So They Tell Us

From John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota (1903-1976). Thanks to Lorna Standingready for posting.

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men,
we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents.
Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.
We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves.
When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket,
he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.
We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property.
We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being
was not determined by his wealth.
We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians,
therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another.
We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know
how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things
that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”

The Truth of the Work Itself

An excerpt from Thomas Merton’s Letter to a Young Activist. Thanks to Bill Boyle, a radical discipleship comrade in metro Detroit, for passing this along.

You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated with ideals and with causes. This sounds heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to be engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right.

You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has  to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. the range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, It is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.


The Grimke Sisters

Sarah and Angelina Grimke are 19th century models of white people breaking rank with supremacy. This is an excerpt from Drew Gilpin Faust’s recent article in The Atlantic Magazine: The Grimke Sisters and The Indelible Stain of Slavery. The article is longish, but certainly deserves to be read in it’s entirety. It explores a new book that details tensions and complications with the Grimke legacy. Tensions and complications that white people breaking rank can learn from today.

Thirteen years apart, the two sisters came to share an abhorrence of the slave system on which their family’s wealth and position depended. Angelina was particularly repelled by the institution’s violence—the sound of painful cries from men, women, and even children being whipped; the lingering scars evident on the bodies of those who served her every day; the tales of the dread Charleston workhouse that, for a fee, would administer beatings and various forms of torture out of sight of one’s own household. Both Sarah and Angelina became deeply religious, rejecting the self-satisfied pieties of their inherited Episcopalian faith, but finding in Christian doctrine a foundation for their growing certainty about the “moral degradation” of southern society. In 1821, Sarah moved to Philadelphia and joined the Society of Friends; by the end of the decade, Angelina had joined her.

Philadelphia was a focal point of the growing antislavery movement, and the sisters were swept up in the ferment. Soon defying Quaker moderation on slavery just as they had defied their southern heritage, the Grimke sisters embraced William Lloyd Garrison and what was seen as the radicalism of abolition. In essays appearing in 1837 and 1838, Angelina and Sarah each set out the case for the liberation of women and enslaved people. They joined the Garrisonian lecture circuit, and Angelina developed a reputation as a sterling orator at a time when women were all but prohibited from the public stage. In 1838, Angelina married the abolitionist leader Theodore Dwight Weld in a racially integrated celebration that adhered to the free-produce movement, including no clothing or refreshments produced by enslaved labor. Weld and the sisters shared a household for most of the rest of their lives, and Sarah became a devoted caretaker of Angelina and Theodore’s three children. Their opposition not just to slavery but to racial inequality and segregation, as well as their support for women’s rights, placed them in the vanguard of reform and at odds with many other white abolitionists. With emancipation, they took up the cause of the freedpeople, which they pursued until they died, Sarah in 1873, Angelina in 1879.

Daniel Erlander: Child of God

A special thank you to Marcia Dunigan for passing along the news that Rev. Daniel Erlander passed away in late August. His memorial service was this last weekend and you can access a video recording of it here. His books were clear and clever and were beloved by children and adults. If you haven’t, please order Manna and Mercy now. What a beautiful scripting of the biblical narrative! This is Dan’s obituary from the memorial bulletin.

Daniel Winfred Erlander
Child of God

December 10, 1938 – August 28, 2022 Daniel Erlander’s story is one of art and theology: theology as an embodied art and art as visible theology. Dan was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1938, the second of Ruth and Emory’s three sons, and baptized on February 6, 1939. He was nurtured in faith and life in Lutheran parsonages in Cheyenne, Moline, and La Crescenta, CA. His childhood memories include drawing, especially airplanes, trains and cars.

Continue reading “Daniel Erlander: Child of God”


By Ched Myers and Elaine Enns

 Note: The gospel reading for this Sunday, October 16, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost in the Revised Common Lectionary, is a poignant and amazing text focusing on the agency of women. We shared these reflections last month with pastors in the Greater Minneapolis Synod of the ELCA, and invite you to delight in this story of persistence that pertains both to our prayers and our politics. 

The story is introduced as a parable. Jesus tended to tackle tough issue by speaking in this particular rhetorical form, as did the Hebrew prophets before him. Unfortunately, most of our congregations still spiritualize this kind of grassroots pedagogy, typically understanding them as—see if you’ve heard this one before—”earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” Thus tales about landless peasants and rich land-owners, or lords and slaves, or lepers and lawyers—or persistent women—are lifted out of their social and historical context and reshaped into theological allegories or moralistic fables that are bereft of any political or economic edge—or consequence.  This functions to thoroughly domesticate the parable under our status quo, such that stories meant to challenge our preconceptions about the world are instead deployed by us to legitimate them. In this way, we effectively disarm one of the Bible’s most powerful rhetorical weapons, whose purpose is to rescue us from our domestication and dehumanization under that very status quo.  But what if parables were actually “earthy stories with heavy meanings” as Ched’s teacher Bill Herzog argued in his wonderful book, now a quarter century old, about Jesus as a pedagogue of poor communities?

Continue reading “Hersistence”

Unbroken Connection

DinaFor Indigenous Peoples Day, an excerpt from Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s brilliant new release As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock (2019).

The very thing that distinguishes Indigenous peoples from settler societies is their unbroken connection to ancestral homelands. Their cultures and identities are linked to their original places in ways that define them: they  are reflected in language, place names and cosmology (origin stories). In Indigenous worldviews, there is no separation between people and land, between people and other life forms, or between people and their ancient ancestors whose bones are infused in the land they inhabit and whose spirits permeate place.

MLK was a Radical

PC: Underwood Archives/UIG/REX/Shutterstock

By Dr. Cornel West, for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., originally posted in The Guardian

The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. King’s courageous and compassionate example shatters the dominant neoliberal soul-craft of smartness, money and bombs. His grand fight against poverty, militarism, materialism and racism undercuts the superficial lip service and pretentious posturing of so-called progressives as well as the candid contempt and proud prejudices of genuine reactionaries. King was neither perfect nor pure in his prophetic witness – but he was the real thing in sharp contrast to the market-driven semblances and simulacra of our day. Continue reading “MLK was a Radical”

A Risky Undertaking

Desmond Tutu (1931-2021).

Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.

What Racism Really Is

An excerpt from Killing Rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks (1952-2021)

A vision of cultural homogeneity that seeks to deflect attention away from or even excuse the oppressive, dehumanizing impact of white supremacy on the lives of black people by suggesting black people are racist too indicates that the culture remains ignorant of what racism really is and how it works. It shows that people are in denial. Why is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation?