This is the third part of the "More Love....and Some Civility" series that I began on 1/18/13. I am thankful, again, to our dog, Duchess. Our long walk today gave me "conversion room" for the many images that have been moving through my right brain since about 5:30am this morning. This bears repeating: I am not a politician, political scientist or sociologist. I am a theologian, an Episcopal Priest retired from 33 yrs of parochial ministry...with a strong science background and 6 yrs service in the U.S. Navy. Those are the tools I bring to the table with these writings.
Yesterday, I saw a very disturbing picture on Facebook. It came through one of the many special interest group pages that a friend had received and passed along...I suspect fully believing what it represented to the viewer of that picture. It is something like a 19th century romantic scene...solemn, dark, with light streaming toward a center stage area. Around the stage were assembled all kinds of folks...presumably American citizens. Most all were caucasion. They had that Hans Holbein sort of ambiance...wholesome, vital, and solemn. They were all staring at the center of the stage.
On the stage stood a tall image of Jesus...the very kind created in the image of the Western European 19th Century mind...light colored hair, bluish eyes and light skin. Yep, what some of us clergy call "the American Jesus." What that Jesus was holding in his right hand was a copy of the Constitution. Here it is:
The caption asked us to "like" if we believed ourselves to be a "God fearing" nation. It was a group seeking to keep "In God We Trust" on our printed money and "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. We were to "scroll on" if we didn't believe that.
Uh, I scrolled on...as a matter of principle...not on a basis of faith. Look at that picture. America was never like that. Sorry, but it is total romance. It has absolutely nothing to do with Faith, Belief, Jesus or God. Really.
In that picture, I do not see a single Indigenous Person (read: Native American, First Nations), who received the first sojourners; saved them from starvation and then, beginning in that generation, were subjected to nearly 200 years of systematic removal in one of the boldest attempts at genocide in world history. In there I see but a single African-American, whose enslavement marked nearly half of the nation's population in 1861..and upon whose backs most of the early fabric of this nation was built. In there I do not see a single Chinese person, who were regularly "shanghaied" from their homes and families; brought into California and subjected to a kind of slavery to build the western half of the first transcontinental railroad. I do not see the poor, the dirty or those whose labor and sacrifice built the industries who are fronted by "magnates" whom we call pioneers of industry (some of them presumably shown in the picture).
This is definitely not the Jesus of history...the Gospels...or the one that confronts me in the depths of contemplation. It is the Jesus that we want for ourselves...justifying the work of our egos and our rampant individualism. It is the Jesus of "Manifest Destiny."
E Pluribus Unum
The Great Seal of the United States was formally adopted in 1782...after three attempts at a design that the Continental Congress believed captured the spirit of our founding as a nation. Though the designs changed, the Motto did not. From the first, the national motto has been: E Pluribus Unum.
The direct translation: Out of Many, One. The action of that phrase: Many Uniting Into One.
The founders and framers of this particular nation intended that we would be forged into a people whose hearts and minds would come together. Incidently, the first rejected seal was not that of an eagle as centerpiece. It was a shield which reflected the countries who were "landed" and formed the colonies: England, Ireland, France, Holland and Germany. Already, in 1782, other nationalities were beginning to arrive. The clear intent was that strength would come out of the bonding of people into a community with shared principles...those principles would emerge as the Constitution.
"In God We Trust" was never on any of our official national materials until...get this...1956. It had been tried out twice before, but began officially appearing on all minted/printed monies in 1957. Why? It was the age of the Cold War. It was also the era of Joe McCarthy and the hunt for communists in all areas of our society. Actually, it was an ugly time...I was still pretty young (born in 1950), but I remember our parents using the term "witch hunt" on several occasions. Great fear was injected into our culture. Congress wanted to further isolate elements of the cold war with the introduction of "In God We Trust"....distinguishing a supposedly atheist communism of the Soviet Bloc and the (really) nominal Christian stance of the Free World. (sociological note: the actual population of Russia has been/is overwhelmingly Orthodox...eastern Christian. It was the ideological tenet of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat that was atheistic)
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, by Francis Bellamy, who was a Baptist minister and Christian Socialist. He was also the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy (all this makes for some interesting reading). The original Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Congress adopted the Pledge officially in 1942 and did so with changes that rendered this:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The move to include, "under God," began in 1952 with the Knights of Columbus petitioning President Truman...who took it seriously. Congress did not. After some further efforts, President Eisenhower introduced a bill to Congress with the change which Congress adopted. The current version of the Pledge of Allegiance was signed into law 14 June 1954.
