Tag Archives: DOC

Three Events Five Days

February 3, 2014

I’m on to my second of three gatherings in five days.  One is grounded in the wellbeing of the landscape.  Another is engaged in mending creation.  And the last one seeks to understand hurting creation.

Yesterday I enter the space of Sacred Hoop, a congregational ministry, as folk blessed their place of meeting.  This is a blessing of great significance.  For the undertaking of Sacred Hoop is not easy.  Sacred Hoop arises from the Native voice of the local landscape and brings with it a landscape theology rooted in an equitable relationship of reciprocity with Creation.  In other words, that which makes up Sacred Hoop (the congregation you might say) encompasses the whole of Creation.  Not an easy place to exist when your structural roots lie in the soil of an anthropocentric denomination, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who struggles with biocentric theologies of harmony.  Yet, if these roots of familial creation become the first to survive then the soil will begin to mend.  That is worth a blessing!

Winter Talk begins today.  The next three days is a birthing as well.  For the first time, folk in the denomination of Sacred Hoops origin will come together to begin a conversation of what it might mean to become accountable to the land and the people of the Americas.  With indigenous voices at the forefront Winter Talk folk will explore how accountability to Creation might lead to a mending of the American landscape.

The last gathering is on Thursday as the anthropocentric soil of Sacred Hoops origin has a conversation at to why American indigenous people have been held at the margins since conception.  Not an easy conversation when marginalization has been normalized for generations.  Yet, the richness is in the conversation.  And conversation has the ability to lead to landscape mending and an end of Creational suffering.

It should be a number of days of incredible conversation.  I look forward to talking about it in the near future!

Steady Snow, Steady Homes


September 29, 2013

Last Tuesday was known for an open blue sky, warm low-50’s, and visibility way down river.  It’s been snowing ever since.  At first snow was heavy and wet.  Then with a temperature drop the snow turned light, steady, and on/off.  This has resulted in a white-green landscape with bare gravel roads throughout the village.

Good weather last Tuesday also allowed our second team to arrive.  With eleven folk on the ground, home repair has been as steady as snow.  This has resulted in the team, the first and second now is acting and working as one, finishing four of five homes.  The fifth, with a Sunday half-day of work, is now roughly half finished.

Not bad considering the weather has not allowed a flight since Tuesday to bring materials for the homes or food for the team.  It has only taken a bit of scrounging for materials and a bit of bartering for food to repair buildings and feed folk—it ain’t as bad as it sounds.

Tomorrow is a day of funeral.  One homeowner passed since we arrived and finished home repairs.  What that calls for, from us, I am not sure.  A few of us sat in the community hall last night, eating moose soup, and trying to learn a regional card game.  What I found, again (this seems to be the norm of my life), is three weeks in any community isn’t enough time to learn how to flip a card, say “hi,” or have a clue as to what to expect in a Athabaskin-Koyukon, village of Hughes,  funeral service.  But ya gotta make a guess to figure out some type of timeline to complete work before it is time to leave, right?  So, figuring on tomorrow being somewhat like a funeral day back home, I’m figuring an all-day affair.  Therefore, it is good to have gotten in a half-day of work so there is time to be present tomorrow.

© David B. Bell 2013

Autumn on the Koyukuk


September 14, 2013

Late fall.  Not often does mid-September come along—the autumnal equinox still a good week away, and the trees and shrubs are fully expressing their gold’s and red’s and giving some serious thought to dropping their leaves altogether, and I get to watch.  Really, it has only happened once before.

Four years ago the spring breakup sent ice chunks, the size of houses down the Yukon River.  Nothing new, the ice breaks up every spring on Alaskan rivers.  That year though, ice got wedged downriver from Eagle, Alaska.  The wedging caused a dam.  The dam backed up the Yukon raising it well over thirty feet, which in turn flooded the community of Eagle.  That year, Katherine and I joined other folk from the lower 48 rebuilding and repairing homes in Eagle and other similarly flooded communities along the Yukon.  When we arrived, a tree here and there sported a few leaves of color.  Three weeks later, days had lost an hour and three quarter of day light, every deciduous tree had moved from green to yellow, orange, gold, and red, and those trees who sported the leaves of color weeks before were now bare.  For Katherine and I, that was a first.  Now we are about to watch it again.

