Listening to the shout of the buffalo

711RFfl8btL _SL1350_By Byron Rempel-Burkholder

I work out of a home office in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The name of our city means Muddy Waters in the Cree language, a reference to the lake of the same name, sixty kilometers north of here.  Manitoba is also an aboriginal phrase, “Straits of the Great Spirit,” recalling a narrow strip of Lake Manitoba, our other large lake, where the water makes a gentle noise as it ripples over rocks. Early inhabitants took this to be the voice of God.

I think about these things more these days after working with a new book that is due to the printers this week: Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together. This collection of eighteen essays will disturb anyone who reads it, but in a deep-down good way. Written by indigenous and “settler” North Americans, it explores the ways these groups have interacted with each other, both historically and currently.

It’s not usually a pretty picture. Land has been stolen. Cultures have been decimated. The sacred earth has been, and continues to be, overtaken by personal and corporate interests. Our First Nations communities experience brokenness as a result. The church, sadly, has been an accomplice in the colonization of this continent. This book names and showcases guilt and brokenness.

That’s the disturbing part. But Buffalo Shout is also about hope. That editor Steve Heinrichs was able to assemble writers from both settler and indigenous communities so that they talk together is, in itself, a promising achievement.  Each essay is bookended with short creative poems, prayers, or reflections by someone from the other heritage. Each writer shows enormous respect for the others’ voices, even if they may not agree on everything or fully understand the complex issues.

Steve Heinrichs, editor for this book.

Steve Heinrichs, editor for this book.

The voices in this book are as diverse as you can imagine. In something of a bold move for Herald Press, we are allowing voices that challenge our own cherished assumptions as Christians and as Anabaptists—recognizing that we must listen to them if the healing we wish for is ever to occur. For at least one aboriginal essayist, Christianity itself was discredited in the way his people were colonized—while others writers in the book  have valued Christian faith even as they recover their own heritage.

As I did the editorial work on this astounding collection, I could swivel my chair and view the dome of our provincial legislative building where politicians continue to make decisions that affect our First Nations community.

The dome of our provincial legislative building: decisions impact our First Nations community.

The dome of our provincial legislative building: decisions impact our First Nations community.

And below my window I see the garden where I till the same land that a Scott, James E. Lang, bought in 1863, more than a decade before Treaty One came into effect, governing how this land would be used—land that the first peoples never thought could be “owned.” After the treaty was signed, as the new city of Winnipeg began encroaching on his farm, Lang moved to southern Manitoba to the Rousseau River area. Here, more cheap land was available because the first inhabitants were being moved onto reserves.

Looking at the same land that a Scott, James E. Lang, bought in 1863. (From our garden last year.)

Looking at the same land that a Scott, James E. Lang, bought in 1863. (From our garden last year.)

When I till our garden—I wonder how to come to terms, personally, with this history. Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry gets me thinking and, I hope, acting. I look forward to having it in my hands next month.

And just for good measure, see what others are saying about the book:

“Superb! For centuries our misunderstandings and conflicts have accumulated…. But in this book the issues are opened, offering information and insights and resolutions that amaze our usual thinking. Read it carefully; with a prayer for understanding.”
—Rudy Wiebe, novelist and co-author with Yvonne Johnson of Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman

 

“This invaluable collection calls us to decolonize theology and interrogate how the logics of settler colonialism have infused Christianity. At the same time, it refuses the temptation to replace one metanarrative with another.”
—Andrea Smith, author of Native Americans and the Christian Right

 

“Steve Heinrichs has edited a courageous and urgent book. The voices that speak here sound from outside the theo-political, social-economic domination system of our society. The book is an invitation to rethink both policy and attitude. Attention must be paid!”—Walter Brueggemann, theologian, Columbia Theological Seminary

 

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry offers precisely the sort of dialogue essential to the establishment at long last of respectful relations between peoples in this hemisphere. No less are such conversations necessary to the forging of a sustainable relationship between humans and the rest of creation. Steve Heinrichs is to be commended for having assembled this book.”
—Ward Churchill, author of Struggle for the Land

 

“Mind blowing. Once you read the book, you will never look at the world, or your place within it, the same way again. The voices within these covers offer sobering and challenging truths. I am uncomfortably humbled.”
—Christine J. Sabas, attorney and advocate with Christian Peacemaker Teams

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Byron Rempel-Burkholder

Let your light shine

Over the past 18 months we have been planning for, and dreaming about, the next generation of Sunday school curriculum. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve read a bit about Shine: Living in God’s Light in posts here and here and here.

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This past week the Shine writers and editors gathered together at Camp Alexander Mack in Milford, Indiana, to brainstorm ideas for the first curriculum year. (Fall 2014 is the start of Shine.) In addition to writers and editors, staff from MennoMedia and Brethren Press as the co-publishers were present as well.

