Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wyoming's monuments to genocide

Wyoming historian Phil Roberts discovered a single memorial to a confederate hero in the Cowboy State, a grave marker noting the final resting place of John C. Hunton at Cheyenne’s Lakeview Cemetery. After serving in Virginia’s 7th Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg, Hunton became a wealthy cattle rancher along Chugwater Creek. 

Hunton’s tombstone likely won’t generate a debate over removing confederate war memorials in Wyoming. But, there are “memorials” to the genocide and cultural destruction wrought by the U.S. government during and after the Indian Wars in the American West. One example is Devil’s Tower, the name the victors of that war attached to this sacred Native American site. There should be a discussion about giving back the names the Native Americans attached to this and other sites.

Long before white people invaded the land, the Black Hills was home to the Crow and Kiowa peoples among First World Nations. They were the first to name the extraordinary rock formation in Northeast Wyoming.

According to Mary Alice Gunderson’s book “Devil’s Tower: Stories in Stone,” the people of the Crow nation called it “Dabicha Asow,” meaning “Bear’s Lair.” Through interviews and Indian legends collected by Dick Stone of Gillette, Gunderson recounts Native American beliefs about this rock.

Kills-Coming-to-the-Birds first saw the rock in 1833. Ninety-nine years later she said it was placed there “by the Great Spirit for a special reason.” The rock had important religious significance to Native peoples. Gunderson’s book and Stone’s collection include Indian legends about what the conquering white people took it upon themselves to call Devil’s Tower.

One tells of seven Crow girls and their brother playing. Suddenly the boy transformed into a bear. The bear chased the girls who found a tree stump. It invited them to climb aboard. The stump reached into the sky as the bear climbed after them, leaving claw marks yet visible on the sides of the impressive rock. The Great Spirit kept the girls beyond the reach of the bear. “The seven sisters were born into the sky, and they became the stars of the Big Dipper.”

To the victor go the spoils. They tried to erase the stories. According to Native American writer Leslie Silko book “Ceremony,” the first novel published by a female Native writer, this is the kind of Indian legend the white conquerors deemed “nonsense.” After white people stole the land and the stories, they deprived sacred sites of names by which the Indians knew them. 

A National Park Service website admits Devil’s Tower was referred to as "Bear’s Lair," and "Bear’s Lodge," throughout much of the 1800s. “Devil’s Tower” was most likely the result of a bad translation. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dodge’s 1875 journal noted, "The Indians call this shaft 'The Bad God's Tower.” The NPS acknowledges that "Bear Lodge" may have been mistakenly interpreted as "Bad God's." Congress adopted a paraphrased bad translation when it created “Devil’s Tower National Monument” in 1906.

In 2014, those who first owned the naming rights asked the name "Devils Tower National Monument" be changed. The Park Service acknowledged, “In each instance, the request is to change ‘Devils Tower’ to ‘Bear Lodge.’ More than twenty Tribes with close association to the Tower hold it sacred, and find the application of the name ‘Devils’ to be offensive.”

The name-change stalled when Wyoming’s congressional delegation objected. As a Lakota survivor of Custer’s Last Stand said, “Washington was where all the problems began.”

Insisting on retaining the name given this rock by the conquerors furthers the regrettable strategy of destroying Native Peoples’ culture. Despite concerns of tourism interests that changing the name would be bad for business, righting a wrong might prove to be as good for business as it would be for the heart.

A name change honoring those who first saw it and named it, who first came to understand it as sacred, and from whom the land was stolen would become a part of the legend, making “Bear Lodge” a more popular tourist destination.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sunday's sermon@Highlands

My friend Dwight Welch, a DOC colleague pastor who once preached in Douglas and now preaches in Oklahoma, quoted fellow theologian Emily Health on Facebook:

The progressive church is not the Democratic Party at Prayer. And if we continue to lose our theological literacy, and our ability to talk about our faith, that’s all we will end up being. Without a bedrock of belief, the whole enterprise of church-based social justice will crumble.

It’s time to remember what, and who, we worship. It’s time to develop the language of faith. And it’s time to see our social justice work as a natural product of our discipleship, not something that competes with it for the church’s time.

These are times for us to get radical, not about our politics but about our discipleship.

On one day last November several of our “taken-for-granted-assumptions about civil rights, human rights, religious freedom, human compassion, and the relationships between our fellow countrymen ended and we have, since that day, been trying to forge a new understanding of who we are and what we are called to do.

These are the worst of times to be a Christian theologian. Not my words but those of Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theology and writer from Duke University. Not my words and while I have been tempted over the last several months to adopt that sort of despair, this morning I say to you, these are the best of times to be called by Christ. These are the best of times I say, here I am Lord.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “The worst of times can also be the best of times.” These are the times that try to souls of progressive Christians. These are the best of times for Christians who are prepared and courageous enough to follow Jesus.

Progressive Christians serve a God who calls people into the fold, not as a matter of achieving personal salvation but to incorporate them into a community of believers called to serve the world.

Think about the history we have seen in most of our lifetimes. The church played a central role in the civil rights movement of the 60s bringing about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the church was on the frontline in the international campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, the church led the way in the War on Poverty and the creation of healthcare for the poor and the elderly, clergy marched with African-Americans in Selma and Native Americans at Standing Rock as we stand with Dreamers and others threatened with deportation today.

These are times in which the leader of our country sends ICE officers into every community to snatch people and send them to a life in a place where they know no one, have no future.

