission to act).

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus comes onto the scene quickly. Already in Chapter 1 he is amazing people for "he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law." But he doesn't stop there. Just a few moments later, while in the same synagogue, he is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. Unfazed, he speaks sternly to the spirit telling it to "Be quiet!" and "Come out of him!" The spirit responded by violently convulsing the man and coming out of him with a shriek.  And then we are told, "The people were all so amazed, that they asked each other, 'What is this? A new teaching and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.'" (Mark 1:22-27)

Sometime later, Jesus was crossing the lake with his disciples. He was tired, so he took a nap in the back of the boat. A furious wind storm came up and waves began breaking over the boat. The disciples woke Jesus up and asked him "Don't you care if we drown?" Now that line is frequently misinterpreted as the disciples crying out in fear for Jesus to rescue them. But I do not see evidence of that. I think they were mad. Several of them were experienced fishermen. They spent much time on the water and had undoubtedly experienced situations like this before. This storm was dire enough to warrant an "all hands on deck!" The boat was taking on water. This was not a time for sleeping, no matter who you were!  I don't think the disciples had any other expectation of Jesus than for him to wake up, grab a bucket, and help them bail water out of the boat. This is evidenced by their reaction to what Jesus actually did. For he didn't grab a bucket, but instead he stood up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves "Be still!" And nature listened. The storm died down and it was completely still. Only then are we told that the disciples were terrified, and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (Mark 4)

Throughout his ministry, Jesus continually demonstrated that his words and actions were not demonstrations of his power, but an exercising of his authority. And this quite literally freaked people out. For he did not talk like someone who studied the scriptures; he spoke like someone who wrote them. He did not cringe when confronted by the blowfish tactics of the demons. Because he knew, that they knew, that they were submissive to him. Nor was he fearful of the destructive power of nature, because he was there when his Father spoke all of creation into existence.

For power to be effective it must be demonstrated. Authority is inherent and requires no demonstration.

If you were a guest at the wedding at Cana, you went home, not amazed with Jesus' power to turn water into wine, but instead with the incredible extravagance of the hosts of the party, for they saved their finest wine and served it last. (John 2)

If you were one of the professional mourners outside of Jairus' house, you went home that evening, not amazed at Jesus' ability to raise a girl from the dead, but instead ashamed at your own stupidity, for you could even tell the difference between a dead girl and a sleeping one. (Mark 5)

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus was confronted with the temptation to demonstrate his power. Satan tempted him. The scribes and Pharisees tempted him. The people tempted him. Even his own disciples tempted him. But again and again Jesus declined, sometimes forcefully with a rebuke, and other times quietly by simply walking away. He did not need to prove himself to anyone. He knew he was the Son of God and his identity did not need validation from the world.

But it cannot be denied that Jesus did some pretty spectacular things and that God showed His pleasure and His approval in some very powerful ways. After all, Jesus’ birth was announced by a host of heavenly angles. Yes, they were singing to shepherds, but nevertheless, very powerful. And how about the rising from the dead? The curtain ripping? The dead being raised? The earthquakes? And the mid-day darkness? All incredibly powerful displays.

So why am I writing this post? Aren't they both right? Has not the truth been proclaimed to both the 11 million and the 11 thousand followers on Twitter? Does clarification really need to be made to yet another measly 710 Twitter users. Yes! I believe it does. Because I have seen exchanges like this numerous times before from my powerless position here on the Navajo Reservation. I have seen the uncomfortable truths of God's character and His call immediately explained away with the quick pointing out of a few exceptions to the rules.  This happens so frequently that I fear we may have forgotten what some of the rules actually are.

God chooses the foolish, weaker, lowly, despised things of this world - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-30). These are God’s rules.

The weaker, second-born son, Jacob is the rule.
The slave, become prisoner, Joseph is the rule.
The prostitute, Rahab, is the rule.
The foreigner, Ruth, is the rule.
The shepherd boy named David is the rule.
The fisherman, Peter, is the rule.
And the babe, wrapped in cloth, and born in a barn is the rule.

The highly-educated Pharisee named Saul is the exception.

The rich, young ruler, walking away from Jesus, is the rule.

And the camel, named Zacchaeus, going through the eye of the needle is the incredibly rare exception.

As American Christians, these rules make us uncomfortable. For we live and follow Jesus in the wealthiest, most militarily powerful nation in the history of the world. And even though the founding fathers read the Bible and prayed to God, our nation has an incredibly dark and unjust history. Yet many still fancy the United States, and the American church, as the new Israel, with this continent being our “promised land” over which we have a manifest destiny.  And so we cannot even begin to imagine that we just might, instead, be one of the other empires in the Biblical narrative, on the receiving side of God's anger.

This is because we have taken the exceptions and made them our rules.  And so when we hear the rules, because we do not align with them, we must quickly point out the exceptions. For the exceptions are what explains our existence and what justifies both our actions and our in-actions.

Pope Francis articulated the rule.

And Miroslav Volf quickly countered with an exception.

I do not know why he did it, nor can I judge what was in his heart. If he had said it in a lecture, I would have raised my hand. If he preached it in a sermon I would have approached him during the coffee time. However, he tweeted, so I was compelled to respond through my blog. Because for the past 500 years my people have experienced the fruit of a nation and a church which arrogantly proclaim that they are the exception: the Doctrine of Discovery, the forced assimilation, the boarding schools, the marginalization, the empty charity, the flaunting of wealth, and the refusal to reconcile. And while I do not deny that God is at work and has accomplished much good through both the United States and the American church, I feel the need to exhort us to be silent and allow God's prophets to speak and remind us of His rules.  No matter how uncomfortable they may make us feel.

