Public Reading of the Apology to Native Peoples of the United States

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dancing with the Navajo

There they were, the shivering and barefooted pastors of the Global Discipleship Network, dancing around the living room of the retreat center we were meeting at on the Navajo Reservation. They had come for a time of retreat, training and fellowship. They arrived into Albuquerque from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Orlando, FL, the Dominican Republic, and the state of Indiana and then drove with me for nearly 3 hours to the high desert of the beautiful Southwest. It was December and our land was sleeping, in the midst of its second winter storm. Several inches of snow were on the ground and the night time temperatures were hovering around ZERO degrees. I was blessed and honored to welcome them to the land of my tribe, my clans and my family: the Navajo reservation.

For the past 2 years these pastors had been exchanging visits with each other. Living in each other's homes. Dwelling with each other's families. Learning from each other's ministries. Discipling each other in much the same way Jesus trained his 12 disciples. By being with them, 24 hours a day, as both friend and teacher. And now that they had a chance to begin building these types of relationships with each other, I was bringing them into my home to give them an even clearer example of the discipleship relationships I wanted them to experience.
We spent time catching up, sharing stories and getting reacquainted. It was wonderful to hear how in only 2 years their relationships and ministries had already begun to impact each other. I was especially struck by the story of Pastor Felix who is serving New Heart church in a bi-lingual (English/Spanish) community in Orlando, FL. While visiting and being disciple by Pastor Bernardino in the Dominican Republic he was struck by the work he was doing in both Spanish and Creole, including holding 2 distinct services, one in each language. Seeing the blessing those 2 services were to the Spanish and Creole speaking members of this congregation, Pastor Felix was motivated to begin holding 2 services at New Heart Church back in Orlando. They already had an English service and recently started a Spanish service. He reported that this second service has been a blessing to the entire church and allowed them to expand their outreach and ministry within their local community.

I led them in some Bible study of several of the passages that God had placed on my heart throughout the past decade of my work both on and from the Navajo Reservation.  I introduced them to many of the relationships I have, the partners I work with, and the people I minister to. I brought them into some of the conversations that God has led me to participate in regarding reconciliation, contextualizing worship, training new leaders and preaching the Gospel. I, and my son, shared with them the painful history of our Navajo people both with the US Government and the Christian Church, the Doctrine of Discovery, the Long Walk, the broken treaties and the boarding schools.

We also shared with them our food, some of our language and a few of our traditions.

Which is how they came to be dancing on the living room floor of the retreat center. Most of these pastors came from tropical climates and a few of them had never seen or experienced snow before. So that morning I shared with them that one of our traditions. For a Navajo child’s first snow, traditionally they would be taken outside and rolled in the snow. This was not meant to be cruel, or even as a punishment, but rather to begin to toughen them up to some of the extreme hardships of life in the high southwest desert. And so that morning I had the pastors remove their shoes and socks, take off their jackets and run outside in the snow. They were probably out there for less than two minutes before they came running back in with cold toes and shivering bodies and in unison, without prompting, began jumping up and down and dancing on the living room floor. As I continued to introduce them to our people throughout the rest of their time there I told them this story, of the pastors first experience with snow. Our Navajo people often smiled and many of them even laughed. Tickled that these pastors had come not just to meet us and take our pictures. But to be with us and experience a taste of our lives.

And that is what is at the heart of the Global Discipleship Network. To bring pastors, from around the globe, together for a time of training, encouragement and discipleship. Understanding that no one pastor, language or culture is above the other. But we are all co-laborers in the church of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ahe’hee’ my brothers. You are always welcome in Dineteh, the land of our Navajo people. We are so glad you came.

The Global Discipleship Network is a project of Christian Reformed World Missions.

Tuesday, January 7, 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.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reconciliation, Justice and Worship

In the books of Amos and Isaiah, God judges his people for not taking seriously his commands to live justly. He tells them that because they are not living justly he despises their feasts, he hates their festivals, and their music is like noise to him.  Also, in the book of Matthew, Jesus teaches his followers that if they are at the altar ready to give their gift to the LORD and remember that a brother has something against them, they are to leave their gift at the altar, go and first be reconciled. Then they may return and give their gift.

