Book Release: Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization

I’m so pleased to have an Bible reflection in Unsettling the Word, this beautiful and totally unique collection, edited by Steve Heinrichs.–Rose Berger














Can we make the Bible a nonviolent weapon for decolonization? Check out Unsettling the Word.

For generations, the Bible has been employed by settler colonial societies as a weapon to dispossess Indigenous and racialized peoples of their lands, cultures, and spiritualities. Given this devastating legacy, many want nothing to do with it. But is it possible for the exploited and their allies to reclaim the Bible from the dominant powers? Can we make it an instrument for justice in the cause of the oppressed? Even a nonviolent weapon toward decolonization?

In Unsettling the Word, over 60 Indigenous and Settler authors come together to wrestle with the Scriptures, re-reading and re-imagining the ancient text for the sake of reparative futures.

Created by Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations program, Unsettling the Word is intended to nurture courageous conversations with the Bible, our current settler colonial contexts, and the Church’s call to costly peacemaking. (Comes with a study guide for groups.)

Order from Commonword.

Book Release: Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry

BuffalocoverIt’s always so humbling to hold in one’s hands the print edition of a book you’ve helped birth – even in just a small way.

Today I received copies of Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinrichs. As I hold the finished work in my hands, it still smells like fresh ink. And the amazing cover art by Jonathan Erickson (Nak’azdli, Carrier-Sekani) of the Buffalo carrying with her the life and bones of the Salmon pushed me to tears. It’s so beautiful.

Steve contacted me more than a year ago asking if I’d write a poetic response to Randy Woodley’s brilliant essay “Early Dialogue in the Community of Creation.” I was honored, but really had no idea what a watershed book I was being invited into. (See the Table of Contents.) I contributed adapted sections of my unpublished poetry manuscript Saarinen’s Arch and Steve was kind enough to include them.

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry  is a book that deeply engages the question: How can North Americans come to terms with the lamentable clash between Indigenous and settler cultures, spiritualities, and attitudes toward creation?

Buffalo Shout offers up alternative histories, radical theologies, and subversive memories that can unsettle our souls and work toward reconciliation. It showcases a variety of voices–both traditional and Christian, Native and non-Native.

Many of the Native writers are theologians and scholars affiliated with the 10-year-old  North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), which was formed “in response to the inability of the Christian evangelical church to include Native North Americans in a manner that affirmed who their Creator has shaped them to be.”

NAIITS has just signed an agreement with George Fox University, where Randy Woodley teaches indigenous studies, to deliver theological education for Native North Americans and other indigenous people using a curriculum developed by NAIITS. Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry will likely be a primary textbook for this new joint venture.

Here’s an excerpt from Steve Heinrich’s introduction:

…[The prophet] Jonah is not a white Mennonite settler like me, but stands among and with the colonized. He’s a word-swinging Lakota warrior (think Vine Deloria Jr.), a Sto:lo poet of colonial deconstruction (think Lee Maracle), a shouting buffalo, a weeping salmon, coming out from the shadows of the rez and urban occupied territories to confront the privileged powerful. This Jonah speaks unsettling truths, not to save the empire, but to stop its rapacious ways in defense of all relations, including us settlers.

This is what the book in your hands is about. It’s a Jonah text, perhaps as scandalous, implausible, and necessary as that old anti-imperial myth. A bunch of Jonahs and several settler-ally friends have come together to speak a word to, against, and for the dominant settler-colonial culture in North America. Some employ sharp rhetoric akin to that of the disgruntled prophet; others speak in more hopeful terms. They certainly don’t agree on everything. But they all do sound (with maybe one or two exceptions) a common warning: the controlling culture is violently sick, devastating people and lands. The need is urgent: repent, resist, do something.”

You can order Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry here.

Christian Pacifism: It’s A Bible Thing.

Jim Foxvog from Plow Creek Mennonite Church in Bureau County, Illinois, has a great page set up on the biblical basis for Christian pacifism. This is an excellent source of scripture quotes for forming one’s conscience on the issue of pacifism and faith.

Plow Creek Mennonite (mission statement: “A global village practicing the peace of Jesus”) is a great Christian community providing a powerful spiritual witness in middle America. Stop by and visit if you are ever in rural Tiskilwa, Illinois.

“What would Jesus do? [WWJD] ” Christians rightly ask. Jesus was perfectly capable of self defense.  He chose not to defend himself, to let his enemies kill him and even asked that his murderers be forgiven.  We are to follow in his ways.  There’s a great bumper sticker: “Whom would Jesus bomb?” [WWJB]  We are specifically called to follow Jesus example of suffering love and non-retaliation (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus died for the life his enemies (Rom 5:8,10).  Jesus gave this as the specific reason to love our enemies, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45 ) — to be like him! Jesus was questioned about the death penalty.  God specifically commanded it in the Old Testament.  Jesus did not say it was undeserved.  His answer: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8.7).  Does not the same reasoning apply to a nation seeking to “punish” another “evil nation”?

God will take care of us and is fully capable of handling those who do evil. We should not fear people, even those who could kill us (Matt 10:28).  This is the basic truth, not some sweet cliché. We are conquerors in all things by being in Jesus — nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:37-39).

It is a deeply held popular belief that the only way to stop evil is with by violent force.  This is the theme of most adventure stories of all genres, of comic books and TV shows and movies.  If we trust violence more than we trust God, this is idolatry. God’s truth is that our real enemies are spiritual (Ephesians 6:12) and are to be opposed by spiritual means (2 Cor 10:4). Our culture teaches us to oppose evil with violent force. But God, who created the universe,  shows us that the world is not founded on violence, but is built and designed differently.  Love is what works because that is how the totality of all that is was designed.–Jim Foxvog (Biblical Pacifism: Christian Pacifism is Scriptural Position)

Kennel Shank: Advent Longing in Real Time

Two candlesI was happy to read this lovely Advent meditation from former Sojourners intern Celeste Kennel Shank in The Mennonite Weekly Review.

The longing of Advent came early for many of us this year. Amid economic recession, war and strife around the globe and in our communities, we desire Christ’s coming.

We remember loved ones missing from around our tables this Christmas. We mourn ongoing conflict and oppression in so many places. We feel the sting of lost jobs, income and savings in our families and churches, and among our neighbors.

We need the renewed hope of Christmas morning to break into our tiredness and despair.

The prophet Isaiah spoke to a weary people in exile, and speaks to us today, exiles in a strange land. Isaiah promises, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together” (40:4-5a).

It is difficult to imagine such transformation when we look around us. President Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan dashes hopes, at least for several years, of an end to the U.S. military campaign there.

The announcement also is a setback for those who expected substantial change in U.S. foreign policy, and a focus of economic resources on human needs in our country and abroad.

Yet Christ was born into such a world of woe, to a poor family in an occupied land. He was lain, newborn, in the lowliest of places, with a murderous tyrant seeking his death.

Despite such strife, we can picture the hope of Mary and Joseph as they held the infant and imagined how the angel Gabriel’s promises would come to pass.

Read Celeste’s whole commentary here.

Jesus: The “King-style” Nonviolent Activist

ched-elaine-6-04Friends Elaine Enns and Ched Myers of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in Oak View, California, spoke in Philadelphia a few weeks ago at a conference of the historic Peace Churches (Quaker, Mennonite and Brethren).  You can listen to Ched’s talk on Jesus as a “Kingstyle” nonviolent activist online:

Ched Myers in Philly in January 2009

(Note: the talk begins at the 16 minute mark, is about 50 minutes long, and includes an interlude by jazz musician Warren Cooper).