When one finds out what really happened and some of the causal realities of what we currently have, a lot of romanticism is stripped away.
Long before the official seal and the pledge were even thought of, something much worse and profoundly ugly began. The population of the Native American (Indigenous) cultures, in the part of North America that became the United States, was roughly 30 million at the time that the first permanent settlement in Jamestown and then at Plymouth. After the Wounded Knee Massacre, near Pine Ridge, in 1890, it is estimated that the total number of indigenous peoples living in the United States was a little more than 250,000.
Please stop and take that in. In a bit more than 200 years of our history on this soil, over 29 million Native American peoples disappeared...many of the nations disappearing altogether...extinct! Jamestown: est 1607. Plymouth: est 1620. St. Augustine (Spanish): est 1565.
Each of the English settlements began with something of a working relationship with the Indigenous cultures established in their midst. In fact, the only reason Plymouth colony survived was because the Wampanoag people fed them through two terrible winters. Jamestown survived with the help of the Pumunkey Tribe of the Algonquan Nation. Chief Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, is a famous part of that history.
Within 10 years of settlement, the English determined that they wanted more land to expand and farm. When various Indigenous groups pushed back a little to keep lands sacred to them, fighting began. Thus, we engaged a long and ugly history of simply taking what we wanted and ridding the land of the people in our way.
After the War of 1812, there began a huge influx of population and the push to expand from Atlantic to Pacific. In 1845 the New York journalist/editor, John L. O'Sullivan wrote an article that appeared in two publications. In that article he stated, "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our multiplying millions."
Thus was born what became both a clarion cry and a "theological" justification for the wholesale theft of land and genocide of indigenous peoples. Manifest Destiny. Sorry folks, it is nothing less than that.
I am writing this for two distinct reasons.
1) We take pride in our democracy and our freedom. In large measure that democracy was, in its genesis, exclusive to white, European males who owned land in the colonies. Those were the only folks eligible to vote. After the full ratification of the Constitution, it was extended to all white European males. We are here now, having secured rights for most everyone. But we are mired in a fight about whose statement of rights and freedom is more "traditional." None of them. We have romanticized ourselves nearly out of the reality of how we got here today.
2) I began a project in 2007 that has taken me on a journey that has jarred me to my soul and, along with other encounters, has been transformative to my very nature. The Rev. Dr. Lyle Noisy Hawk is an Episcopal Priest and Psychotherapist. He is full-blooded Lakota (Hunkpapa Council). He spent most of his career on Pine Ridge Reservation (Oglala Lakota Council) and co-founded the mental health facility at the hospital at Kyle. He has been one of my mentors in the project. In a conversation with him in 2008, he shared with me these words: we First Nations people are seen as a conquered people...pushed into small parcels of mostly non-productive land...stripped of both our rituals and our dignity...a depression now exists in our very DNA that must be removed...we are a third world people in a first world country...only citizens in name...and that only grudgingly.
This project is emerging as something NOT from me as a white male of Western European descent. It is coming from the part of me that is identical to that of every human being on the planet...the Self that is the imago of God...the True Self.
We have a deep wound that continues to bleed. None of us...nope not one of us...can call ourselves "not a part" of this near genocide. I own a townhome on land that belonged to the Calusa Nation...a people nearly eradicated by the Spanish. I owned a home in Lee's Summit, MO that was on land that belonged to the Osage and Missouri. Our forebears did not buy this land. They simply took it.
We cannot undo what has been done. It is history. We must, however, own its truth. If we want to share pictures of what it means to be an American, it had better be one where Indigenous People are prominently present. Our nation is built on top of their blood and bones. We simply need to admit that and do something about it that begins healing this oozing wound...or we will never truly know freedom.
Done for now. This one took a lot to speak.