Throughout Scripture, God uses many gifts to call his people back to him including healing, truth, prophesy, exhortation, and preaching. But it does not appear that worship is one of those gifts. In these teachings, God seems to be telling his people that worship (specifically celebration, praise and adoration) are gifts to be enjoyed only when they are living justly and in a right relationship with each other.

This is a profound teaching. Many Christians, myself included, consider worship to be a birthright of following Jesus.  But that does not appear to be the case scripturally.  For in the Old Testament God tells his people not to worship because they are not living justly. In the New Testament, Jesus tells his followers to not give their gifts to God until after they are reconciled with their brother.  From these passages it appears that worship is not a birthright but a privilege.

These passages should cause us to think about Christian worship (celebration, praise and adoration) and the role of worship leaders in a much different light.

Why we worship:
One constant in many churches throughout the Unites States is the offering of praise, adoration, and monetary gifts up to God.  When we gather as Christians, we sing our praises to God and offer him our money, regardless of the topic of the sermon, the situation of our communities, or the political realities of our nation. We justify the ever-present practice of worship for two reasons:
  • First, God is good. Period. He is worthy of praise. Period. Scripture even tells us that if we do not praise Him, then the rocks will cry out praises to him. 
  • Second, no one is good. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is only because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that anyone can stand before the Creator at all.
It is because of these 2 truths that we justify our ‘right’ to praise, adore, and worship God.  God deserves the praise and our ability to praise is a grace given to us through Jesus’ death on the cross. 

So if worship, from broken vessels, is allowed through grace, then would it not be appropriate for the church to occasionally abstain (or fast) from worship in an effort to remind ourselves that it is not a right, but a privilege?

Worship Leaders:
A worship leader typically has a gift for playing music or singing - someone who can lead the body into the presence of the LORD. But in light of the scriptures in Amos, Isaiah, and Matthew, should not a true worship leader also have a deep understanding of God’s heart for justice and reconciliation? And should they not also lead the body to refrain from worship when it becomes clear that they are not being obedient in these areas? True worship leaders should be wise and discerning artists who understand God’s heart as well as have a good feel for the integrity of their local congregation.

In December 2009, the US Congress buried an “apology to the native peoples of the United States” on page 45 of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326). This apology was never read, publicized or announced by either Congress or the White House. I personally spent much of 2012 traveling throughout the nation, speaking and writing about this apology. While I received tremendous support from individuals at the grass roots level, most political, academic and church leaders with whom I spoke were unable, or unwilling, to publicly engage with this issue. 

This experience led me to believe me that much of our nation, as well as many in the church, are not yet ready to apologize for our unjust history, or to reconcile the relationships that have been broken and marginalized as a result of that injustice. But God wants to heal these wounds and mend these relationships.   I believe there is a misunderstanding in the church of how the practices of justice and reconciliation are intimately linked to our worship of God.

I am interested in building a coalition of Christian people, leaders, churches, and denominations who will call for a national day of fasting from worship in our churches.  The purpose of this fast will be to train, teach and raise awareness in the Church that the issues of reconciliation and justice need to be a part of the DNA of the church. I am not convinced that this fast needs to be directly tied to a specific community or act of injustice but rather to function as a call to a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be children of the living God.

If we were to view the church service as a conversation with God, His words to us being found in the reading of Scripture and the preaching of the pastor, then our response would be our praise, adoration, celebration, giving, and confession. Given that analogy, one idea for how this fast could look is that the service would include the components where God speaks to us (reading of scripture, preaching of the Word), but our response would be silence followed by obedience. Much like when a young child has been caught red-handed in severe disobedience, the following exchange with their parents is not a conversation. It is a lecture. Then the only response that is appropriate and expected is for the child to go out in silence and be obedient.

