Tag Archives: Religion

A Reflective Journey of No Return?

Autumn Irrigation

September 29, 2012

Some minds are well organized; others grasp information and hold onto it like a steel trap.  Mine is neither.  Yet something I read must have stuck.  I know this because it sidled up as I walk around the farm.  A while back a friend suggested I read a question posed by Ms. James on Reconciliation Ministry’s (organization) facebook page (I’d give her full name as given on the site, but I’m still not sure how public folks really intend to make their names when posting…so, take a look at the facebook page for  her full name.).  She asked, “What would a ministry to a people who want to “restore” an older set of values look like if it is led by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who emerged from its beginnings in a “restoration” movement?”  The question ties to core values.  For Ms. James, American Indians who are trying to restore ancient core values of land might benefit from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciples) because their roots were about restoring core values of the early church.  The question is fair, though finding the answer is like giving Dali’s clocks structure.

The question births other questions making the answer multifaceted.  Therefore, I will not try to jump into the middle of it at this time, but work on questions that rise up for me (American Indian Heritage Month is in November so ruminating on questions concerning American Indians and Christianity in this season seems appropriate).  However to begin, it is important to say Disciples had a run at ministering to American Indians (Yakama’s) between 1921 and 2007.  This Christian ministry, like all other Christian ministries, on and off reservations, ministering to American Tribal people, spoke out of a theology and polity based in the racist structure of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (DoD).  Though the eighty-six years of ministry saw clergy and lay folk provide invaluable medical, food, and housing resources, it is important to recognize they lived out ministry due to core values that called for civilizing an already civilized people and Christianizing an already faithful people.  Later and recent decades saw Disciples make multiple attempts at restructuring their Yakama ministry; however, by then the DoD had become normalized in the Disciple consciousness.  Such normalization blindfolded denominational leaders, which meant the restructuring of Disciples Yakama ministry simply repackaged core values of civilizing and Christianizing leaving true change withering on the roadside.

Ms. James question is an interesting one and one by which Disciples might grow and gain insight as to who they’ve been and whom they have become.  However, delving into Ms. James question requires a faithful journey into the dark abyss of Christian and American Indian relationship, exposing self and denomination structure to repugnant realities, and opening the very being of a movement to the fearful possibility of radically restructuring thought, theology, and polity; which raises the question, “are Disciples capable of standing up from a comfortable table of values, morals, theology, and polity, that serves them so abundantly, and risk a reflective journey that my never allow them to return?”

© David B. Bell 2012

Between the Ridges: George Tinker Presentation

The Rev. George Tinker preaches during an “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples” on April 27 at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

May 10, 2012

Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time writing on the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD).  The DoD, while it has yet to have little exposure in our schools or seminaries, drives much of how we think culturally and socially.  In developing my thoughts concerning the DoD, one theologians writing, George Tinker, pushed me to question how Christianity endorsed the subjugation of American land and people and how that subjugation often lead to genocide.

Between the Ridges, a local Ecumenical Collaborative of the Yakama Christian Mission—Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), White Swan and Toppenish United Methodist Churches, and Christ Episcopal Church have had the good fortune to obtain grants and raise monies to have George Tinker bring his gifts and insight to the Yakama reservation.  Below is a Flier/Write-up speaking to opportunities to hear Tinker.

Please join us!

© David B. Bell 2012


Conversations with George Tinker

Between the Ridges, an Ecumenical Collaborative on the Yakama Indian Reservation is sponsoring a day of conversations with George Tinker. 

George E. “Tink” Tinker is a prominent American Indian theologian and scholar, author of many articles and books.  Tinker is professor of American Indian cultures and religious traditions at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where he has taught since 1985. He earned his doctorate in Biblical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in 1983. He is also an ordained Lutheran pastor of Living Waters Episcopal/Lutheran Indian Ministry in Denver. Tinker is a member of the Osage Nation, and is also on the leadership council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado and director of the Four Winds Survival Project.

Tinker’s works can be categorized into many areas. Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide critiques how the Christian church and its missionaries, regardless of best intentions, were complicit with the cultural, political, and social genocide of Native Americans. Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation is concerned with eliciting the difference between Native American and White cultures and providing a critique of White categories of thought. A Native American Theology explains how Native American cultural symbols can be used to re-interpret Christianity. Throughout all Tinker’s work he is concerned with the health of the environment, the recognition of communal, not individualistic, values, the importance of being tied to the land, and the interrelatedness with all of Creation that comes with living in a spatial, communal attitude.

