Listening, and saying thank you

I am thankful for the friends and scholars who remind me to be awake and aware to the stories behind the stories. Thanksgiving  seems a simple holiday, for a good idea, and yet it isn’t simple or good for many people and for many reasons. For many of us, the day and the long weekend are about an overconsumption of food or things. For too many of us, there is as much hunger on this day as any other.

And for many of us white folks, there is little thought given to either the history or present reality of relationships between the first peoples in what became known as the Americas and those who came later from Europe. I have written before about the exploitation, expulsion and extermination of these indigenous peoples; in this post, I just want to say thanks, today, for the individuals who have given me experiences of tough grace and chances to learn.

Thank you to Harley Eagle (Lakota Sioux), for many moments of insight and illumination. I’ll recount just one this morning. Back a few years ago, when he was co-director of the Damascus Road dismantling racism program, I was in a meeting he was facilitating. My son had recently been in a bike accident, and I was keeping him with me that day. In the morning check-in, Harley greeted Chandler, invited him to join our circle, and spoke of how in his community, when there was a leadership meeting, the flaps of the tent were kept up so that other members of the tribe – elders, children, visitors – could listen in as they passed by in the course of their day. In that way, there was a sense of generational participation and wider accountability. Harley welcomed Chandler’s presence as a reminder and a real instance of living into that tradition.

Thanks to Peggy Larney (Choctaw), who has been willing over the years to hear questions from people including me and help us make fewer mistakes and be more authentic in relationship. In one instance, she and her husband were attending a dismantling racism workshop I was co-facilitating for the Dallas Peace Center at its request. One of the DPC board members wanted to take a picture of the group. She said in the fairly perfunctory way we usually say such things, “I’m going to take some pictures, if you don’t mind ….” Perhaps because Peggy was in the room, those words struck me differently. I flashed back to a memory of reading that there were American Indians who had resisted having their images made by photographers because they believed the process stole their souls. And then flashed forward again and said, “Well, let’s see how people feel about that.” I asked the group gathered how participants felt about having their pictures taken. Peggy immediately spoke: “I would prefer that pictures not be taken.” I turned to the board member, and said “We’re not going to take pictures today. Thanks for asking.” I’d like to say that was the end of it; it wasn’t. But what I want to recollect here today is Peggy’s courage in speaking … and what I learned simply from her presence, and from that courage.

Thanks to Andrea Smith (Cherokee), an American Baptist scholar of religion who I have heard speak twice, and by whose writings I have been challenged, inspired and instructed. One piece in particular is on my mind frequently. In  “Walking in Balance: The Spirituality/Liberation Praxis of Native Women,” an essay in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, Smith wrote “Our job is to be engaged in the task of eliminating the oppression our communities face, not to make a living from it.” Money has gone into my pocket for some instances of leading anti-racism workshops; not enough to make a living … but still. Smith’s words burn in my heart.

I am thankful.

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