Thursday, March 13, 2008


Tears almost surfaced as I read the intro to the essay. I was standing in the UC Berkley book store. I had picked the book up at random. Writing the Range is a collection of essays dealing with women in western history. The article I was reading discussed the impact of a particularly significant missionary's wife on the Native American people her husband worked with. She had civilized them. 
My eyes watered as I read, not because it was poignantly written, the portion of the article I read was academic and direct. I held back tears in a public bookstore because my heart was breaking for a people who had had their identity stolen from them in the name of Christ. My heart was stirred with frustration and pain as I lamented how civilized Christianity has become, and how destructive it is in the civilization process. 
I am fully aware that I was reading history, but I fear that it is a history that we have failed to learn from. My heart breaks for the history that missionaries have created, and the story that many are still writing. In many ways it is still the story of outsiders robbing people of their culture in order to make them 'Christian'. Someone tell me where Jesus says that you must be dressed in western attire to be a follower? Where does Jesus condemn tribal life? Where does Christ call us to be civilized? Indeed on many levels I feel that God calls us to be less civilized than we are, to follow the teachings we have been given with reckless abandon toward the rules of order in this world. 'give all that you have to the poor' Who would call that a civilized way to live?
I didn't have time to finish the article. I made it far enough to read that the arthur intended to show that despite efforts to civilize them the people had found ways to maintain something of their heritage. There was also the assertion that it was possible that the missionaries were helpful in easing the process of change that would eventually come as the west was settled. Still I wonder what would have happened to the Native American's of this country if the missionaries had chosen an alternative approach. What if instead of helping Native people become more like us, missionaries had sided with the Native people? How would the story have changed if we saw the gospel as a fulfillment of the stories that people are already in? 
I believe in the power of truth to change the way we live, even to the point of changing cultures. With that understanding I feel that we must be even more careful of what it is we are trying to change. 
I was surprised by my reaction to the essay. I was in a book store on the verge of tears. 

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