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

(* 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.

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.
Mark and Rachel Charles
Co-Founders of 5 Small Loaves

Friday, June 6, 2014

Rethinking the Evangelical Fund Raising Model - Is CrowdFunding a more sustainable model for indigenous, minority and impoverished communities.

Yesterday I hosted a conversation in Portland with about 20 ministry partners titled "Rethinking the Evangelical Fundraising Model." Below is a direct link to a video I just posted to my Wirelesshogan YouTube page. In the video I discuss the model of Crowd Funding which is the current model I am using as I work to find a sustainable fundraising model both for my organization 5 Small Loaves as well as for other organizations and individuals from similar communities. This video is also part of a larger ongoing conversation titled "Rethinking the Evangelical Fund Raising Model."

I welcome your thoughts.

(I attempted to post this yesterday but the video did not embed correctly)

Friday, May 2, 2014

5 Small Loaves

In the Bible, there is a story of when Jesus was teaching a large crowd. At the conclusion of his teaching his disciples observed that it was late in the day, they were in a lonely place and the people were hungry with no food to eat. Jesus responded by telling them, "You feed them." The disciples immediately panicked and pointed out that doing so would be massively expensive, costing up to 8 months of a man’s wages. They also implied that they did not have enough money to make even a dent in that need. Undeterred, Jesus asked them what they did have. They went out and returned with a young boy who was willing to share his 5 small loaves and 2 little fish. Jesus took it, looked up to heaven, and GAVE THANKS! Then he just started passing out the food. And not only did more than 5,000 people eat to their heart's content, but afterwards the disciples picked up 12 baskets full of leftovers! (See Mark 6:30-44 and John 6:1-15)

Did you ever stop to wonder how the young boy who gave his lunch to Jesus felt? Can you imagine the exhilaration he must have had watching his 5 small loaves and 2 little fish feed a crowd of well over 5,000 people?  I bet he went home and told that story over and over and over again.  He probably felt like, as long as he was with Jesus, anything was possible.

One young boy who was willing to share his 5 small loaves (and 2 little fish) was all Jesus needed to meet the overwhelming needs of a very hungry crowd.

A new organization: 5 Small Loaves 
And it is in this spirit that Rachel and I are starting a new organization, called 5 Small Loaves. This past decade of living on the Navajo reservation has taught us that our community, the church, our country, even the world is in critical need. But God had also been pounding into our heads, that we, people (both individually and collectively), are simply unable to meet the overwhelming needs. But God can. And like the young boy and the 12 disciples He wants to allow us to be a part of the process. Because it's not just about collecting the resources, or even feeding the people, but it's about encouraging, empowering and producing faith.

Twelve years ago, we began our ministry in Native American when I accepted a call to pastor the Christian Indian Center, a Native American Christian church in Denver, CO. Two years later, God called our family to move to the Navajo Reservation. We understood that the primary purposes of this call was to experience life on the reservation, learn more about my Navajo language and culture, and identify more closely with our native peoples. Because of this, I made the intentional decision to shed all of my leadership responsibilities and positions. I knew that eventually I would be called again to lead, but first my call was just to "be" among my people and allow the Creator to deepen his work in me. I began blogging during this time and I welcome you to read my thoughts and reflections as I experienced this wilderness journey with my family (Blog article: When I Grow up I want to be a Shepherd).

For the past 5-7 years, I have mostly participated only in dialogues where I was invited to engage. This included joining the Boards of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA) and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). I also accepted invitations to speak, and even lead (in partnership with other organizations) on issues of diversity, racial reconciliation, and other faith issues.

But in the past 3-5 years, there have been 3 specific issues that I have been compelled to speak out on and lead into primarily on my own. These issues were so important to me but yet incredibly controversial throughout the broader country that I found if I did not speak then nothing would be said or done. These issues were:
  1. Creating a space for native voices in national political elections.
  2. Advocating for the inclusion of the indigenous peoples of this land in the dialogue to comprehensively and justly reform our nation's immigration laws.
  3. To publicly and respectfully read the U.S. apology to Native peoples that was buried in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

The experience of leading each of these 3 conversations in addition to all the other work has been incredibly rewarding but physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually exhausting. And that is why we are starting 5 Small Loaves. We sense that the season of being in the "wilderness" is coming to an end, and a new season of building partnerships and leading is beginning.

It is our hope that through this organization, we will be able to not only engage in dialogue where we are invited, but also to initiate and bring these conversations to various communities, groups, institutions and organizations throughout the country.  We will also be able to receive people for training and provide education on issues of missions, contextualized worship, and other aspects of culture and faith.

Broad Goals:
  • Reshaping American church missions from a charity, assimilation and parental model to one of humble learners in need of partnership from a rich and culturally-diverse body.
  • Giving space for Native Americans to speak and participate in American politics and policy issues such as immigration reform and national elections.
  • Equipping and empowering Native American Christians to participate in missions from the context of indigenous cultures and world views
  • Encouraging Native Americans to embrace their God-given cultural characteristics that result in authentic worship of God.
  • Empowering Native Americans to embrace their collective role as the host peoples of this land, and offering this “nation of immigrants” wisdom, leadership and adoption.