Disciples Volunteering is one many Faith-based groups asked to return to the Alaskan Yukon.  Like before, last May’s ice didn’t flow well, bunched up, and flooded a number of communities.  A message came a month ago that Galena needed a crew to help repair community buildings and homes.  I had haying to get done and Katherine had a dissertation to complete, so when folk left on Labor Day we were sitting on a tractor and in front of a computer.

Then a call came saying a remote Alaskan native village on the Koyukuk River had been damaged as well, no repair work had been done and there were no available volunteers.  FEMA asked Josh Baird of Disciples Volunteering if he might pull together one more crew who might be able to handle the stress of flying into community—that makes Eagle look like a city, and complete repairs.  A few days later, sitting in the back seat of a three seat Cessna, I watched the landscape change from green to bright colors as a FEMA housing representative, the pilot, and I flew from Fairbanks to Hughes.

Bounded by the Koyukuk River to the north and a ridge to the south, I walked through Hughes a few hours later.  There isn’t a whole lot of folk in Hughes to begin with and there were a lot fewer that day, after all, moose hunting season had just opened.  Continue reading

A Time To Talk


August 1, 2013
The following is a note penned by Bill Running Wolf after the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly.

Osiyo Ditsadanvtli a le Ditsadalvi,

This past week  in Orlando, Florida resolution GA-1324 Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice was brought before the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The purpose of the resolution was to encourage the members of the denomination to begin the process of examining how the Doctrine of Discovery has helped frame the theology and polity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) both historically and in the contemporary church. Within the past four years only [ a few] other denominations and the World Council of Churches have addressed this vital issue and repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. The Rev. David Bell states “The Christian Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine) is a body of work beginning in the 15th century with a series of papal bulls and theological statements justifying the Age of Discovery and the colonization, conquest, subjugation of lands and peoples around the world. During the next 500 years, religio-political empires fashioned edicts, court decisions, treaties, and laws enhancing discovery efforts.” Today most Christian denominations and congregations actively and passively continue to treat Native Americans as second class and seek to fully assimilate Native Peoples into mainline Christian culture.

Last Wednesday, July 17, the General Assembly passed this resolution with a unanimous vote. This was an enormous step towards bringing the Native Voice into mainline Christianity and putting an end to over 500 years of religious abuse, oppression and exploitation. While there is still much to be done in order to bring the denomination to the place of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery there is now great hope of that day arriving. This would not have been possible without the work of Rev. David Bell and his wife Belinda of White Swan, Washington as well as the support team who put the resolution together and the churches in the Northwest Region who sponsored it.

The next step proceeds now with the Christian Church (Diciples of Christ) committee that was formed at the General Assembly. It’s members include many volunteers from across the country and with the Rev. David Bell to help guide the journey. The Rev. Dr. Bill McCutchen and I currently represent the Native Voice Continue reading

In 1492 Columbus Sailed The Ocean Blue


July 18, 2013

The folk of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (DOC) passed the resolution, GA1324: Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice!  It has taken years to get to this point, but now, the people of the DOC have said, “perhaps we should take some time and wonder whether or not the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (DOD) influenced our Theology, our Polity and Structure, and most of all, our relationship with American Indians and First Nations People.”  The exploration may not be an easy one in the years to come, but one which is sure to expand our vision of Creator and Creation.

Much is to come, however, a beginning, on this day after adoption on GA1324, can be found in the reflections of Keith Watkins in his observation The Christian Doctrine of Discovery.  Additionally, the full text asking the body of the DOC to risk years, if not generations, exploring the DOD’s influence in their development—theology and polity—and actions is found below.


Many of us grew up with the phrase, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Some of us honored it, some of us did not.  What we did not learn is Columbus’ return to Barcelona, Spain set of a series of papal bulls, edicts, court decisions, treaties, and laws that enhanced the age of discovery, which today we call the Christian Doctrine of Discovery.

Furthermore, what few of us learned was the ensuing European colonization of indigenous lands could not have occurred as it did, to the length it did, without the approval of and the theological underpinning of the Christian Church.

The bull Romanus Pontifex in 1455 and Pope Alexander VI’s 1493 bull Inter Caetera laid out a European structure of discovery which allowed any Christian king or prince to claim and subjugate indigenous landscapes and people not already under the purview and conquest of another Christian king or prince.  That underpinning lead to five hundred years of Christian theological development that supported the suppression of indigenous people of color throughout the world.

In the America’s, this Christian underpinning led to Supreme Court Justice John Marshal’s decision on the 1823 case Johnson vs. M’Intosh, in which he asserted, “Conquest gives a title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny.”  This decision created the basic legal framework of U.S. government and American indigenous nation’s relationships, which continue to this day.

