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