by Holly Haile Thompson
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life…” – Tecumseh
I honor my Narragansett siblings and mark their 345th annual August Meeting – I respectfully remember Dr. Ella Sekatau, Mrs. Eleanor Dove and their families. I acknowledge nearly 600,000 lives around Mother Earth now lost to Covid-19. Yet, unbelievably, this is not quite ‘real’ enough to wear a face-covering to perhaps save the lives of others; “I might save another person’s life by wearing a cloth mask” then justify not wearing one?!
Modern-folk believe ‘holy work’ is flashy, famous, wrapped in finery, but I’ve learned it’s not the one with the fancy abode who is the measure of goodness, it is the one whose ‘well-worn path to their door’ who may not even have a lot but they always have enough to share. It is ‘holy work’ to do what is in one’s power to do that others might live.
We have found ourselves ‘alone to pray’ more in 2020 than ever before. Cloistered life invites meditation, contemplation and can result in new insights. Indigenous Peoples observe many forms of devotion, thanksgiving, prayer and meditation out-of-doors, and we are called primitive and heathen for doing so; while in a land where water, air and soil gives life, sustains life, why wouldn’t all devout people protect, nurture and share these God-given elements?
Matthew’s lectionary readings for August come after Jesus’ experience of a death in the family, he needed solitude – still, was not given the luxury of a restorative quarantine. When might caring leadership look at unscheduled interruption as opportunity? When might influential leadership see the unsatisfied throng of humanity and manifest anything but pity for the rabble who hunger and thirst for fairness, decency, healing and hope? ALWAYS. To look upon the community and not see humanity is a problem: big time.
Feeding 5000 in a patriarchal system means feeding 5000 men; can we see what’s wrong with this snapshot of helpless disciples and their inability to act? Looking upon this humanity demands a compassionate and humane response – they need to be fed. Not counselled, not removed, not reasoned with, not dismissed, not sent empty away: Feed them. Don’t imagine the dozens of reasons as to why it can’t happen, feed them.
Walking on Water (doing the impossible): some can and some can’t? Focus; and if one’s eyes are not on one’s own bellybutton and its inadequacy, and eyes and hearts are on the action leading to the goal – what seems impossible can be accomplished. So many times a quick re-read of an Allan Boesak sermon from the 1980s will set a wondering wanderer back on the Good Red Road.
Apartheid can’t be changed – but maybe it can;
Racism isn’t a problem in an all White church – well, maybe it is;
Unceded Native Territory will never be recognized – that, too, might come to pass.
“Who do you say that I am?” A question to all who have ears to hear. I say that you’re the One ‘calling out’ and admonishing those who, with impunity, rule using violence. Jesus asks, “Who am I?” The One holding to account people and systems that with astonishing regularity send the needy away hungry, broken, economically and physically crippled, in a system that, by design, creates and maintains conditions resulting in ever-growing populations of desperate dejected, destitute, depleted human beings.
Additionally, “Who have I shown myself to be?” One immune from humanity’s cultural influence, or One who grew up hearing about “Crumbs and Dogs”? In our creeds we mutter some such about ‘fully human and fully divine’ and if the former is also true we must admit to the encompassing influence of one’s own culture; i.e. the ‘White lessons’ given to everyone in the United States – escaped by no one. Enveloping cultural indoctrination perpetuates the ideals of White supremacy and White normalcy in our Nation, Churches and American society. Only those who see beyond these inclinations – and those who learn to see beyond these predispositions – have a chance to become anti-racist no matter who they were born and raised to be.
“Don’t become distracted by the crumbs…” Natasha Cloud said to all who work for justice. This WNBA athlete spoke with strength and clarity about the life-path she is walking today in 2020; don’t try and tell her that ‘life’ is not for her, ‘health’ is not for her, she will seek with faithful determination and a singular focus to lift her voice for racial equity in this miserly United States. The wind and the waves are distracting – but they blow where they will because Creator has made it so. The ‘least’ effort to attempt to appease injustice is distracting – but that’s not the focus – ‘Justice in this world’ is the only objective because nothing less can bring Peace.
An Onondaga Elder taught me, “Respect your brother’s/sister’s vision. Can our church-related siblings take a lesson from the Ancient Human Beings of Turtle Island? I pray that they can.
The Rev Holly Haile Thompson, DD is a blood member of the Shinnecock Nation, Long Island, NY, studied at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, IA, was graduated in 1985, ordained by the Presbytery of Western Colorado in 1986 becoming the first Native American Woman to become Minister of Word and Sacrament/Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Holly served congregations in Colorado and in New York state, is a member of several churchwide committees including the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC), the Native American Consulting Committee (NACC), and serves on the Doctrine of Discovery Speakers Bureau, all of the PCUSA denomination. Currently, Holly volunteers with the United Methodist Church’s northeast Native American Ministries Committee – supporting the UMC ongoing ‘Act of Repentance’. Holly most recently concluded her service with 1st Presbyterian Church Potsdam, NY as Transitional/Supply Pastor to explore what an “Anti-Racist Church” might look like. She works with the Poor Peoples’ Campaigns of Northern New York and of Long Island. Holly is married to Kahetakeron Harry Thompson of Akwesasne, and together they share 7 children, 16 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. “May our paths lead us to a time when we shall live together in Peace on Good Mother Earth.”
Holly is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on indigenous theology and the lectionary.