Two opportunities are scheduled.   A free will offering will be taken to support these events.

  • Dr. Tinker will preach at Wilbur Memorial United Methodist Church, 90 1st St, White Swan WA.  Sunday May 20 at 10 am.  This event will be followed by a brunch at the church to continue the conversation.
  • A community meal followed by program will also be held at Toppenish United Methodist Church, 210 N Beech St, Sunday Evening May 20 beginning at 5 pm.  Dr Tinker will speak and engage a diversity of voices in the community in conversation. 
  • We are also arranging other small conversations and tours for Monday, May 21.

Dr Tinker will have just led the National United Methodist Church through a season of repentance at their national convention in Florida.  The World Council of Church’s Executive Council has recently repudiated the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, a series of papal bulls and theological statements that justified the 15th Century Age of Discovery and unpins the current legal framework of international property law, tribal treaties and the dominant culture’s relationship with indigenous people.  Also in May the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous People will have the Doctrine of Christian Discovery as the main theme for their international conference.  This is a perfect time to learn more about the history of Christian mission and do the creative work necessary to explore a way forward beyond theologies that justify oppression toward a new vision of the church’s role in standing in solidarity with First Nations here in the US and with indigenous peoples around the world.

For more information and to RSVP Contact: 

David Bell, Yakama Christian Mission dave@yakamamission.org
Derel Olson, White Swan and Toppenish United Methodist Churches derel.olson@gmail.com
David Hacker, Christ Episcopal Church davidhacker916@gmail.com  509-961-4692

Fluid Repentance Digs Up Wholeness

April 29, 2012

Below is a post made yesterday on the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Church site.  You can find the original post at
http://www.pnwumc.org/gc2012/fluid-repentance-digs-up-wholeness/.  The site moderator included the image.

A part of Rev. TInker’s presentation is found in a 4 minute Youtube found at

Fluid Repentance Digs Up Wholeness

The Rev. George Tinker helps lead an April 27 “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples” at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

So, Rev. Tinker calls us to repent and restore balance to the world; does he?  A frightening call, for such balance calls for awareness and change and change does not come easily.  Tinker’s are hard words, for the Church struggles with interpreted theology that calls for change and bucks the traditional, the historical, and what is perceived as the normal – Think of today’s struggle with accepting marginalized LBGTQ folk into the fold, into leadership, and into having ordain authority to speak of their God created  life and theology to us.  Hard work, because, as Tinker notes, the Church—the people have to “dig it up, spade the ground” and find what Church and community structure historically and currently conceal from us.

Repentance can only arise and become meaningful through awareness.  The importance of Tinker’s thoughts is the challenge that the act of repentance is not a moment in time, but rather an action of ongoing awareness that is fluid.  Like a river, as we float around the next bend we experience a new willow or a new rock telling us a story we did not know before.  Tinker’s words are a call into unending repentance that comes with each new, but often old, story.  It is a call to struggle with our atrocities and the grief we’ve caused to the marginalized, to people of color, to American Tribal people.

We are called to claim history such as Methodist Col. John Chivington’s ordered killing of elderly men, women, and children at Sand Creek in 1864.  We are called to become aware and question how Methodist President Grant’s 1870 “Indian Peace Policy” supported the subjugation of American Tribal land and people by way of government-supported Christian Boarding Schools.

If we accept Tinker’s understanding of repentance, then We, the Church, must become conscious that we have a past that has been carefully “concealed” from us, that we must dig through layers of privilege to find “a lot of history to be owned,” and that with each new revelation, we must repent again.  For, as Tinker reminds us, it is only through this repetitive act of repentance that we will participate in the restoration of balance.  A balance that allows Us—the Church to one day, again, become reconciled with our marginalized sisters and brothers.

From Plow to Repentance

April 28, 2012

Below is a post I made yesterday on the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Church site.  You can find the original post at http://www.pnwumc.org/gc2012/from-plow-to-repentance/.  The sites moderator added the two images.

From Plow to Repentance

The Rev. James H. Wilbur . The image on the right shows a reed-mat covered tepee in a grassy field near Yakima, Washington. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b45839.

Having served on the Yakama Reservation for thirteen years, my interest is peaked with this evenings worship service.  The service will lead the church into a consideration of its relationship with indigenous peoples.  The Rev. Dr. George E. Tinker will give a word titled “No Apologies. Just Repent. Seriously.”  An important word for the church today because apologies have become trite and outmoded because they lend themselves to statements without action.  Apologies allow the apologizer to feel good about him or herself without entering into a relationship calling for change.

