A Missional Twisst

New Wine, New Wineskins’ Spring conference on Faith and the Arts, Created to Create, provided space for the Christian community to broaden its scope as to how the arts are so powerful and necessary for Christ’s kingdom purposes. One of the ways in which this theme was powerfully explored was by Richard Twiss, a member of the Sicangu Band of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux tribe and co-founder of Wiconi International. This ministry is devoted “to live and walk among the people ‘in a good way’ by following the ways of Jesus– affirming, respecting and embracing the God-given cultural realities of Native/Indigenous people, not rejecting or demonizing them.” Twiss gave a powerful perspective on how the arts intersect with his faith, and how the arts are expressed through his Native American Christian heritage. 

 

Twiss shared with us some of his tribe’s artistic and beautiful ways of praying and worshipping. The tribe’s approach is fluid and rhythmic, vastly different from the Western Evangelical traditional (stoic) approach.  Along the way, Twiss explored the ways in which the dominant Western Christian culture tends to address Native Christian peoples: many dominant culture Christians wash Native Christians’ feet at prayer rallies and build houses on reservations before returning home to their lives of affluence.  These dominant culture Christians never truly enter into solidarity or mutuality with the indigenous community, while also ignoring its rich heritage of Native artistic expression and culture. The failure on the part of the dominant Western culture is twofold: we often fail to sense the beauty in the Native people’s ways of life and how they can enrich our own, and we fail to see that our attempts at connection–washing feet at prayer rallies or building homes on reservations–do not address core structural problems. 

 

The structural disconnect between the dominant Western Christian culture and indigenous peoples ties in with the ways in which the mainstream Evangelical community generally tends to bypass structural evil. In chapter two of Consuming Jesus, mention is made of Dr. John M. Perkins’ baseball game analogy, which is used to illustrate the dominant culture’s blindness to structural problems. Two teams are playing a game of baseball–a white team and a black team.  After seven innings, it is discovered that the white team has been cheating the whole game. The score is 20 to 0, and the cheating team apologizes. The white team then wants to move forward and finish the game. However, there is still a major problem: the score hasn’t changed; it is still 20-0. This story illustrates Twiss’ own frustration with dominant culture Christians’ washing Native people’s feet at reconciliation events and then retreating back to their “big houses” in affluent communities. I remember clearly his frustration as he lamented this state of affairs: “meanwhile, we are stuck here on our reservation with clean feet.” Just as in Perkins’ analogy, the cheating team apologizes and then mistakenly functions as if everyone is now functioning on a level playing field. These overarching, complex, societal and structural ills are often being addressed with a quick-fix, charity mentality, but nothing more. 

 

I am convinced that until we learn to need one another–existing in true community and solidarity as Christ’s body across racial and class divides, we are simply a nuisance to one another. We are only getting in one another’s way, if we don’t understand our mutuality as children of God. I believe that our Western individualism, affluence and lifestyles of privilege fuel partial ministry attempts to “reach out,” making Native people’s feet clean for a night, while never addressing the heart of the matter: seeking after our own hearts and hands’ cleansing for a lifetime. This is where a challenge to the dominant culture church arises: we must change this state of affairs by truly bearing witness to the trans-cultural gospel we profess by holistically and urgently addressing these complex social ills. But it takes time–a long time, and it takes not only acknowledging the long history of disadvantage and racialization, but will also require a slow journey ahead of entering into indigenous people’s lives and cultures, whereby there is mutual learning, respecting, and valuing of one another’s lives and cultures. Only then can we truly move forward–together.

 

I came away from Twiss’s talk at New Wine’s conference with a more missional twist on missions: the dominant Western Christian culture of which I am part has so much to learn about ministry among Native peoples–repenting of the past that impoverishes Native peoples in the present, as well as being enriched by the worship experience of our Native brothers and sisters. Lord, wash my dominant Christian culture’s feet, our hearts, and our hands so that we can be beautiful instruments of peace for your Gospel.

 

By Kelsi Johns with Paul Louis Metzger 

 

 

7 Responses to “A Missional Twisst”

  1. Mick Porter Says:

    Hey, great blog and an excellent post!

    Here in Australia, we have to face some of the same issues.

    I think the point around washing the feet is profound, but hard to solve. We’ve recently produced a DVD aimed at getting people to think through some of these things – having been involved with some of the more conservative arms of the church, I’ve seen some great teaching but it regularly falls short of landing on issues of justice.

  2. Ross Halbach Says:

    I strongly agree with you Kelsi. Only a few days ago I was driving through the many reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. The land the tribes were given is absolutely desolate. To get by they build casinos and sell their art to people like me passing through their land. The structural situation requires more then a few foot washings–absolutely.