I have observed that many of us in the church have a misunderstanding of the role of worship in the Body of Christ. It is my hope that if we begin to take action to correct that, then our hearts will be softened and obedience will follow. I do not see this fast as an event, but instead as the start of the practice of a new spiritual discipline. For if we regularly are blessed through worship because of grace, then will we not also benefit by occasionally abstaining from worship to remind ourselves that our ability to worship is indeed a grace?

I welcome your feedback and thoughts on this proposal. Please feel free to leave your comments below or email them to me at:

Friday, July 5, 2013

The day after the Fourth of July

July 5th, the Declaration of Independence has been signed, the Revolutionary War has been won and the celebrations, complete with fireworks, have concluded. Now begins the hard work of being the United States of America. For on July 5th we must begin conducting ourselves in a manner which clearly demonstrates the truths we hold (and proclaim) to be self-evident. That ALL people truly are create equal.  And that they each been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Please join me in praying for our nation, our leaders and even ourselves. That we will not allow fear, arrogance, or a sense of entitlement to distract us from pursuing these principals.

I love our country, which is why I humbly pray, "May God have mercy on the United States of America."

Mark Charles
(Navajo, Dutch, American)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Prayer for the Church

A few months ago a friend and colleague of mine asked me to help him with a prayer for a new hymnal he was editing. In this hymnal, titled "Lift Up Your Hearts," he wanted to include a prayer reflecting the theme of immigration as well as indigenous peoples. He was also hoping that this prayer would help those who prayed it to feel more fully a part of the all "from every nation, tribe, people and language" who are gathered around the throne of the lamb (Revelations 7:9).

The hymnal was published last week and included the prayer I worked on. I share it with you and ask you to pray that as the Bride of Christ we will learn to walk more fully in beauty with our fellow man and God.

A Prayer of Indigenous Peoples, Refugees, Immigrants, and Pilgrims

Triune God
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
We come before you as many parts of a single body. 
You have called us together.
From different cultures, languages, customs, and histories. . .
Some of us indigenous - peoples of the land.
Some of us refugees, immigrants, pilgrims - people on the move.
Some of us hosts, some of us guests, some of us both hosts and guests
All of us searching for an eternal place where we can belong.

Creator, forgive us.
The earth is yours and everything that is in it.
But we forget...
In our arrogance we think we own it.
In our greed we think we can steal it.
In our ignorance we worship it.
In our thoughtlessness we destroy it.
We forget that you created it to bring praise and joy to you,
and you gave it as a gift,
for us to steward,
for us to enjoy,
for us to see more clearly your beauty and your majesty.

Jesus, save us.
We wait for your kingdom.
We long for your throne.
We hunger for your reconciliation,
for that day where people, from every tribe and every tongue
will gather around you and sing your praises.

Holy Spirit, teach us.
Help us to remember
that the body is made up of many parts.
Each one unique and every one necessary..
Teach us to embrace the discomfort that comes from our diversity
and to celebrate the fact that we are unified, not through our sameness,
but through the blood of our LORD and savior, Jesus Christ.

Triune God.  We love you. 
Your creation is beautiful. 
Your salvation is merciful.
And your wisdom is beyond compare.

We pray this all in Jesus’ name.

(This prayer is found on page 270 of the hymnal "Lift Up Your Hearts"; published and copyright by Faith Alive, 2013)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Prayer of Indigenous Peoples

Yesterday morning I sat in my home here on the Navajo Reservation and watched a live webcast of the "Evangelical Immigration Table". I felt impotent, tired, angry and frustrated. For on my screen Christians were rallying around and celebrating the introduction of a bi-partisan immigration reform bill that was being introduced by the "Gang of 8" Senators.  I felt this way because for nearly a decade I have been talking, writing, speaking and praying about the importance of intentionally including the voices of indigenous peoples in the process to "comprehensively and justly" reform immigration law. I have walked the halls of Congress and hand delivered letters to Senators and Representatives, I have spoken on the boards of churches and Christian organizations, I have built relationships with national Christian, academic and political leaders, I have written blogs, published articles, spoken at conferences and presented seminars, all asking, imploring, our nation to intentionally reach out to, and include the voices of Native peoples in the dialogue on immigration reform.

