by Holly Haile Thompson
“Massa keat mund summana wequannank soops nipi. Tabutne.” Our land has truly been blessed by the Great God of Nature. – A Shinnecock Prayer
In loving memory: Edythe Thunder Bird Gregoire returned to the Spirit World May 31, 2020. Sister; “Mother to many, grandmother to more;” A respected Shinnecock Elder, who passed during the pandemic but not of the virus – so her children could say ‘good-bye’, and she did not have to die alone; that meant the world to us. We are so grateful for her life, a loving woman of faith.
“My Daddy changed the world”
I quote Gianna Floyd, 6 year old daughter of George Floyd, killed by police in Minnesota last week. Yet, when I consider the unreasonable cost of Mr. Floyd’s accomplishment, surely there were less violent ways to get the attention of White sisters and brothers in this country, in this world.
Substitutionary Atonement is a dangerous concept… “to glorify suffering is to render [George Floyd’s] suffering sacred. To do so is to glorify the sin of defilement.”*
In the 1990s I had the honor of supping with Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin, we were guests of Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper. Naturally our conversation included my being a Shinnecock Indian, how my perspective was necessarily different to his. There came a point I felt that I was not making my meaning clear, so when in doubt, quote Dr. Delores S. Williams (that’s the best advice I can give anyone)! I’d recently visited Dr. Williams at Union Seminary, and we’d discussed White siblings who live in fear that someone might “push the proverbial button” ending life as they know it. She said, “…it could be said that ‘the button’ has already been pushed on my people.” A sentiment that, as an Indigenous woman, I could recognize.
And so I said to Dr. Coffin, “Professor Delores Williams says that “…it could be said that ‘the button’ has already been pushed on [her] people”; I added that Native people aren’t interested in helping the Whites continue a centuries long ‘reign of terror’ against the Brown peoples of the earth. He asked me if I really thought people would choose ‘to end it all’ rather than help this America continue? ‘Twas a decade before 9-11; I merely asked why would we willingly continue to labor in a deadly, unjust system for more of the same?
Dinner conversation has its limits; lessons are intended to plant a seed deep within those with ears who listen.
July’s lectionary considers the Matthean version of ‘sowers and seeds’, prefaced by particular actions and unexpected, yea unintended, results. In Mt 11, John the Baptist and Jesus, both divine messengers, one with fire, one with cool water, but neither seemed able to capture the hearts of those who, together, could have helped make their world more loving, more just, a better place; – the hearers would neither dance together, nor mourn together.
Even the untutored understands; a 6 year old can imagine love over hate.
And if ‘Sowers of Seeds’ don’t know the difference between Good Ground** and thorny, rocky terrain and soil with ulterior motives then why should they remain in charge of the planting?
John’s fiery doctrinal ‘law and order’ mandating “Repent!”, come to the Jordan, be baptized, prepare for judgement – make ready for new life. In contrast, Jesus’ commitment to the ‘least of these’, water for all who thirst, and his passion for the God of Justice didn’t appeal to those who revel in their ability to mete out provision, punishment, blessing or curse as they saw fit: religious and civil authorities covertly cooperating with occupying Romans are not interested in an egalitarian society.
Part of my perspective includes my own experience: Last summer I reported a troubling e-mail sent to my More Light church which I believed threatening in nature. This e-mail targeted – by name – the mother of an inter-racial family of church members; we also housed a HeadStart on the premises. I’d been home on Shinnecock, so showed the e-mail to my Tribal Chairman and several Council Members – all of whom had a criminal justice background. They recommended that I go to the State Police to have this disturbing e-mail documented and alert the authorities; after which, upon returning to my church with the NY State Police Incident Number in hand, I could alert the upstate police and ask that they take closer notice of our building and grounds for the safety of all concerned.
The State Trooper laughed at me. After my husband and I waited 25 minutes in the waiting area without seeing anyone, the tall, burly, White Trooper glanced at the text of the e-mail and laughed. “When you’re finished laughing, would you please document this report and kindly issue me an Incident Number to take to the Police Dept local to my church…” who, thankfully, took very seriously the fact that individuals, inter-racial families, HeadStart children and elderly church-folk must be kept safe in their town.
Black, Brown and Indigenous people have thousands of stories… so when will our White siblings listen?
*Womanist Theology on Atonement, by Delores S. Williams – as printed in The Nonviolent Atonement, second edition, by J. Denny Weaver, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 2011; page 199.
**Good Ground is the traditional name given by the Shinnecock People to the portion of our Territory now known as Hampton Bays, Long Island, NY
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.