Listening to Dr. Tinker matters because the church has lived, accepted, and apologized for its past with American Indians without engaging its past in a manner that calls for a new mindset and a new structure within the church itself.  Why might this be important?

In 1860, Rev. James H. Wilbur came to the Yakama Reservation as pastor and Indian agent.  During his tenure, he ruled the landscape with a heavy hand modeling and claiming the standard of “The Plow and the Bible.”  Wilbur’s goal was to civilize and Christianize the Yakama by having them work as white men and become redeemed by accepting Methodist Christianity.  During his years as Indian agent, Wilbur removed children from their families, placed them in the Fort Simcoe agency and began to generationally remove Yakama culture—food, religion, dance, art, clothing, hair length, traditional names, and family and community structure—from their identity.  Wilbur’s actions changed people’s lives, historically and presently.

Wilbur’s is a story few within the church know and even fewer talk about.  Yet this is the church’s story.  Until the story is known, accepted, put “out in the open,” all that can be done is to make apologies.  Perhaps, this evening, with Rev. Tinker’s guidance, we will begin to move beyond apologies and enter into the hard work of action and change by taking our first steps toward repentance.

Wild Horses of the Yakama Nation

By Tamalyn Kralman

April 27, 2012

Last Saturday the JustLiving Farm and Yakama Mission hosted Spring Horse.  Spring Horse brings amateur and professional photographers together to experience the wild horses of the Yakama Reservation and to enhance their gift by developing ongoing relationships.  These photographers give us their unique perspective of the landscape.

Spring Horse 2013: April 20

By Roger Lynn

By Roger Lynn

By Doris Steeg

By Roger Lynn

By Tamalyn Kralman

By Roger Lynn

By Roger Lynn

© David B. Bell 2012

Chirping Toward Voice

April 3, 2012
JustLiving Farm

Morning feeding sometimes lends itself to a moment of consideration.  A few days ago we picked up a few chicks whose lot in life is to become this year’s egg-laying hens.  These chicks may not be the image that comes to mind when hearing the word chick.  This time of year, in our area, the image that does come to mind is all around us.  It is nearly impossible to walk into a feed store, a lumberyard, or even a clothing store and not see chicks about the size of tennis balls chirping next to a feeder under a heat lamp.  Something about Easter brings out the sellers and buyers of chicks.  However, our chicks are not the size of tennis balls.

Our chicks are two months old and at two months, they have lost their fluff and gained their feathers.  They are beginning to look like chickens, but have yet to acquire a chicken voice.  At two months, chicks continue to chirp as they did when they were tennis ball size, but there is something more to it.  The chirp has something of a hoarseness to it, kind of like the in between, breaking, voice I remember all too well from my teenage days.  Soon, though, their true chicken voices will kick in and the days of chick will be long-gone.

Finding voice is different for chicks and chickens than it is for teenagers and adults.  Speaking—having the ability to speak or chirp, is natural in most of our lives.  But finding voice, finding those thoughts which are uniquely your own, is something different, something that takes a bit of time and a lot of reflection.  Such voice might be verbal, but it might also be that which is written or formed by clay or painted on canvas or pencil on paper, or by way of camera.  Such voice is not chirping nor childish, but mature with a dash of thoughtfulness—however; such voice may rise up out of a child and be lost to an adult.

Voice does not silence the voice of another, but gives another something to ponder and consider.  Voice encourages voice.

I’m not sure why the chirping of two-month-old chicks has me thinking of voice today.  I imagine it has something to do with the darkness of Holy Week.  A time that calls for attention, consideration, and awareness of the deep and abiding hurt that has far too much presence in our communities.  Perhaps it is the riding of a colt and Travon Martin and Mathew Shepard; perhaps it is the selling of doves and John T. Williams; perhaps it is a few days before Passover, some nard and Rosa Parks, Dorothy Day, and Fannie Lou Hamer; perhaps it is Judas and I; perhaps it is a meal in a guest room and Oakland and Oikos University; perhaps it is the casting of lots, sour wine, a torn curtain and us.

Voice does not just happen.  Like so much of life, chirping comes first, then listening, then consideration, and then with the help of friends, neighbors, and elders…voice becomes.  Perhaps, today, I just begin chirping and live with the hope of voice and resurrection.