But to no avail.  Because on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, without ever consulting members of the Native community, the Gang of 8 introduced their plan to comprehensively reform our nation's immigration laws. And I watched on a live webcast, as my non-native friends, my partner organizations, the leaders of the church, even our politicians celebrated this milestone and congratulated themselves.

And this was not the first time I have felt this way. Numerous times in the last 15 months as I worked tirelessly to draw attention to the US Apology to Native Peoples that was buried in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, I would feel these emotions. It was the same drill as with Immigration Reform. I spoke, wrote, published, blogged, walked the halls of Congress, spoke with national leaders, attended conference and led seminars, doing everything I could to invite our nations, our leaders and the church to own this apology. But most everyone I spoke with couldn’t be bothered enough to take action.

I don't understand it. Am I mute? Can I not be seen? Are my writings illegible? How can so many people listen to my words and express appreciation for them to my face, but then when they are brought by God to an audience with power or presented by Him with an opportunity for action, forget those words and remember their appreciation no longer? 

I don't know what to do next. I have prayed, I have spoken, I have written, I have reached out. 

And I am tired.                     
I guess my only alternative is to go back to the drawing board and once again get down on my knees.  So if you read this, and agree with these words, I ask you to pray with me this prayer that I modeled after Moses' prayer for the Israelites when he was with God on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 32: 10-14).

I have titled it "A Prayer of Indigenous Peoples"

Our Father who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name.

Father, over 500 years ago a sailor got lost at sea. And in your name he claimed to have "discovered" a land that was already inhabited. He was followed by hundreds, then thousands and soon millions of other "un-documented" immigrants.
In your name these immigrants committed acts of genocide against our native peoples.
In your name they stole our land.
In your name they signed and then broke treaties.
In your name they took our children from our homes and violently forced them to assimilate to their culture.
In your name they counted us as less than human.
And in your name they marginalized those of us who were left to the fringes of their society.

Father, a little over 3 years ago, in your name, the ancestors of these immigrants attempted to apologize for their history.
But in your name, they vaguely worded their apology so they could not be held accountable for their actions.
And in your name they buried their apology in a Defense Department appropriations bill and never spoke of it publically.

And Father, today, in your name they are rallying around and celebrating a proposed bill to 'comprehensively' reform immigration law. But they have never acknowledged, nor reconciled, the original immigration injustices of this nation. Nor have they seriously consulted or included the voices of the indigenous peoples of this land in the writing of this bill.

For as Native peoples, we are all but invisible to them.

So Father, for nothing other than the glory of your name, I ask you to act. 

For the glory of your name I ask you to compel this nation of immigrants to acknowledge and face their unjust history.
For the glory of your name I ask you to bring a conversation for reconciliation the forefront of our national consciousness.
For the glory of your name I ask you to demonstrate to my country that without being reconciled with, and getting input from, indigenous peoples this “nation of immigrants” lacks the authority to comprehensively reform immigration law, as well as the ability to rule these lands justly.
For the glory of your name, I ask you to raise up indigenous peoples and allow us to once again be the hosts of this land. To share our families, our stories and, our connection to this land with our guests.

Father, if you fail to act.
If you allow the United States and your church to play both sides of this coin.
If you allow them to commit acts of injustice in your name.
If you allow them to bury their apology for these injustices in your name.
If you allow them to celebrate their blindness and to rule without integrity in your name.

Then many native peoples in the US, and other indigenous peoples throughout the world, may see your inaction and conclude as true the lie which we have been told for 5 centuries...

...that you truly are the "White man's God."

Father, I am not asking you to judge our nation, nor am I seeking your vengeance upon our guests.
Instead, I am pleading for your healing.
Heal my people.
Heal our guests.
Heal our land.