"God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe."

Thank you, Pope Francis. Please pray with us, the church in America, that we may aspire to follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

“Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

For what Jesus modeled so plainly is very unsettling. That the glory of the Father is revealed by following His rules, without exception.

Published:
1/7/14 8:01 AM

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nurturing a New Conversation

Last week I was on a conference call with some colleagues from a Christian organization that I partner with. We were discussing an educational project we are working on regarding the long history of injustice against Native Americans by the United States government and the Christian church. During the discussion it became clear that some conversations needed to be facilitated with some native leaders in the area where I live on the Navajo reservation and then a face to face meeting would be necessary with other members of our team. I offered both to facilitate these conversations as well as to fly to the city where our face to face meetings would be held. The organization offered to cover the cost of my airline ticket, but asked, with some trepidation, if they would also be responsible to compensate me for my time as a consultant. I quickly assured them that I normally do not charge for work on projects such as these.
A few months ago I accepted an invitation to speak at a conference for a nationally known evangelical organization. The wanted me to speak about the Doctrine of Discovery and the history of injustice by our nation and the church against Native Americans. They were willing to help cover some of the travel expenses to get to the conference, but we're not able to pay an honorarium for speaking.
A year and a half ago, in front of the capitol building in Washington DC, I hosted a public reading of the U.S. apology to Native peoples that was buried in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. I spent most of 2012 traveling throughout the United States inviting our nation to this event. I spoke with evangelical, political, church, academic and business leaders throughout the country. But on the day of the event the overwhelming majority of people who showed up were from the grass roots level.
These are just a few examples of the many opportunities that are presented to our organization on a weekly, and sometimes even a daily, basis. In fact, it is opportunities like these that prompted my wife and I start 5 Small Loaves in the first place.
God is at work. He is softening the hearts of people, organizations and institutions throughout the United States. And there is a growing openness to have conversations regarding topics like the Doctrine of Discovery and systemic injustice against Native Americans. But this openness is still young and conversations like these need to be nurtured, coaxed and gently encouraged. So while there is a growing willingness to talk about these issues, there are almost no institutions, agencies or organizations willing to pay for them.
And that is where I would like to ask for your help. 5 Small Loaves is committed to pursuing reconciliation through honest education, intentional conversation, and meaningful action. Our desire is to encourage, initiate, and foster these types of educational opportunities and conversations in churches, academic institutions and other organizations on local, regional, and even national levels. But we cannot do it alone. We need people to help make introductions into these conversations. We need partners to help cover our expenses, compensate our time, and fund the development of educational resources. We also need prayer warriors who are willing to beseech the Creator on our behalf that doors may be opened, hearts may be softened, and that true change will begin to take place.
This week, we are at a decision point for our young organization. We have been operating for nearly 2 months and have more than enough work to do, but so far we have not received a sustainable amount of donations. Because of this we do not have funds to compensate myself or Rachel for the time we have been investing, and we have some bills and other life expenses that need to be paid. The good news is that no matter what happens, this work will continue. If the funds are not available then I will merely go back to my work as a computer programmer and Rachel will look for a part-time job. We will continue to initiate, lead, and encourage these conversations, just at a slower pace and on a part-time basis. But if the funds do become available then we will be able to continue to write articles, travel, initiate conversations, and host people on the reservation at the same pace we have been doing for the past 2 months.
Here is a taste of some of the projects which are on our horizon.
  • Our new partners in 5 Small Loaves, Tim and Martha Stoner, will be moving to the Fort Defiance area within a couple of weeks to join us in our work.  (Prayers are still needed that a home will open up for them to rent)
  • On June 18, I will be speaking on a panel at a conference in Washington DC on Theology, Ethics, and Implicit Bias.
  • I will continue to work on the planning for the next Would Jesus Eat Frybread? Conference for InterVarsity and Cru Native American students in November.
  • Tim and Martha will begin to work on developing a mission team comprised of Native Americans to respond to an invitation from the Philippines to assist with rebuilding projects in remote villages after its recent devastating typhoon.
  • In July, 5 Small Loaves will begin operating a coffee shop a few days a week at a nearby church facility.  This is a project they had started once before and needs revitalization.  We saw this as an opportunity to engage with our local community as an organization, and in exchange for our work we will use office space at this site.
  • Plans are underway to host a regional Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference on the reservation next April.  This conference will serve to educate partner CCD ministries in the Southwest region as well as many rural practitioners from around the nation about the history of our nation and the church with Native Americans. As well as provide training and give a context for future relationship building with Native communities.

We invite you to pray with us. We invite you to pray for us.  And we invite you to consider partnering with us. God is at work. We have seen it and are experiencing it.
Thank you for reading this letter. As our name implies, we are not looking for any one individual or organization to come and rescue us.  But rather we are seeking anyone who is willing to share their “five small loaves or two little fish”. For in the hands of the Creator, even a small lunch given in faith is more than sufficient.
Ahéhee’.
Mark and Rachel Charles
Co-Founders of 5 Small Loaves