© David B. Bell 2012


Welcoming All Voices to the Loom

February 27, 2012
Yakama Mission

Something really cool happened the other day.  The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) approved a Statement on the doctrine of discovery and its enduring impact on Indigenous Peoples (WCC Statement).  Such a prophetic statement will help bring awareness of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery to Christians and people who concern themselves with issues of justice alike.

The Christian Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) has historically benefited the Christian Church (in all of its manifestations) and governments who developed and had their development out of colonization efforts (e.g., United States of America).  One example of a denomination reaping benefits from the DoD, on the American landscape, is that of my ordination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciples).  A brief outline of how the DoD benefited Disciples (first written in multiple posts on the Ridged Valley Reflections) is found in the January 1, 2012 post at Doctrine of Discovery.  The story of Disciples in relationship with the DoD is important inasmuch as it is an example of why the DoD alarms the Christian Church in America.  For what makes the DoD historically impactful is the Christian theology used to support the subjugation of non-Christian land and peoples; and because much of this theology forms the foundational identity all American Christian denominations—including that of Disciples, the apprehension is frightening.

While many church leaders will want to end theology and theological practices endorsing the subjugation of land and peoples, they will find grabbling with the DoD problematic.  For when denominational cloth has a theology of subjugation intricately woven within, the removal of those threads of subjugation will cause fear and schism.  Obtaining a denominational cloth free of subjugation theology means the existing cloth must be unwoven, threads of theological subjugation thrown away (but not forgotten), and a laborious time of theological reweaving take place.  Such work will call church leaders to find their prophetic voice in a time of fear.

Both the unweaving and reweaving are fearful because it calls for the normal of our children to be different from our own.  This fear also arises when the historical voice of privilege recognize it is not their voice reweaving the cloth.  Rather, the voices of the subjugated are the ones with their hands on the loom deciding which threads to use for a new theological fabric identifying church/denomination.  This does not mean the traditional voice is lost, but rather one among many at the loom and one that has chosen to give preference to the voice of those historically silenced.

Not all Christian churches will be able to stand such a theological process of questioning and because of it are likely to become generationally irrelevant.  However, those who embrace theological questioning of their fabric and engage in opening themselves to the Creative and Creating voice of their landscapes are likely to become relevant in tomorrow’s sunrise.

© David B. Bell 2012


January 8, 2012
JustLiving Farm
Yakama Mission

Epiphany.  There are no other days like the days of epiphany.  The Christian church holds today a bit more special than others—Jesus’ Baptism.  There are many others.  Hopefully each of us experiences epiphany, sooner or later, time and again.

One who speaks to epiphany well is Wendell Berry.  Below is a poem I had the good fortune to recently be turned on to is Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front found at In Context.

The photo is a mosaic of the “Baptism of Christ,” created in the mid-12th century. Found at the Cappella Palatina di PalermoI in Palermo, Italy.

Is possible exists between a modern writer and an artist of the 12th century?

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


The Bottomless-Pit becomes The Arch-Nemesis


August 24, 2011

If James H. Wilbur feared anything, it was non-Christian religion, or at least what he considered non-Christian.  For instance, Wilbur held little stock in Catholicism.  Like many Protestants of his era, Wilbur figured Catholicism was something other than Christian.  Understanding the Catholic faith as non-Christian, Wilbur did all he could during his tenure to keep priests off the reservation.  However, if Catholicism troubled Wilbur, the Yakama Dreamer religion terrified him.

Wilbur brought the mindset of his generation to the reservation.  Full of Santander manifest destiny, Wilbur not only knew himself and White Christians as the chosen people, which meant Yakama’s were a pagan and nearly bottomless-pit people, but also the Dreamer religion endorsed immoral behavior and held people from ever attaining salvation.  Such a mindset led to a clear conclusion, the wellbeing of Yakama’s lay in their conversion to his Christianity, and only evil would stand against conversion.

One Yakama religious leader in particular became Wilbur’s arch-nemesis.  Born sometime after 1810, Smohalla was neither a chief nor shaman, but iyánča—“one who trains or disciplines.”  Smohalla was Wilbur’s opposite.  Where Wilbur was Christian, conventional, and earth bound, Smohalla was Dreamer, prophet, and known for trances allowing him to visit the Spirit land.  Where Wilbur was six foot four and 200 pounds, Smohalla was frail and slight.  Where Wilbur had the political weight of the U.S. government and military behind him, Smohalla had his priests.