Our Father who art in Heaven
Hollowed by thy name.
May thy kingdom come,
May thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Richard Twiss: Turtle Island lost a host

It was just over two weeks ago that I received the email I had been dreading. On Wednesday, February 6, while in Washington DC for the National Prayer Breakfast, Richard Twiss suffered a major heart attack. He remained in a hospital in the DC area for several days as friends and family rushed to his side. But on Saturday, February 9, 2013, at the age of 58, Taoyate Obnajin (He Stands with his People) crossed over to meet the Creator.  He is survived by his wife Katherine and his four sons Andrew, Philip, Ian and Daniel.

If you ever had the privilege of meeting Richard Twiss, chances are he invited you somewhere. Richard was an incredible host. I remember last summer I attended a symposium for the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), of which Richard was a board member. No sooner had I walked through the door when I was greeted by Richard and asked if I would like to join their drum circle up front to start the next session.  I felt extremely honored by this invitation and gladly accepted. I am not a trained theologian nor am I a prolific Pow Wow drummer, but this small gesture immediately made me feel at home and communicated that I was welcome there and was given a voice should I have something to contribute.

Richard was involved in many conversations. As a follower of Jesus, President and co-founder of Wiconi International as well as an accomplished author he was a highly sought after speaker and a true bridge builder between Native and non-Native communities.

In the complex and controversial dialogue of contextualizing Christian worship for Native American cultures, Richard Twiss allowed himself to become a lightening rod so that boarding school survivors and assimilated Native American Christians could have the freedom to put on their regalia, pick up their drums, and ask the question "What does it mean to be Native American and follow Jesus?"
Richard's unique ministry gave many Native people the opportunity to experience that Jesus is not just the "White man's God" but he came for all people from every language and every culture.

There are many challenges facing Native Americans today in the United States.  Unemployment, broken families, alcoholism, diabetes, violence, poor education, and the list goes on and on. But after living with my people, on the Navajo reservation for the past decade I have come to the conclusion that the biggest challenge facing Native Americans is the reversal of our roles in this land these past few centuries.

Turtle Island (ie. North America) is our home and we are indigenous to these lands. We can tell you stories about why this mountain is here or why that river flows there. Our Creation stories take place in this land, and for centuries we did not see ourselves as its owners, but rather as its hosts.

That role began to change about 500 years ago when a European explorer named Christopher Columbus got lost at sea. He was met by our ancestors, but then promptly returned to his home claiming to have 'discovered' a new land, minimizing the fact that it was already inhabited by millions. He was soon followed by wave after wave of pilgrims, refugees and immigrants, who flocked here, fueled by a Doctrine of Discovery and driven by a presumptive sense of manifest destiny. The result of this history was that the indigenous peoples of North America were either killed, assimilated, or marginalized.  Those who survived were stripped of their role as host and instead made to feel like unwanted guests in someone else's home.

But there is a remnant, a precious few, who do not believe, or live into, this lie. They are not driven by anger, resentment, or even bitterness but by an understanding that as Native peoples, we are the hosts of this land. And they conduct themselves as such. Richard Twiss was one of these people.

Throughout his life Richard joined, participated in, initiated, and invited people to many conversations. He traveled around our nation and the world investing freely in relationships with people and leaders from various ethnic communities, churches, denominations, academic institutions, and governmental agencies. In every instance that I observed, he brought an increased awareness of Native peoples and invited our “nation of immigrants” to take further steps into an understanding of, and relationship with, their indigenous hosts.

Saturday, February 9 was a sad day for me personally. I lost a friend, a colleague, and a brother that day. But it was also a sad day for our nation because with the passing of Richard Twiss, Turtle Island lost a leader. Richard was not an elected official, nor was he the head of a huge institution. But he was a true host of this land: building bridges, starting conversations, increasing understanding, and inviting nearly everyone he met into something new. He conducted himself in such a manner that many who met him, walked away from the interaction feeling a little more at home.

It is my hope, that as Native peoples, we can follow Richard’s example and re-embrace our roles as the host people of Turtle Island.

A public ‘Celebration of Life’ service commemorating Richard Twiss will be held on Sunday, March 10; further details will be published on the Wiconi International website.

This article was first published on the Native News Network under the title "Richard Twiss Allowed Himself to be a Lightning Rod" on February 18, 2013.