This is not political. It’s Biblical. It expresses our values understanding that Christ leads us to welcome the stranger and treat the foreigner, as the Bible says, as though they were born among us.
It begins with an understanding of the sovereignty of God. Borders between nations have their purpose. When they become the basis for denying people their dignity and breaking up loving families, God has something to say about those borders. God’s love is not bound by national borders. God’s love transcends flags and pledges of national allegiance. Human rights and dignity extend beyond the territorial boundaries of nations.

In Romans, Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” Christians live in a world where they have responsibilities to both the state and to God. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and unto God that which belongs to God.”

Our tax dollars may belong to Caesar but our moral conscience belongs only to God. As Peter said in Acts 5, when there is a conflict between the two, Jesus followers must obey God.

The obligation arises from the centrality of God’s love the ultimate expression of the dignity and worth of every human being. When circumstances call for it, love is expressed through sacrifice. In his book “Just Immigration,” Mark Amstutz says, “Love provides the basis for building and sustaining human communities.”

That is especially true when the state adopts policies that harm or seek to destroy human communities. It is, therefore, not border lines and immigration law that makes us equal and recognizes the worth of each human being. It is the fundamental Christian belief that all human beings are made in the image of God.

Nationality, social and economic status and the borders created by political choices create divisions among humans. The belief that we are all children of God and created in God’s image is the great leveler.

Where does that leave us in the matter of immigration law, and the marginalization of undocumented persons and the so-called DACA folks? What are we to do when the state determines through a democratic process that people who support their deportation should write the laws and make public policy?

On the last night Jesus spent on this earth, he prayed to the Father that his followers not be removed from this world but protected from it. That can mean detachment but detachment cannot be love when we see injustices being perpetrated on some of God’s children.

Being in the world but not of the world gives birth to a partnership between God and humans where it becomes our responsibility to protect the weak and the oppressed from the sin of injustice. Justice in a world ruled by God and not humans is, for Christians, defined by the great commandment to love God and one another and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Matthew 25 teaches us that those who stand next to Jesus are those who, when you saw that he was a stranger, welcomed him,” while those who were cats out did not.

The Bible mentions care and welcome of immigrants more than 90 times–in the Old Testament alone. This is the voice of God in the Book of Leviticus 19, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

While a sovereign nation has an obligation to protect its citizens and its boundaries, a Sovereign God seeks to protect all of God’s children across all boundaries.
The Bible leaves no doubt about what God’s justice means on this matter. It does NOT mean Christians believe there should be no restriction on immigration but that the restrictions must be just. It does mean we cannot be a part of an unjust immigration system and what America has is an unjust immigration policy.
The U.S. had a policy that once encouraged undocumented people to come and work in poor working conditions; jobs that paid so little US citizens would not take them…and then after millions came and worked these jobs and built their lives here and raised their children here.
US immigration policy turned a blind eye to employers who hired undocumented workers and built an economy that relies on them and allowed more than 12 million undocumented people to live in our nation. It’s a policy that meant hundreds of thousands of undocumented people were brought here by parents seeking work. They came through no choice of their own as infants, attended schools here, became a part of their churches and the community.
In much the same way, the US military solicited thousands of undocumented men and women to enlist with a promise it would mean fast track to citizenship and now the political winds have shifted and the promises made to all of those people are blowing in the wind.
An immigration policy that was a tool to fill unfillable jobs and enlist men and women into an all-voluntary army suddenly changed.
Demagogue politicians found they could win votes by marginalizing these people. Those who came here as infants as well as those adults who were once welcomed here to work, found suddenly that their families can be torn asunder and they may be deported to a land which is now completely foreign to them.
Those are unjust laws and being a part of the effort to uphold them is to violate the Biblical precepts about welcoming the stranger and treating the foreigner with fairness and contrary to Jesus’s admonition that what we do to the stranger, we have done to him.
Following Jesus would be so much easier if Christianity was simply a set of beliefs or creeds. But following Jesus requires us to act, sometimes to defy unjust laws in order to transform the world.

Too many Christians are afraid of being caught in public with a strong opinion on immigrants and refugees, let alone taking action. Too many Christian pastors are afraid of being caught in the pulpit siding with the foreigner. They fear being caught applying the words of Jesus to the issues of the day. Others are trying to juggle their conservative politics with Jesus’s words though Jesus said we can’t follow two masters.

The PC(USA) has been clear. Presbyterians support the presence of immigrants in our communities and value their contributions to our nation. We advocate for just immigration reform. We advocate for just immigration enforcement that intentionally considers the hardship of family separation and the sincere determination in building family and community in the United States.

Turning our backs on immigrants is turning our backs on Christ, who commands us to love others as we love ourselves, the Jesus who challenged us by asking what benefit is there to one who gains the whole world but lose your own soul (Mark 8:36).

If you’re fine with an entire group of people being deported because of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry under the pretenses of domestic policy, federal law, and political rhetoric — you’ve lost your soul.
If you’re fine with people having their education taken away, careers destroyed, and forcibly taken from family, friends, and loved ones — you’ve lost your soul.

If you’re diminishing the humanity and worth of others because you think “the law is the law and we are a nation of laws” — you’ve lost your soul. Can’t you just hear Pontius Pilate say to Jesus, “I don’t really want to have you crucified, but, hey, Rome is a nation of laws.”

The Christian answer to immigration is the same as it is for every other problem the world is facing: all of us are children of God, created in God’s image, we are taught to love others and to love God. This Christ-inspired, Christ-fueled, and Christ-like love isn’t going to be the easiest, or most efficient, or most plausible, the safest or most popular — but the day will come when…

“The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ AMEN