During their relationship, Smohalla never backed away from opposing Wilbur and his Christianity, and became known for his rejection of Wilbur’s “The Plow and the Bible” conversion-civilizing efforts.  Where Wilbur believed land and person became civilized the day a Yakama picked up the plow and dominated the land by physically turning the soil; Smohalla believed the plow was a destruction of spirit to both land and person.

My young men shall never work.  Men who work cannot dream, and wisdom comes to us in dreams.  [When] challenged that his people were even then hard at work digging camas in the hills, he replied: ‘…it is natural work and does them no harm.  But the work of the white man hardens soul and body.  Nor is it right to tear up and mutilate the earth as white men do.’  [When challenged further] he responded: ‘We simply take the gifts that are freely offered.  We no more harm the earth than would an infant’s fingers harm its mother’s breast.  But the white man tears up large tracts of land, runs deep ditches, cuts down forests, and changes the whole face of the earth…Every honest man know in his heart that this is all wrong.

Smohalla and Wilbur stood on opposite sides of a theological fence.  On the one hand, Wilbur understood human domination over Creation as a requirement of God.  On the other hand, Smohalla believed the Creator created on a horizontal-equal plane and no part of creation has a right to dominion over another.  Smohalla, therefore, not only places all people as equal to one another, but also believes a collaborative state should exist between people, land, animals and wind.

Smohalla’s theology arises at the July 31, 1871 council meeting with Indian Commissioner Felix R. Brunot held in Wilbur’s church.

This is our land. We have been planted and grown like a tree on the land.  As a tree is valuable on the land, so is our being planted here good for the land.  First was the earth, then riches was placed in it, then man was placed on it.  It is good for man and woman to be together on the earth; a home is given and they are placed in it.  We do not know how the earth was made, nor do we say who made it.  The earth was peopled and their hearts are good, and my mind is that it is as it ought to be.  The world was peopled by whites and Indians and they should all grow as one flesh

Brunot’s response best reflects the theology of Wilbur’s church,

You have not got it quite right.  God was first.  He made the earth and all things.  He made the whites and Indians; the whites away to the East, the Indians here.  God gave the white man the Bible to tell about Him.  The white and red men were all bad once, God took pity on them and sent His Son to die, instead of having all the people die.  We would have you learn from this.

Brunot’s response maintains the manifest destiny theology of White people as the chosen people of God, who are privileged with a secret knowledge, and who are called to tell and convert those whom God has chosen not to privilege with such knowledge.  Brunot’s response endorses and preserves Wilbur’s system of Yakama subjugation.

All though Brunot and the U.S. government imbue Wilbur with power and privilege over the Yakama people, he is unable to bring an end to Smohalla and the Dreamer religion.  Smohalla continued to influence the Yakama people by centering his activities in Priest Rapids, while his priests held worship services throughout the reservation.  Smohalla’s tenacity is evident to this day; the Dreamer religion stands equal to Christianity on the Yakama reservation.

© David B. Bell 2011

The Freaking of a Pope

Alexander VI

July 6, 2011

(Previous posts on the Doctrine can be found by clicking on the “Doctrine of Discovery” category at… http://wp.me/POlE)

Word of Colón’s return and stories of land previously unknown to Europeans preceded his March 15, 1493 arrival to Barcelona.  The mistaken European belief of land not currently under the rule of an European empire was open for the taking unnerved Pope Alexander VI.

Christianity had come a long way since Emperor Constantine.  Now settled solidly into the political structure of many European empires, Alexander recognized a wholesale rush to claim land was surely to create conflict, lead to wars, and damage Christian church power.  Alexander’s fear led him to write a number of papal bulls concerning the probable conflict rising from the claiming of non-European land.  His most important bull concerning indigenous peoples throughout the world was the Inter Caetera papal bull on May 4, 1493 where he declared “his desire that ‘barbarous nations’ be overthrown or subjugated and brought to the Catholic faith and Christian religion ‘for the honor of God himself and for the spread of the Christian Empire.’”  Through this writing, Alexander made it clear that by the authority that the Almighty God conferred upon the vicarship of Jesus Christ, any land not currently under the purview of a Christian king or prince is granted to those “kings of Castile and Leon, forever.”

Through the Inter Caetera papal bull, Pope Alexander VI provides Spain with the legal Christian authority to conquer all non-Christian indigenous nations.  Thus begins the Christian Doctrine of Discovery.

© David B. Bell 2011