Marshal’s decision enhanced the development of Christian thought which led to the development of the 1845 U.S. expansionist phrase, Manifest Destiny.  Embedded within Manifest Destiny is the Christian theological argument of The Great Commission, interpreted during this era as a Christian mandate to “overspread and to possess the whole of the continent.”

This matters to us, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), for the preference for European conquest, The Great Commission, and Manifest Destiny, was not lost on our early leaders.  Writing on, “The Destiny of Our Country,” in the August 1852 edition of the Millennial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell stated, “in our countries destiny is involved the destiny of Protestantism, and in its destiny the destiny of all the nations of the world.  God has given, in awful charge, to Protestant England and Protestant America—the Anglo-Saxon race—the fortunes, not of Christendom only, but of all the world.”

This matters to us, because, as Howard Thurman said when writing about segregation, “Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume segregation to be normal—if normal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then religious.”  Because our roots were planted in a time of U.S. expansionism and extreme racist conflict, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is called to wonder if our religious underpinnings, our theology and our polity, are grounded in the Christian Doctrine of Discovery.

This also matters to us because the Doctrine of Discovery continues to damage indigenous landscapes and people.

  • In 2005 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court on a case between the City of Sherrill and Oneida Indian Nation that because roughly 200 years had elapsed before the Oneida tried to reestablish ownership of ancestral lands, they could no longer assert tribal immunity.  The first footnote of the decision says, “Under the ‘doctrine of discovery’… lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign–first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.”
  • In 2012 the Canadian Omnibus Budget Bill C-45 (Jobs and Growth Act) removed self-rule of First People Nations and their environmental protection of over nearly 5 million bodies of water, leaving only 97 lakes protected.

This also matters to us because we are a people of a welcoming and open table.  Yet, when we look around the people of the ancient people on which our table resides are not here with us.

The Yakama and Cherokee, the Crow and Laguna, the Cree and Mahove, the Chicasaw and Algonkin, the Kickapoo and Dakota, the Choctaw and Timucua (tee-moo-kwa) are not at our table.

We are called to, question why our sisters and brothers whose ancestry resides in the landscape of the Americas are not with us.  For without them we have no balance, our gait is uneven, our soil unstable.  Without them we are not whole and the wind is only the wind and the voice of the ancients, of the cloud of witness, is lost.  Without them, our children’s children will live in a landscape whose harmony is in discord.

For these reasons, the signers of this resolution ask the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to approve Resolution 1324: Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice and begin a generational walk of exploring these and the incurring questions that are sure to arise.

We ask this, because the writers and supporters of this resolution believe that if we commit to and develop a passion for the inclusion of America’s and the world’s indigenous people to our table, and if we become accountable to their voices, then our children’s children may one day experience the harmony and the shalom, that certainly is eternally theirs.

© David B. Bell 2013

The Doctrine of Discovery Trinity


April 06, 2013

Balancing Theology, Polity, and the Indigenous Voice is an “Item For Reflection And Research” document moving through the process that leads to its consideration at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in July 2013.  The following is based on an argument I learned from Sarah Augustine about how Christendom (the Christian Church and European nations) justified the Doctrine of Discovery.

A century before the voyage of Columbus, Pope Nicholas V wrote the papal bull Romanus Pontifex (1455).  The bull followed-up his 1452 bull Dum Diversas which permitted Alfonso V of Portugal to place pagans, specifically Saracens (Muslims) into generational slavery.  In writing Romanus Pontifex Nicholas V enhanced his early bull by allowing the subjugation of non-Christian land and peoples by Catholic/Christian nations.  A century later, in 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter Caetera.  This bull fashioned the last bit of theology needed to endorse the colonization desires of Christian European nations, by asserting that once a Christian nation claimed and subjugated a land and people, no other Christian nation could occupy and claim that particular geographic landscape.  These three bulls, Romanus Pontifex, Dum Diversas, and Inter Caetera are the theological documents of the Christian Church that serve as the Doctrine of Discovery’s documents of origin.  In time, other theological and secular documents led to a political philosophy that cumulated in Emer de Vattel’s 1758 work The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and of Sovereigns, which influenced the development of United States law and legislation.

