Prophecy, #4

Another important aspect of communal prophecy is that those of us whose voices are often heard, who have the privilege that creates a larger platform, need to stop speaking sometimes; we need to step back and take time to listen to the voices that have been marginalized. We need to listen to those who are targeted, not merely to come to their aid, but to learn from them, and to take leadership from them. Indigenous people and other people of color have access to truths that mainstream American society may not be able to discern, or may choose not to notice.

For example, those who are new immigrants have valuable truths to share. I think about how so many newcomers to Maine survived in the midst of oppression and persecution in their home countries. They developed personal and communal tools that might be important for all of us in the coming months. Plus, they can observe truths about American culture that those of us who have lived in it all our lives can’t see.

Reza Jalali, a human rights activist and educator, and immigrant to Maine from Iran, gave me some hopeful insights when we were talking about the change in power in Washington. He said, “America has so many non-governmental organizations, like schools and hospitals and churches, and other voluntary associations. These are a potentially powerful source of checks and balances against the damage that the current administration may try to do. Other countries which fell to authoritarian regimes did not have this resource for resistance.”

I had never really thought about our associations and organizations as a resource like that. I had assumed that every country had such things. But someone who has been an outsider can see more clearly what we often take for granted.  Those who have been outsiders within our own country can best name what needs to be known.

I am reminded of a song by Holly Near, called Listen to the Voices. One verse goes like this: “Listen to the voices of the First Nations/Calling out the messages Of the earth and sky/Telling us what we need to know/In order to survive”

Native people have been on the front lines for many decades, even centuries, in the battle against corporate takeover of land and resources. When the people at Standing Rock tell us that water is life, and we need to protect the water, that is prophecy of the highest order. When they build a movement based on prayer and non-violence, we should be taking notes.

Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke has said,

My advice is: learn history. Take responsibility for history. Recognize that sometimes things take a long time to change. If you look at your history in this country, you find that for most rights, people had to struggle.

One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.

To be a community of prophecy, to see what is happening, we must listen to the voices that are speaking the truths we cannot see ourselves. We must listen to history, we must listen to the earth, we must listen to people of color, and we must listen to the voice from within, the power in our spirits.

Sun on frozen pond

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Colonization Stories

Broken Tree DSC01792The theme at my congregation for November is “What does it mean to be a community of story?” Of course, stories can be truth-telling, or truth-hiding. For example, I have mixed feelings about the Thanksgiving holiday. I am very much in favor of gratitude. But the stories American culture tells about the holiday have been used to hide the truth about a deep crack in the foundation of our nation, and have distorted and corrupted the high ideals many cherish as the basis of our American democracy.

I am speaking about the colonization of this continent, a destructive process unparalleled in history. Millions of Indigenous people were killed, or died from disease unknown to them. Land was stolen. Treaties were signed and then broken, and then never talked about again. Most of our senators and representatives in Washington know nothing about the legal responsibilities of our federal government to the Indigenous nations within our borders.

Why should we care?  Those of us whose ancestors were among the settlers of the continent?  We have benefited from this colonization, but we have also been harmed by it. Colonization is at the root of the many of the problems that all of us are facing now: the destruction of the natural world, climate change, oppression of one group by another, the overarching greed that has bankrupted our economy. (There is a longer list I could make.) I don’t believe we can fix any of those problems without revisiting our history.

Sadly, churches were/are a large contributor to colonization. I am part of a new project here in Maine, called “Decolonizing Faith.” A few clergy colleagues and I, under the auspices of the Wabanaki REACH program, are exploring the history of colonization, and the role of the churches in it. We recently spent a long weekend with a few partners from the Wabanaki people, having deeper conversations about the impacts of colonization on Wabanaki people, and building trust for future work together. We hope that we might begin to envision how people of faith could help in the process of de-colonization, non-Indigenous people joining together with Indigenous people for the benefit of all people.

Our next plan is to create and hold day-long workshops for people in faith communities to explore these questions together. But we realized this topic is so huge, that perhaps we should start by encouraging people to attend the Ally workshops that are already being offered here in Maine by Wabanaki REACH. These workshops look at the history of U.S. Government relationships with Native people, explore the dynamics of systemic racism, and ask what non-native people can do as allies. Once people have this basic foundation, they will be better prepared for looking at how churches were involved in the problems, and how we can be part of the solutions.

I would encourage folks in Maine to sign up for the ally trainings–you can find out more at the Wabanaki REACH events page.   These trainings will be a prerequisite for the first Decolonizing Faith workshops we hope to offer this winter or spring.