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No, the writers’ conference isn’t where we write the curriculum. It’s where we train the writers and editors on how to write. They then go home inspired to create sessions for the curriculum. Below are few of our reflections.

What was a highlight of the week?

Mary Ann: The Shine writers’ and editors’ meeting involved many who care about children and their faith formation. It was a highlight to see the enthusiasm of the writers, and to hear the sincerity with which they discussed the biblical texts. How will children encounter a given story? How can writers help create understanding? How will Sunday school leaders respond to the written session and activities? And most importantly, how will these texts help children better understand God’s love? Wrapped up along with the writers’ enthusiasm and these questions is the desire to create places for children to encounter a loving God so that faith can be nurtured.

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Amy: On Wednesday morning we had three guest speakers talk about how to meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural church. David Araujo from Iglesia Menonita del Buen Pastor in Goshen, Indiana; Wendy McFadden from Brethren Press; and Cyneatha Millsaps from Community Mennonite in Markham, Illinois, talked about being a Mexican-born American, a Korean-born American, and an African American, respectively. Together the panelists encouraged the writers to:

  • Build cultural competencies and learn another perspective.
  • Not lump all Spanish-speaking groups from Latin and South America into the label “Latino.” Pay attention to cultural differences and honor them.
  • Think carefully about how Jesus and other Bible-times characters are depicted in terms of skin color in illustrations.
  • Watch out for activities that automatically presume inclusion or exclusion.
  • Be honest about the world we live in.

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    Panelists David Araujo, Wendy McFadden, and Cyneatha Millsaps spoke about building multicultural competencies.

Name one thing that excites you about Shine?

Mary Ann: An exciting piece of the session plan each week is the inclusion of spiritual practices. Whether individual or group practices, they will help children think about their response to a loving God.

Amy: It was rewarding this week to see the writers really grab onto the idea of “peace notes.” This is a new part of the session plan where we want to draw connections between each story and God’s larger vision of shalom. It’s so close to our heart as Anabaptists.

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A bookmark made by writer Sarah Kipfer.

We’ll close by sharing some of the theme verses for Shine:

    “You are the light of the world. A city built upon a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.–Matthew 5:14–16 (NRSV)

Amy Gingerich, editorial director, and Mary Ann Weber, managing editor

 

You have to be there

By Byron Rempel-Burkholder, book editor

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I sang that song three times on Easter weekend, and each time I was moved by its power to take me into the gospel story. More than the traditional Caucasian-written hymns of the season—this African American spiritual got me in the gut.

There’s much more going on in the song than mere words. There is personal testimony and passion: “Sometimes it causes me to tremble.” There is a dialogue between the “you” and the “me” that begs participation. And there is an overlapping of past and present: obviously I wasn’t physically at the foot of the cross or at the empty tomb, but by asking if I was there, the song forces me to know that that story is still running in my life.

I hope this is what is happening in the Bible study materials we at MennoMedia produce. One book that is soon to go to press is Creating a Scene in Corinth—A Simulation by Reta Halteman Finger and George D. McClain.

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Like Reta’s earlier book, Paul and the Roman House Churches, this book takes us back to the first century of the church. Through solid historical research and images, it shows what life must have been like for the Corinthian believers, and it helps us play-act the drama of the original readers as they heard the words of the Apostle Paul being read to them. By participating in the simulation, we begin to recognize the uncanny parallels between Corinth and our own church and society. And we begin to grapple with how the gospel challenges us in our community life.

Tom Boomershine, in his foreword, notes that Creating a Scene rides a wave of biblical scholarship known as “performance criticism”—a way of reading the Bible by entering the dramatic and sometimes raucous situation that surrounded the early text and its readers. In contrast, traditional Bible study has been much more “silent,” and focused on the face-value of the text’s words and grammar. The latter alone have their important place, but they are not enough to engage contemporary people. As readers, we have to “be there.”

Our new Dig In curriculum (see last Wednesday’s post by Amy Gingerich) also tries to catch this wave as it seeks to support Mennonite denominational efforts to revive our passion for Bible study. Dig In uses video clips of Mennonites across the continent reflecting on their experience of the text. Everything from the opening sharing of each session, through the discussion questions and closing prayer, has us personalizing the text, finding ourselves and our faith community inside the story.

In various ways, “being there” is at the heart of other learning tools for all ages. The quarterly Adult Bible Study uses a “life-to-Bible-to-life” movement in each session. Our Believers Church Bible Commentary series is unique in its inclusion of a section entitled, “The Text in the Life of the Church” in each chapter. And, of course, our children’s curriculum often has students acting out the story as if they were there.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Anabaptist Christians lean toward studying the Bible in this way. We’re not content with abstract theology and belief as the main products of our study. Our concrete lives as Jesus’ faithful disciples are what preoccupied the writers, readers, and characters of the biblical stories themselves. And that’s ultimately what matters for us, today, too.

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Byron Rempel-Burkholder, book editor