The Law of Nations is but one of many works making up the body of laws, edicts, bulls, pronouncements, and books that make up the body of work called the Doctrine of Discovery.  Long before Vattel’s work though, the Doctrine of Discovery created a systemic worldwide slavery trade, supported the genocide of indigenous people, and the robbery of non-European land resources.  There are many theological, political, and business oriented writings endorsing the subjugation of non-European land and peoples, however three concepts, two of which are Christian, led Pope Nicholas V, Alexander VI and their successors to believe worldwide European conquest and colonization appropriate: The Great Commission, Terra nullius, and Romans 13.

The Christian Testament’s gospel of Mathew speaks of what folk call The Great Commission.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus reappears to the eleven remaining disciples on a mountain in Galilee.  There Jesus says,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (MT 28:18-20)

The concept to make disciples of all nations became a foundational concept of the Christian religion.  As Christianity grew into a dominate religion of European empires after the Roman Emperor Constantine  legitimized it in 313 C.E., Christian leaders began to take advantage of power gained in a Religion/State relationship and soon the notion of Christianizing the world became embedded into national laws.

Terra nullius comes from the Roman legal concept of res nullius—things without owners.  Res nullius allowed nations to develop the idea of land without owner, leading to the concept of terra nullius.  By occupying and subjugating a terra nullius, a nation obtains sovereignty over that territory.  Such occupation meant indigenous peoples were not only not owners of the landscape they had lived within since ancient times, but because of their primitive-pagan state, they were also not fully human and because they were sub-people without political order they were a people not capable of negotiations.  Thus, all non-Christian lands were open to occupation and all non-Christian people open to perpetual slavery.

The last concept arises from Romans 13 of the Christian Testament.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  (vv. 1-4)

Christian European empires used Romans 13: 1-4 to argue they obtained their authority and dominion because God ordained it so.  Such a theological construct gave European empires the God given right to bear the sword and impose genocide upon any land and people whom they believed the wrongdoer.

Together these three concepts allowed Pope Nicholas V, Alexander VI, and successors to argue; the Great Commission imposes an order from God to convert the world to Christianity; Christians and Christian states have the right to occupy and subjugate non-Christian terra nullius; and should the people of terra nullius refuse to become Christian and recognize the States ordained authority, then as a servant of God the State must execute wrath and place the people into perpetual slavery at best, or to the sword at worst.

© David B. Bell 2013

Tape Talk


The following reflection is by Kate VanHaren.

March 5, 2013

There are simple things in life that seem to interest everyone no matter culture, beliefs or age.  Duct tape is one of those special items.  Nobody ever seems to have anything bad to say about it. In fact, most people have their own anecdote about how it prevented damage to a tool, saved a project, or even stopped blisters on feet during a long backpacking trip. The wonders of duct tape are once again being witnessed in the afterschool program.  Some of the kids are falling victim to the winter lull and sometimes it is difficult to motivate them to participate in projects.  Belinda suggested starting duct tape crafts again and the adventure began.

I don’t know if you have bought duct tape recently, but the company has progressed far beyond the silver rolls that are difficult to find inside a hardware store. In a sign that duct tape has progressed with the changing times, you can now buy Sponge Bob, zebra print, and camouflage rolls.   There are now whole aisles dedicated to it.

As the kids were making their duct tape wallets, bags, and pencil flowers, the always inevitable duct tape discussions occurred. Duck tape is actually a brand name not the actual name. This let into another enlightening conversation about the difference between Kleenex and face towels.    The woman at the hardware store mentioned a video about how an Alaskan pilot salvaged his bear ravaged seaplane with duct tape. Most of the kids had also seen this video and were equally impressed. My favorite moment of the week was watching two girls make a “dress” out of duct tape, plastic bags and construction paper. If anyone would have asked them to partake in this activity, they would have rolled their eyes at the ridiculousness.   Duct tape on the other hand has a magical ability to make people do fun and silly things.

There is a huge amount of disconnect between generations in this world.  Kids in My Future told me its difficult talking to their parents because they have nothing in common.   I experienced this first hand. Music and TV shows that were popular when I was in high school ten years ago are now considered “retro.” It’s a small relief to know that some things like fascination with duct tape remain the same. I hope some of the kids will go home and say things like “Mom, you are not going to believe what I made out of duct tape today” and the discussion continue. Starting a conversation between kids and older adults is often the most difficult part of talking.    Conversation may seem like a small step, but it’s an important one in relationship building. I don’t think duct tape has the power to solve the problems of conversation or the world, but then you never know…it seems to fix everything else.
© David B. Bell 2013