    But, here is the problem. I am not willing to go live on one of those reservations I passed through in NM or AZ. I almost rather die than do that. We can talk about addressing structural issues and that is good. But honestly, I almost feel like my heart is harder knowing the problem and not doing anything about it. So, I join you in your final prayer: wash my feet, my heart, and my hands so that I can be a beautiful instrument of peace for Christ’s Gospel.

  3. Paul Louis Metzger Says:

    Thanks for your encouraging word, Mick. By the way, can you tell us more about your work, including the DVD?

    Ross, you are so right about the hardness of heart issue–we all face it in different ways. May God change our hearts so that we will pour our lives out for the First Nations peoples–the first Americans–as we live in solidarity with them for Christ.

  4. Kelsi Says:

    I’m interested too about the DVD you mention, Mick. That of course if the first necessary step–simply igniting the thought and interest to engage these realities in the church, and to help the church see that justice is not a about being conservative or liberal. So I am excited to hear about that. I also resonate with you, Ross. I have been processing that same frustration: the more I learn, the more I feel like I get worked up and affected, and then feel defeated because I feel too disconnected, selfish, unmotivated and too overwhelmed to know where to start. It’s so easy to talk about the ideals and another way of life, but so hard to take then next practical step.

    The encouraging thing is, it does not necessarily take going and living on a reservation to create mutuality and solidarity with the First Nations peoples. I think that it takes small, tangible steps–such as building one or two relationships with people who are different than you, entering into their world and struggles and then seeing how that changes the way you see others and the world–this in and of itself will have a powerful domino affect. It starts on a relational level, I believe, and goes from there.

    I also find it encouraging to realize that we are a part of the body, but not the entirety. You or I will not be every piece of the puzzle–only one small piece. We are limited people, with limited time, resources and abilities. It is only together that the puzzle comes together. God calls us to do what we can with what we have. So if that is one powerful relationship, so be it. If it is moving on a reservation, so be it. If it is challenging our church in small, practical ways, so be it.

    I think the crucial thing is to not get overwhelmed, but appreciate and accept our limitations (yet somehow made powerful in Christ) and take small baby steps towards the kingdom we hope in. I believe that this is all God expects out of us–our limited, partial, but earnest best.

  5. Daniel Fan Says:

    Ross,

    There’s a reason why you don’t want to live on reservation land: the white people who forced the tribes onto that land didn’t want it either.

    I don’t think many native peoples are looking, primarily, for the kind of structural changes many of us are so afraid of (restitution, redistribution of lands, etc).

    1) They have their pride too.

    2) The US government doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to giving native peoples gifts.

    While it’s up to God to change hearts, we can start by educating ourselves on the history of Native Americans (and, in fact, native peoples around the globe).

    PBS has a short, but touching, if not super-comprehensive five parts series that can be accessed online here:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/weshallremain/

    (streaming, and free)

    Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” gives a Native American view of the Westward expansion and the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny. However, it does not cover the suppression of native tribes prior to the 1860s (Wampanoag, Narragansett, Cherokee, Seminole, etc.)

    Knowing the history/plight of Native Americans has helped me open conversations and ask tougher/more vulnerable questions. The same applies for Native Hawaiians. If you’ve taken them time to know their tribe’s history, then chances are you care more about them as individuals.

    One of the things racism, does is rob a person of their self-determined identity. Structural racism is even more apt to do that both because it happens on a larger scale, and because it is more amorphous (you can’t even “name your enemy”). By knowing someone’s history, in this case racial/cultural history, we take the first step in understanding and restoring that identity.

    It’s a small start, and maybe not the only place to start either. But it is a start.

  6. Kelsi Johns Says:

    Thank-you, Daniel. I agree, learning more so then we can continue to know what questions to even is so crucial and empowering. Sojourners’ latest issue has an excellent article on Richard Twiss entitled “Christ and Whose Culture?”. This is the online link: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0906&article=christ-and-i-whose-i-culture

  7. Karen Frederick-Howell Says:

    This shows real wisdom, but I would like to point out one thing, though. You write that change will take “time – a long time”, but, what takes humanity forever, our Lord can finish in no time at all. Perhaps this financial meltdown is His way of bringing reality to the spoiled Followers of the U.S.A.. So many are losing those “big houses”, and, while it seems sad in some ways, could it actually be a spiritual windfall? We may have no choice but to swallow our sinful pride and admit we need each other, and what a blessing that would be! …Thanks for the great “think”, and may our Lord Jesus bless you with wisdom and true peace.

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