This week I watched almost all of the Festival of Homiletics online. I applaud the FoH team for moving to an online platform and doing their very best to make an event that was meaningful and accessible to many. The topic of climate change is important and I appreciate the work it took to move the conference into internet availability, so that these important conversations could happen.
What is difficult, though, in the online format is that it was easy to see who was at the table and who wasn’t, at least for the free content on the website this week. I did pay for the additional content, which will be accessible on 1 June. I am aware that I am making judgments on the presenters based on their self-identifications, not on my full knowledge of them. With that caveat, I was really shocked not to see any indigenous people as preachers or presenters in this week’s offerings. The absence of land acknowledgments struck me as significant because even in an online space, the land matters. That was the whole point of the conference. How can we do better about this when it seems quite clear that online space is going to take more and more precedence in the era of COVID-19 and if we are truly desirous of combatting climate change.
Toward the goal of understanding more about the significance of indigenous voices in the social, political, and educational landscape, I recommend Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice. In this book, Curtice intertwines her experience of rediscovering and being reclaimed by her Potawatomi heritage, which required decolonizing her experience of God and, in large capacity, church.
Curtice explains that the journey of coming to understand ourselves is actually required of all people:
As humans, we are simply asked to walk in the mystery of our identities one day at a time, one step at a time, one question at a time. We are simply asked to know and be known with the whole of creation and our relatives in humanity. But to do that, we have to accept, challenge, and process who we are along the way.54
Without self-examination, with help from Creator and creation, we will fail to understand our own identity. Without an identity coming from within, we will accept one from without- sold to us as a commodity from a white-centered, white-centering colonizing, patriarchal societal structure.
Curtice explains that there are voices that are not heard in the church, not considered important to spiritual work, and often only sought out for the right look on panels or to hear, but not to truly listen to. When the white church calls up Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color (BIPOC), the white church must understand that we are asking for more than a lecture or a sermon. BIPOC are not able to trust, for the most part, that white audiences are partners in the work of change. This means that BIPOC are not providing tools because the conversations are rarely to that stage. BIPOC, as leaders in religious communities, are often putting forth the emotional labor to make white people WANT to do the work. Curtice, like others before her, points out how tiring this is.
Curtice’s compelling writing underscores that the issue of healing the planet is only possible when we confront the whole truth of how the land- solid matter, water, air, and spirit- came to be in its present state. That will not happen unless we truly listen to the land and the memories it contains, especially the memories of its first people.
This is not possible to do if our school narratives include the idea that American Indians and Alaska Natives, along with First Nations people around the world, belong to the “then” and have no location in the “now”. It is not possible if Native voices, owning Native spirituality, do not have a space at the communion rail, at the pulpit, the council table, and in the work of discipleship.
In the present circumstances, you may be tempted to put this book off until you have more energy. I promise, Native will give you energy. Curtice’s prose is extremely readable and she writes of her own experience, with insight from others, and encouragement for how to ponder the points she makes.
It is my sincere hope that enough people will read her book, think deeply about her words, and pray over God’s urging within them that next year’s Festival of Homiletics would begin with a land acknowledgment delivered by an indigenous representative, local to the location of the conference. And may those who hear it, instead of feeling proud that it happened, sit with the holy discomfort that it stirs. Because it will. And it must.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.
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