Core Values:

*In obedience to God, racial reconciliation is a commitment to building cross cultural relationships of forgiveness, repentance, love and hope that result in walking in beauty with our fellow man and God.

Vision Statement:
Pursuing reconciliation through honest education, intentional conversation and meaningful action.
 *See end of letter for additional information on of each of these topics

Where you fit in
We chose the name, 5 Small Loaves, intentionally, so we would have a constant reminder that the responsibility for solving the problems and needs in this world belongs to God. We also want to remember and communicate that the support and funding for this work is not dependent upon any one person, group, or organization and that no gift is too small.

After the disciples told Jesus that they did not have enough of their own resources to feed to people, he told them to go and find out what they did have. And that is what this letter is all about. We do not have enough resources to accomplish the work listed above, but we know that God wants us to do something. So we are taking inventory. What do we have? Who is willing to stand with us? What resources can be given?

We are seeking your prayers, financial gifts, and your partnership to support the work outlined here. Currently, we have 4 members (Mark and Rachel Charles and Tim and Martha Stoner) committed to 5 Small Loaves. Each of us are ready to give 30-40 hours per week to the projects included within this letter. There are also the administrative, operational, and travel costs to support.  As 5 Small Loaves progresses, we will pursue the federal and state non-profit statuses, and we will seek out grants to support larger projects. 

There are several ways that you can partner with and support the vision of 5 Small Loaves. 
  1. Connect with us by filling out our online Google Doc Form.
  2. Host a Conversation - We are eager to work with partners, individuals and organizations who are interested in hosting a conversation regarding any of the work in which 5 Small Loaves is involved (I.e. Doctrine of Discovery, Reconciliation, US Apology to Natives, Navajo Time Perception, Mission Models, Diversity, 51st vNAs, etc).  Our events coordinator (Rachel Charles) will work with you to setup an event in your local area.
  3. Arrange Speaking Engagements - Mark Charles, the founder and director of 5 Small Loaves is available for any type of public speaking engagement (preaching, seminar, conference plenary, panel discussion, etc.).
  4. Prayer Support - If you would like to pray for the work and needs of our ministry you can LIKE our FB page ( or send us your email address and we will keep you updated on latest praises, needs and concerns.
  5. Financial Support - Instructions for giving to the work of 5 Small Loaves can be found below.
Until a 501(c)(3) is obtained there are 4 options for giving financial gifts.
  1. A tax-deductible gift for the “ministry of Mark Charles” can be made payable to the
    CHRISTIAN INDIAN CENTER and mailed to: PO BOX 211248, DENVER, CO 80221. 
  2. A tax-deductible gift for the “ministry of Tim and Martha Stoner” can be made payable to FREEDOM OF NATIONS and mailed to: 37 ROAD 5297, FARMINGTON, NM  87401
  3. A NON tax-deductible gift can be given directly to 5 Small Loaves
  4. A NON tax-deductible gift can be given thru PAYPAL directly to Mark Charles (designate for the work of 5 Small Loaves in the transfer)
    Use the email address

You can also find Mark Charles online at 

** Doctrine of Discovery: A series of Papal Bulls from the 15th century that are essentially the Church saying to the nations of Europe “Whatever lands you find that are not ruled by Christian Rulers are empty and yours for the taking.” These Bulls are the theological foundation for the American Church and the United States. The fruits of which are: Columbus claiming to have “Discovered” America, Manifest Destiny, Boarding Schools (Kill the Indian to save the man).  Mark Charles serves on a Task Force of the CRCNA that examines the doctrine.

** Navajo Perception of Time:  A research project in partnership with BYU that seeks to understand the impact that time perception has on Native college students in their academic success and retention.

* Missions: Training, empowering and sending Native Americans to share the Gospel throughout the country and around the world.  Additionally, reshaping American church missions from a charity, assimilation and parental model to one of humble learners in need of partnership from a rich and culturally-diverse body.

* “Conversation for Reconciliation” on the 2010 Apology to Native Peoples: On December 19, 2009 President Obama signed House Resolution 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriation Act. This 67 page document contained a buried apology to Native peoples that was not announced, publicized or publicly read by the White House or Congress. 2 years later, Mark Charles organized a public reading of this bill and the enclosed apology in front the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. 

* Native American perspective on Immigration Reform:

** Global Discipleship Network: The GDN is a group of pastors in a mutual learning exchange circle, in which each one visits and hosts every other pastor.

** Would Jesus Eat Frybread? An annual conference for Native American Christian college students in collaboration with CICW, CRU and InterVarsity, where students explore what it means to be both Native and Christian. 

** Contextualizing worship for indigenous peoples, cultures and languages:

* Project is currently being run independently my Mark Charles and will be immediately brought under the oversight of 5 Small Loaves

** Projects is currently being worked on in partnership between Mark Charles and an outside organization. In the next 6-12 months conversations will be had with these outside partners to seek to establish a formal partnership with 5 Small Loaves.